Myplanet

What can other companies learn from the way you’ve designed and maintained your work environment?: 

If we could give one nugget of advice to young product and UX companies, it would be this: Practice what you preach. Find any excuse to embody the values, process, and philosophy you bring to your product or service—treat your environment and methods of engagement with no less discipline, focus, or passion. At Myplanet, staff engagement is a design product, not an HR function: Our space, organizational structure, mentorship initiatives and professional development approach are truly human-centered. We apply Agile, Lean, and UCD at a meta level. We evolve our environment continuously as we learn more about what does and does not work for our staff and our customers. And we let the voices of our staff define the experience of working at Myplanet.

Being Lean & Agile. In 2009, we were just six Myplaneteers strong (we added an extra fire), hunched together in a tiny uptown office, often bunking at each other’s homes. We shared a boardroom, office help, and our Internet connection with five or six other companies. Core to our existence in ’09 was the notion that collaborating closely with others makes for an amazing employee experience. We iterated on our organizational structure endlessly, building, validating, invalidating, and rebuilding. We reinvented our positioning constantly and valued everyone’s input.

Being Ourselves. In 2010, we hit startup adolescence in Markham, Ontario. Spreading across an entire floor in an industrial office complex, we grew to 30 people working both on-site and remote. Despite the not-so-trendy industrial complex we called home, we came to love our space. Defying the long commutes from downtown Toronto and gloomy glow of fluorescent overhead lighting, we injected our personality and nurtured our culture with a barrage of homemade inspirational posters, Ikea furniture and impromptu breakdance parties. We let our personality and passions speak in both the types of work we took on and the clients we embraced.

Being Collaborative. Today, in downtown Toronto, Vancouver, and the Ukraine, we’re proud to say that a true team effort has brought us to this point. It’s been a voyage of blood, sweat and tears—or more appropriately, a billion post-its, lines of code, and late nights—with growing pains and pleasures at every pivot. And today our new working environment (the space, the types of work, the people) are a testament to that relentless, collective pursuit of doing exactly what certain people told us we couldn’t, and doing it as a team. Like an ever-evolving product, our environment needs to be examined, debated, and remixed with all the fervor of a Lean-Agile-UCD evangelist. Even as we near 100 people, we are committed to finding ways to ask for and act on the ideas of our peers. At all costs we will eliminate bureaucracy and bottlenecks. 100 heads are better than one, and ensuring that every Myplaneteer can truly feel that their opinion counts is a goal worth fighting for.

What are the key aspects of your work environment that make it conducive to productivity and employee satisfaction?: 
We believe that satisfaction and productivity are linked closely to human psychology, and it’s all about ownership and self-betterment: We consistently hire people who are smarter than us. We consistently provide them a loose framework in which to do their thing with other people who are even smarter than them. We consistently motivate each other to embrace our innate entrepreneurial spirit, contribute to the evolution of the company, and sustain a “Yes, and…” mentality. 
 
True, the profession is in flux. But we’ve always felt that planning for and embracing change is a recipe for success. Positioning this fluctuation as a tempting challenge for our staff, we’ve inoculated our environment. We’ve made this ‘flux’ a part of our environment—we’ve absorbed the hazard. Change is not a threat, but something we promote.
 
True, competition for talent is high. But we’ve spent little time worrying about poaching, headhunting, talent thieves… As we’ve told each other bluntly on many occasions: if someone else has a more alluring offer, we’renot doing our jobs properly. Heavy talent competition only makes our environment better.

 

What challenges and opportunities in creating a positive work environment are unique to user-oriented practitioners?: 
 
User-oriented practitioners are particularly curious and experimental, and they’re stimulated by diversity. At Myplanet, we emphasize team autonomy, support general process models while discouraging recipes, and build interdisciplinary teams. This approach provides enough structure to keep us focused and sharp and our quality high, but affords our “unicorn” types the freedom they thrive on. This includes the freedom to trial new ideas, explore new functional disciplines, and iterate on the way we work. 
 
Our environment is designed to attract those practitioners with an entrepreneurial but collaborative impulse. We’re not all that interested in “design heroes”—we attract people who democratize design and flourish when teaching others. Most importantly, as a product company, we seek out those designers who prioritize inclusivity in their process (for users, clients, peers) and geek out over making their designs do work for others at every stage of the product process.
What measures do you use to monitor and maintain employee satisfaction, both at a group level and an individual level, and how has that affected how you’ve crafted your work environment?: 
We place heavy emphasis on team emotional intelligence, mindfulness,physical wellness, and individual professional development. For each attribute of an engaged employee, we support a substantial measurement and coaching effort. For example, our dedicated specialist in meditation,mindfulness, and emotional intelligence works with each of our teams to identify their EQi strengths and areas for improvement. Biweekly, we host one-on-one professional development mentorship sessions—where mentors are not only Directors, but functional experts within the organization—to gauge individual progress against self-defined goals, hard & soft skill competencies, and personal purpose (what we call the “mantra”). Quarterly, we host an engagement week to understand and influence our strategic direction and give our entire team an outlet to express their interest and confidence in the company. Our ongoing measurement of employee engagement lends itself to both ongoing incremental improvement (for 
example, the introduction of new programs or the retirement of others, the “refactoring” of team space) and significant pivots (the choice to move to downtown Toronto, the impetus to introduce a change management team for pivots in strategic focus).
 
Each of these touch points reveals a new dimension of employee satisfaction, and acting on this information holistically is critical. In fact, we believe so firmly in treating engagement as a measurable product that we’ve introduced a fulltime Product Owner this quarter. Our new Engagement Lead will methodically apply Lean, Agile, and UCD principles to engagement. The Engagement Lead will quantify and correlate employee and client satisfaction in both a top-down (traditional) and bottom-up (staff-driven, organic) format.