If You Want to be Like Google, Focus on Building Your Office Culture in Southeast Asia

Before you buy that ping pong table, read these tips

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BY Lian Kyla Dyogi - 21 Mar 2017

office culture southeast asia

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Napping pods, overflowing snacks, great employee benefits, and an office located in sunny California—sound familiar? Famous for their groundbreaking office culture, Google has set lofty standards for building organizational culture, and their influence on start-ups the world over is palpable.

Audra Pakalnyte, head of people at Fave, an O2O platform born out of Malaysia that has expanded throughout the region, says Google and Zappos, “who are famous for their company culture, perks and benefits,” are among the companies they looked to when it came to designing their own office culture. “But to be completely honest, it's not like we copy-and-pasted from them directly. Our culture is one that we have taken a lot of time building—and we're only one percent done,” says Pakalnyte.

While not every company can be like Google, taking the time to design your office, and the culture that goes with it, will prove beneficial to your start-up.

Don’t know how? Here are three things to get you started.


1. Define your core values early on

Before you design your culture and office, and start adding a bunch of amenities and perks, you need to know why you’re building it in the first place.

Figure out what you value most. “To be honest we didn't face any issues with creating the culture within our business. The biggest reason for this is because I decided to get us thinking on culture from virtually day one. As soon as I hired my first employee, we discussed a set of values or the DNA our business would have. Once I had three to four staff, we sat down and came up with 10 values that would inform the way in which we operate. We would hold each other accountable for working with those values. Ultimately, the managers and the CEO are the ones driving it,” says John Thornton, country manager of TribeHired in Thailand, an IT recruitment talent marketplace from Malaysia.

“I don't feel comfortable in using the word culture, just because I think it's an empty word that has been thrown around too often without much substance behind it. Instead, we use the words values and DNA in our business,” says Thornton. “We also didn't want a culture that became too insular. We wanted anyone new to integrate themselves effortlessly into the team. So, I would say start designing your core values or the DNA from day one, don't wait until you get to 50 or even 20 employees.”


2. Create a work environment that supports those values

Once you’re clear on your values, you can build your office space from there. Pakalnyte breaks their culture down to three things: fast-paced, transparent, and collaborative. Their office layout feeds and cultivates these.

“We are very transparent with our team about what's happening within the organization. For example, we have monthly all hands where we share financial figures and we even share the PowerPoint slides right after. Our meeting rooms are also not hidden behind blinds or tinted windows, so that creates a culture of transparency and, in effect, trust, “ says Pakalnyte.


3. Focus on your team

Too often we get caught up in the trappings of what makes a great office when this is a byproduct of focusing on the people working there. What will keep your employees satisfied and motivated? How does the office space cultivate a good relationship with them?

“There was a whole wall of healthy snacks, fruits, and drinks that you could take from when you were hungry. Lunch and dinner was provided and everyone ate together, which provided a sense of togetherness and allowed you to chat with your colleagues. The office was so great that I felt happy to come to work every single day, and I found it more conducive than working at home,” says Valerie Pang, a student entrepreneur from Singapore, of a tech start-up she interned for in San Francisco.

Sometimes, focusing on building “culture” can be detrimental—only because it pulls your focus away from what matters most.

“There isn't a cookie cutter strategy when it comes to designing culture. Culture is unique to each organization. But when you're just starting up, having an environment where you [are] transparent with your team and empower them to do more than just their role is a good way to start,” says Pakalnyte.

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