Our 10 tips about how we created great work environment in Vmodev
There are many studies that explore the organizational culture and it has become well known “buzzword” nowadays. Great culture improves company altogether; high employee engagement and motivation leads to better productivity and customer satisfaction. It is also a great way to attract and retain great employees. From a company perspective, culture can be defined as a set of unwritten rules and behaviors that are encouraged and followed in the workplace.
Many companies create long decks where they write about and share their internal culture and what are the elements of it. We wanted to have a bit different approach and instead of a long PowerPoint presentation, we have decided to share a bit about what we believe impacts positively our working environment and consequently our internal culture.
What impacts work and organizational culture in software development company? Here is our list of 10 things we did in Vmodev to create collaborate and productive teams:
1. Less Waterfall, more Agile
In Vmodev we organize ourselves around Scrum teams. The whole team knows the backlog and is responsible for delivery of our promise to clients. Deadlines and milestones were created by the team and therefore their sprints need to be precise. Our goal is to make each team autonomous and able to find best case practices moving forward. In this way, we show trust and enable our teams to learn even more.
We love Agile because we feel it makes us more customer oriented and it makes development much easier when compared to waterfall method. In more traditional projects partners would receive value at the end of a development process. This shifts focus from the quality mindset. Scrum supports quality because every sprint has a simple goal of producing code that can be released. When the quality of the release is valued so are the people that produce it. Scrum also has a positive impact on transparency because code is inspected and changed more frequently. Putting people first and transparency are traits of every great culture.
2. Breaks are okay
No matter how much we try it is difficult for us to be focused on the job all the time, and it is a bit harsh to expect that people will not need breaks. To make sure we take care of our people’s wellbeing we encourage them to take breaks if needed be. This does not mean that it is okay to drink coffee in the cantina on the ground floor for 4 hours doing nothing, but if you need some time to refresh and rejuve that is really cool with us.
It is scientifically proven that napping makes you healthier and feel more rested and mentally alert. Do you remember those times when you were a kid and you got mad every time when your parents put you to sleep during the day because it was healthy for you? Wouldn’t you now like to return to those days sometimes? In Vmodev you can take a power nap without anybody looking down on you. The important thing to remember is that a well-rested developer is happier and makes fewer mistakes and this is why we encourage our developers to take one if they feel like it.
Tet or more commonly known as Lunar New Year is one of the most important holidays in Vietnamese culture. It is also our single longest holiday and may last up to 7 days. Tet is an opportunity to show respect for our ancestors as well as celebrating the New Year with friends and family. Preparations for Tet celebration begin in advance and people make sure that their homes are tidy and decorated.
For us in Vmodev it is an opportunity to gather and celebrate success and accomplishments we had during the year. On last working day before holidays, we all gather on company dinner that feels like a family gathering, just bigger. To show appreciation to our teams we always recognize and reward the most performing ones and to make it more fun we had a company lottery. We, of course, had an app that drew lucky numbers for us.
4. Social times
Celebrations are like social glue in any organization; this is why we have them a lot in Vmodev. Every month we organize a small office party to celebrate all of the birthdays that happen in that month. It is not a long or loud party but more a common time where we eat some traditional food followed by some fruit and cake. Small celebrations like these involve the whole office but they make individuals feel special and respected in the workplace.
Have you ever been on Vietnamese wedding before? It is really common to invite all of your colleagues to your wedding. In average our wedding ceremonies do not last longer than 2-3 hours but they are big festivities with a lot of guests and relatives. Whether or not happening in the workplace, celebrations are important because they bring people together in a more informal way. They make everyday work more pleasant and enjoyable.
5. Share a meal together
Remember entering company cantina and noticing how everybody is eating while having their attention and eyes focused on smartphones? Well, not in Vmodev; we realize that sharing a meal together like during breakfast or lunch is an opportunity to bond with you colleagues. How is your family? Your sister? Brother? It is the small things during conversations that make people bond and form relationships.
However, we have noticed that conversations aren’t just informal and personal, they are sometimes an opportunity for employees to share important news about projects they are working on. Funny as it may be but this “redundant” channel of communication sometimes is a great way to be updated with project news and it can help employees to be on the same page with what is happening in the company. Also, project leaders can get useful information from team members in a more relaxed and casual environment than one that happens in a Scrum standup in the early morning when people didn’t have their dosage of caffeine yet.
If you ever visit our office here in Hanoi, we will make sure that you try some of delicious street food Vietnam is well-known for. Pho, Banh mi and Bun cha are all famous delicacies worth trying. Since former USA president Obama liked Bun cha, we are sure you will as well.
6. Support your employees
Vietnam is a growing economy, and there is a rising middle class but not everybody is well off or financially stable. Now imagine that you are a new graduate, fresh from college; or close to obtaining a diploma but not there yet, living with your roommates aaaaand your laptop breaks down. This alone can be a big strain on somebody’s budget. We get that and because of it, we have an internal policy of supporting our newest recruits in case their laptop breaks down.
You can’t code or finish your thesis if you don’t have a laptop, right? We thought as much and that is why we don’t want our employees to stress about it as well. They are expected to pay back during the year but there are no interest rates or any other hidden agenda typed in a small font like on some bank loan contract that they are going to regret signing in the first place.
The point is, we want to show that we care and that “employees first” is not just a catchy phrase coined by our HR responsible. In the long run, this also pays off because it affects attrition. Employees are less prone to changing jobs if they like the workplace and feel supported, especially in times of need.
Lifelong learning can be described as the acquisition of knowledge, skills, and competencies that are not limited by time. In Vmodev we realize how good education is important and we also believe in lifelong learning and because of that we sometimes organize internal lessons for employees and support them in finding and going to educational seminars and conferences.
We also support the concept of lifelong learning by implementing some principles of “job shadowing”. When a junior developer finishes a project he/she can choose a senior to “shadow” and observe that persons work. This has proven to be an effective tool for learning and knowledge transfer as well as getting people familiar with each other. If there is no senior available than the junior developer joins our in-house game team and in that way, there are no people “on the bench” waiting for next project.
7. Flexible working hours
Do you need to take your child to dentist/doctor, or watch his/hers school play? Hate early morning rush hour and traffic jams? This were just some of the reasons we introduced flexible working hours. Please note, we still have “official working hours” but our employees have freedom to choose how they manage their work time. If you need one additional hour of sleep on Monday morning that is fine, but please do not miss any standup meetings.
This simple principle made our developers feel generally freer at workplace and less bound by some outdated company policy. It also gave them the ability to plan their time better and helped achieve better work-life balance. For us, this meant better morale and more commitment to work. Our best practice tip would be to promote fairness and still do keep track when people arrive and go from work to make sure nobody is misusing this option.
8. English Club
Ever since the Doi Moi reforms Vietnamese economy has been growing and with it the importance of knowing English as a second language. Nowadays English is a must and companies who do not have at least one English speaker cannot participate in the global economy that Vietnam’s now part of.
Thankfully, the government realizes this and English is now part of education; however, much Vietnamese still struggle with pronunciation and usage of advanced idioms. We wanted to make sure that our employees continue perfecting English and have organized an English club to help them do so.
Recently, we had a foreign intern that created a small but neat syllabus for us to follow. With every following lesson, we saw our knowledge of English improving as well as self-esteem. Another benefit of the English club is that it helped us to take our eyes from the monitors and has shaken the routine a bit.
Vietnamese society is more collectivistic society. We enjoy working and living in groups and because of it company retreats or short trips are always awaited with much enthusiasm and a great excitement. Retreats are great opportunity for us to have fun, bond and have team building exercises. We usually have several short trips during the year and one a bit longer retreat during the summer where even our family members are able to join us.
Aside from the usual benefits such as reducing stress, company objectives definition and general bonding we noticed a surge in motivation and collaboration after a retreat. Sometimes people at work do not have strong relationships but everything starts to change after trips. People spend more time together, talk, share and are relaxed. That kind of environment enables team members to connect more. During retreats, we also find out useful information from employees about how they feel about working in Vmodev, past projects and company’s strengths and perceived weaknesses.
As you are probably aware, trust is important. It builds respect and loyalty and makes people more collaborative. While working with software development trust is essential because our work depends on teams. Team members need to have trust in their project managers and vice-versa. Try imagining a workplace where people hide information from each other’s, conceal mistakes or do not openly share what is happening. It does not sound like a workplace anybody would love to be involved with and soon it would only seriously harm the company in the long run.
To prevent this from happening in Vmodev we encourage honesty and transparency. Testers found a bug in your code that you missed yourself? Does not matter, this is why we have them in the first place, but please learn from your mistakes. Consistency is the key in forming behaviors we want to see because at one point it becomes a positive habit. Unlike smoking honesty and transparency is one of those positive habits. If you would like to know more about trust in the workplace, we suggest that you read an article on Recruiter about Jacobs model and eight intrinsic drivers of trust.
Remember, culture is not something that happens on its own but it will happen whether you like it or not. This is why it is important that you take an active role and develop it in a way that makes any workplace a more joyful and nicer place in general. Rest of the pieces with a bit of tailoring will eventually fall into place.
We hope that you have found our examples useful tangible as much as possible. Please share in comments what else you think we should try out next or if we got something wrong.