Who wants free beer?

By Ross Coverdale

Picture the scene…

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A small startup software company that recently won a round of funding has invested in a super-slick, glass and aluminium-clad office space, with bean bags in various corners and meeting nooks dotted around. Beer and snack fridges are always fully stocked, and the office is kitted out with giant TVs, table-tennis and Xboxes in break areas. Sounds pretty great, right?

Continue panning around the office and you see groups of people huddled around their computers, headphones in, super-focused on their work. Still sounding okay…

One individual decides it’s time for a quick break. He takes his headphones off, locks his computer and gets up from his desk. He walks past the free snacks and beer, the Xbox and bean bags, and heads outside. He takes one big inhale and sighs, wondering how much longer it’ll be before he hands his notice in.

There’s no sense of team spirit at this company; divisions are siloed, egos are rampant, and only a couple of people in the business are actually friends outside of the office. Nobody uses the meeting nooks because their managers believe if they’re not at their desks they’re not working, and ‘banter’ is frowned upon, so people just email each other to make decisions and have the occasional chat.

There’s a reason the beer fridge is always fully stocked. No one wants to stay back and shoot the breeze with their colleagues after a long day. The Xbox gathers dust, and no one is interested in playing ping pong either.

The point here is that while this (completely hypothetical) company looks fantastic on the surface, but when you peel back the veneer of ‘sexy start-up’ attractiveness, there are real problem areas that aren’t ever going to be fixed by a few goodies.

Company culture is more than what money can buy – whether it’s office space, benefits or the people themselves.

Having a cool office and company perks, while they’re nice, are not the things upon which culture is built.

Sure, the way a company can build its working space, or how they approach things like holidays, can reflect the culture, but that’s all it is; a reflection of core values and principles shared amongst its people.

So, I ask the question: would you rather have free beer, or a group of people who are passionate about what they do, work harmoniously together with mutual understanding of their goals, but don’t have the budget to throw at additional company benefits?

I know which I’d choose.

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