Menlo Innovations is a small software company in Ann Arbor, Michigan, that aims to produce joy—along with its technology products. They’re not affiliated with Menlo Ventures, the big California venture firm behind giant startups such as Roku and Tumblr, but no less lauded. Although the company is small, they had 2,197 visitors from around the world last year to witness their radically different approach to workplace culture.
What is it that makes this company so unique and why are their employees so happy?
Richard Sheridan, co-founder and CEO of Menlo Innovations, shares tips for creating a happy working environment for employees in his new book Joy, Inc.: How We Built a Workplace People Love (Portfolio Penguin-Random House, December 2013). The book details stories and examples about Menlo’s system that has caught so much attention—and that works.
Here are some tips from the book that could help your business:
Change it up. “Rearrange the office often— weekly, sometimes daily. Menlo has no facilities people, and no permission is needed to make a change. The team can change the space whenever they like, in whatever configuration they want. If a new project starts or an existing one is expanded, the tables are rearranged to accommodate the new work. The change reenergizes everyone and builds our mental capacity for flexibility.”
Learn to get along. “Working in pairs provides an emotional safety net for our employees. Assigning pairs and switching them each week helps avoid a variety of typical team ills that could interfere with learning outcomes. This time spent together helps dispel a lot of misconceptions about one’s fellow teammates and helps us move into the unknown with confidence and courage, comforted by the safety such a system provides.”
Weekly “Lunch ‘n Learn.” “At least once a week we host an organized ’Lunch ‘n Learn’ where we bring in lunch and grab a corner of the factory, usually at noon, to hold deeper teaching sessions. While the topics are typically related to some aspect of our business, we do have a wide range of interests, and anyone on the team—or in the community—can host and attend a ’Lunch ‘n Learn.’ It’s a good way to expand the base of people who know us and who know our story. You never know what value they might bring as well.”
The daily standup. “A $7 plastic Viking helmet has become the iconic symbol of Menlo. In place of unproductive weekly status report meetings, we’ve instituted a daily standup ritual that begins at 10 a.m. every morning, regardless of who is in the room. When the dartboard alarm goes off to signal it’s time for the daily standup, someone grabs the Viking helmet to start the meeting. The pair holding the helmet describes what they are working on and where they might need help. The helmet is passed to the next pair in the circle, all the way around. The last pair closes with, ’be careful out there.’ This ends the daily standup.”
Babies R’ Welcome. “At Menlo, you can bring your baby in every day. For weeks, months… whatever you choose. We look to embrace the life of each team member in whatever way makes sense for the business and the person. Having children in the office has forced us to run other small experiments in order to support a baby-friendly workforce, and these children are wonderfully socialized by the time they leave Menlo.”
Take time off. “We know the people who work the smartest and the most conscientiously—who produce the best results for our clients—are people who know when to work and when to rest. At Menlo, everyone starts off with four weeks of vacation time per year. There are no institutional barriers to using your vacation, as we have no singular dependence on any team member.”