How Inmagine is Googlising its workplace to foster an inclusive and collaborative work culture
‘We always seek to spread positivity and make sure that everyone around us in the office is like a pillar to everybody’
This global brand comes to our mind when we hear the phrase ‘work culture’ — and a job here is a dream for many of us.
But what makes Google’s work culture unique?
The answer is simple: its work culture is synonymous with employee engagement. It actively encourages employees to innovate. What is more, at Google X lab, employees are encouraged to ‘shoot for the moon’ and are rewarded for their failures.
The Asian companies are not as evolved as their Western counterparts when it comes to providing a great work culture, but they are gradually catching up. Many are now genuinely trying to do a Google by making their work culture flexible and more fun.
Inmagine Group is one such firm. Founded in 2000 by Malaysian entrepreneurs, the group owns many product — CraftBundles, Designs.net, EasyDesign, LoveSVG, TheHungryJPEG (which it acquired in March 2017), Pixlr, SoundBounce, StockUnlimited, Story & Heart, Designs.AI, and Vetr (acquired in November 2017).
Over its two decades of existence, the group has evolved its culture and has now become more inclusive.
In this freewheeling interview with e27, its group CEO Stephanie Sitt, Assistant Manager (Talent & Culture Operations) Will Tan, and Head (PR) Abigail Thien are sharing insights on the company’s inclusive and empathetic work culture.
Below are the edited excerpts:
What is your definition of work culture?
Sitt: I would say that culture is all about how a group of people from different backgrounds come into one place, mix, live together, tolerate each other’s weaknesses, see the beautiful sight of strength of everyone, and get things done. This way the life goes on in a very healthy manner.
In my perspective, the uniqueness of our company culture is that even though we are a corporate, we take care of our staff and have always practised the vision of empathy and spread positivity.
This is very important because we all have our problems in our personal and professional lives. But we always seek to spread positivity and make sure that everyone around us in the office is like a pillar to everybody.
I am a quite expressive person, who always says to the staff “thank you guys, you are the pillar for me to get my job done”. Without my staff, my hands are tied and I won’t be able to do my work fully focussed.
Another peculiar aspect of our culture is that we don’t retrench employees or resort to pay cuts. Protecting jobs and dispersing salaries on time, etc. are very important for us even during the ongoing crisis.
We have these core values of togetherness with differences in the forms of culture and the beliefs we have, so that we could get things done as a team.
Thien: The most unique part of our company culture is that we have a voice and we feel safe. Inmagine likes to hear us and allows us to share our thoughts and send in suggestions.
This, I believe, is a great way for employees to share their needs and grievances with the firm. At the same time, it also shows the concern for the well-being of the staff.
Tan: Inmagine gives utmost importance to the interests of the staff. It has an inclusive kind of environment. Everyone has a voice, which we believe is a very key component of making a very strong and healthy culture in any company, not just Inmagine.
Do you follow startup culture or corporate culture?
Sitt: Although we have evolved from a startup to a corporate now, our work culture comes somewhere in between. When it comes to work, there are certain things that we don’t want to act like a startup.
Back in 2000, the year we started, we had just a handful of employees, of about seven. I remember when we turned three, everything was still at an infancy stage.
A typical startup mindset is that we could make decisions quickly. Things move faster in startups. Everyone could chip in with their suggestions and get things done quickly.
However, the culture changes as we grow the team and hire people from different backgrounds and with different skillset. When business needs changed, processes have also changed and we have developed a more detail-oriented culture.
Having said that we still want to maintain certain DNAs of a startup. Two years ago, we started something called “corporatisation” exercise, wherein we communicated with the staff about the needs for changes, so they don’t get culture shock.
How do you bring the culture component to the employee hiring process?
Sitt: We do not hire people who could fit into our culture; we hire candidates who have the skillset to perform a specific function, thereby contribute to the workforce and the growth of the firm. And then, they assimilate to our culture.
Google has one of the best work cultures. Do you emulate it in any forms?
Sitt: Yes, very much. At one point of time, I was even using the phrase “Googlising the office” by providing free food and flexible working hours like Google does.
If you’ve been to our office, you can see Captain America, Claw Machine, PlayStation, karaoke and artificial grass. All these things were brought in to make our workplace cool. These things will speak enough about the differences/uniqueness that we have compared to most conventional offices out there in Malaysia.
What, in your view, are the key factors that contribute to building a great culture?
Sitt: It starts with understanding each others’ needs — personal or work-related. It is not just between employer and employees, but also among employees themselves.
Respect each other. We all come from different cultures and backgrounds, and we speak different languages and have our strengths and weaknesses.
We just need to be a bit sensitive with all this. And more importantly, take good care of your own career and then only we can care about others and care for the business.
How do you keep your employees motivated to be creative and innovative?
Sitt: It all depends on the projects, the departments and sometimes the team leads.
If I speak for myself, I always like to throw challenges to my team members who report to me. I throw them certain crazy questions and get them to think about it.
We do not practise serious hierarchical kind of relationship with our colleagues. It’s all about “okay, someone has some crazy ideas and let’s talk about it”.
I always have a lot of crazy ideas and I like to talk to someone. It may not necessarily be face-to-face; at times, I share them on WhatsApp and then the guys just think about it on the weekend. By the next working day, they come back with some crazy feedback at the very least.
This keeps people motivated because these tasks will sometimes be quite entertaining. That’s just how I see it.
I think this is the direction that an organisation should take. They should always communicate with the staff and should made themselves to be as approachable as possible and exchange ideas with each other.
We don’t have what they call it “you are the boss”. It is all very all inclusive.
Do you recognise your employees with talents in music, dancing, etc.?
Sitt: Yes we do. We organise an annual dinner for our employees, which also acts as a platform for our staff members to perform their skills. We also give out prizes.
Instead of hiring top performers from outside, we sometime consider our own in-house performers.
Tan: Yes, we do recognise talents. Everyone is unique in terms of his or her strength and talent. We organise events and we call them not just for performances but we also ask them to come on stage to share their thoughts just to get the ball rolling.
And everyone will be more than happy to chip in with ideas that will also translate into one-off performances on stage. Everyone is able to voice out.
We are a very tech-driven company, so we need to keep up with all the updates, changes. Sometimes, we can get a little bit overloaded with all the information but we are able to have this stand-up session just to have individuals to contribute.
And I think that is healthy for every staff to be able to work and see that they contribute to growth of the company.
How do you foster a culture of ‘intrapreneurship’ at Inmagine?
Sitt: Intrapreneurship takes place in various departments. In my view, ‘intrapreneurship’ is not just about the business or revenues but is also about taking ownership of projects and taking the lead from there.
When there is a new project, we will ask our staff members who are interested to participate and we then encourage them to take it from there.
Sometimes they worry that what if they cannot deliver or live to the expectation. This is where the management plays a role. We encourage them by saying: “you have this strength and skillset, why don’t you take it up?”
We will also lend a ear to their concerns and listen to their feedback and guide them accordingly. This creates an impression that they have someone to take care of them when things go wrong. But most of the time, they will be doing it on their own.
Who plays a greater role in building a company culture — the bosses or employees?
Sitt: I would say it is 60-40, with the majority coming from the management/team leads and 40 per cent from other team members. So it is a mix of everything. And if we dissect it into the patterns, then each department is different.
What is the impact of the pandemic on your company culture?
Sitt: The pandemic has definitely impacted us, especially our work culture because this meant a total switching to a new working model, that is working from home.
We miss the laughter during the meal time/break time. Everything is now very much reliant on online meeting to keep everyone together.
We always like to do meetings on the video, so everyone can see each others’ face. But poor Internet connectivity often creates hurdles. Whatsoever, everyone remains equally busy and productive.
During the pandemic, we launched two new products — Pixlr and Designs.AI in February and March, respectively. These two products keep our guys quite busy.
But the culture of ‘work from home’ comes attached with its own challenges. Distraction is one; you get distracted with your domestic affairs/daily routines. However, we provide an online exercise session for the staff during town halls and keep everybody updated about what’s going on and remind them to have discipline not just in the work but in the life as well.
The stress and the months of lockdown can make employees mentally weak. They often get stuck in front of their computer/laptop for quite a few hours and unknowingly skip the meals. When you work at home, you still need to spend time to take care of yourself.
Thien: At office, staff will be served lunch and tea break. These break-out times help us stretch out and walk around. It also gives us an opportunity to mingle with our colleagues and get to know each other well.
I think providing free lunch and the daily team breaks help improve the work culture, and they also bring employees closer together. In doing so, you release some stress as well.
For all this to make a reality, you need a great leader. What according to you makes a great leader?
Sitt: In my perspective, a leader is someone who listens, has empathy, doesn’t jump the gun, and has good emotional quotient. It is not just about intelligence but is also about how you manage a team during disasters/serious conflicts. A leader has to be very calm and objective to solve a problem. He/she should always spread positivity.
I’m not an argumentative type. Neither am I someone who put blames on my colleagues when things go wrong.
I think with the kind of work we do — which is so unique — understanding why things go wrong and what we can do to make it better in the future is more important. And there is no pointing fingers at each other.
Do you collect employee feedback? How do you do it?
Sitt: All the time. We have a channel for our staff members to write to us/shoot us anything any time. We look at each one of the questions carefully and compose our replies in a structured manner. We give utmost care while drafting our responses.
Most of the time, employees see things from their perspective and don’t see things from the company’s perspective. Sometimes they do not understand things and they may not be able to connect the dots and often fail to see the full picture.
When we get bombarded with rude feedback, all we we need to do is evaluate those points. If there are things where we have done wrong, we apologise. If there are things that we know that we can improve, we would think of that.
That’s how employee feedback works at Inmagine. We use the staff’s communication platform for these exchanges. We don’t hide messages. Staffers can also send their feedback anonymously, but we give due seriousness to every feedback.
Do you retrench/fire people? Can you share the process?
Tan: For our record, we do not really terminate anyone’s contract. If there is any friction, we speak with the aggrieved staff to know what their grievances are and sort out things.
We believe it is the extreme step to fire someone. Even if there is no other way out, we will ensure the process is smooth. We don’t burn the bridges. We may have differences but then we work out a solution that provides a win-win solution for both parties.
How do you stand out in terms of building a conducive environment for your workforce?
Sitt: We truly provide a steep learning curve. As far as my knowledge goes, there are no other workplaces or companies which provide the same knowledge and experience as we do. At Inmagine, it’s all about learning. However, it is up to the individual.
I have to admit that I had serious millennial syndrome when I was young. Millennials nowadays are often labelled as troublemakers. Back then, I wouldn’t listen fully. It is not that I didn’t listen; I did but I didn’t agree. I always thought that I was right, so even when I was young and working, I gave lots of headache to my superiors.
Here at Inmagine, we have lots of young people who want to lead. They may be inexperienced and it may be their first or second job. However, we do not want these talented young people to start on the wrong ground.
So it’s all about communication and on-job training where we talk about steep learning curve to make them the best of what they do.
There are times that we also empower them to lead various projects. There are certain days they look for you for some advice, but they may not want to fully listen to you, so they will still put some of their own ideas as well.
But sometimes, we let them learn from their failures. We need to give people certain space to test and validate. We say it’s okay if you make a mistakes that don’t prove costly. That’s my perspective on how I lead a team.
In that sense, there are quite several leaders at Inmagine. But of course, there are certain departments, say IT for example, where we do not allow them to test on certain things.
But if it is a new product that we develop, we may allow staff to experiment.
Tan: I think that there’s enough room and space where we can go and start to get creative. Being able to work in this company is all about being creative and finding a solution. An opportunity is given with the space that we have, which allows us to become more agile.
I think all this part and parcel of your personal/career growth.
At the end of the day, the company will generally benefit from all this. I believe it’s healthy for anyone to emulate that.
What is you advice to entrepreneurs as the chief of a corporate?
Be truthful, honest, humble and transparent to your team members, because all these things will eliminate a lot of misunderstanding.
We now have a lot of young people who have lots of ideas. So being a boss, when you listen to others, it doesn’t cost you anything other than a bit of time. So it’s okay to spend a bit of time to listen to others, let’s say 30 minutes every week.
Article Credited to: e27