Slice of Lime

Design agency/consultancy

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

"Work environment is key to our success and in order to determine what’s best for us, we’ve applied the same methodologies we would with one of our own clients. We meet regularly, listen, test ideas, and iterate. Once a month, the whole company meets for “First Friday.” It’s an opportunity to discuss what’s working, what’s not working, and what we’re unsure of. From that meeting, we create action items to explore new ideas or course-correct something that is out of line. Here are a few examples of how we’ve iterated over the years.

  1. The Denver Office: As the company grew in 2011, we started to notice a few things; a lot of new hires lived in Denver (our headquarters are in Boulder), traffic was quite bad between Denver and Boulder with a multi-year construction project, many of our new clients were in Denver, and Denver Startup Week really showed how “hot” Denver had become for the entrepreneurial community (i.e. our clients). Coincidentally, the concept of “co-working” spaces had finally made its way to Colorado. We decided to try an experiment by placing some people in the Galvanize co-working space, a mixture of public meeting space, startups, and venture capitalists. We immediately found value in the decision and loved the energy of Galvanize. We now have a full suite that we rent from Galvanize that holds 12 people. People now love biking to work instead of driving an hour.
  2. Desk Layout: In 2011, we had an office in Boulder that was sub-divided into small office areas. This only allowed for 1-3 people per room. Oftentimes, we had no idea who else was in the office at any time, much less what they were working on. With our move to a new space in Boulder as well as a suite in Galvanize, we had complete control over the office layout. In Boulder, we invested $20k just to knock down walls in a new office space. The theory was that by creating spaces in which everyone sat next to one another, we’d benefit from serendipitous discovery of what we’re all working on. Unsolicited feedback is encouraged, as is people reaching out for input or help on projects they are working on. Having open work areas with people working next to one another has helped immensely with the quality of our work.
  3. Whiteboard walls: For awhile, we envisioned painting big murals or hanging art on our walls. After talking it over, we realized that what we really needed was as much brainstorming space as possible. 90% of both of our offices is therefore covered in whiteboard paint with an ample supply of markers. In Boulder, we actually have a “whiteboard room” in which everything can be written on, even the table. These highly functional decisions have made it second nature to jump up and start sketching ideas right in front of everyone on the walls.
  4. Equipment: We learned early that having the right equipment to do your job is an investment worth making. We outfit our employees with basically whatever they want from computers to monitors to video cameras. Lately, we’ve been getting into the “Internet of Things” space, so you’re likely to see various gadgets like Philips Hue Lights, Nexia Home Automation Switches, and Revolv hubs laying around the office (just some of the many people playing in the space right now). Whatever we can do to enable our staff with the right equipment, we do it.
  5. A “Teaching Agency”: We soon learned that there’s a lot we can learn from one another. Like a teaching hospital, we’ve nurtured the idea of a “teaching agency.” We encourage people to reach out for help from others and host “Demo Wednesdays” in which someone will present what they are working on or what new method they are using for UX Strategy. We encourage our people to talk on panels, mentor startups, and host workshops (we’ve done a bunch with Boulder Startup Week, Denver Startup Week, Creative Mornings, Caffeinated Mornings, TechStars, Nike+ Accelerator, R/GA Accelerator over the past year). We also provide a budget for each employee to attend conferences.
  6. A roadmap for professional growth: As we’ve grown, our individual professionals goals varied. To address this, we officially meet with employees every 6 months to discuss how things are going as well as where each employee wants to take their career. A plan is put in place to work towards those goals. Ensuring professional growth for each employee while they are at Slice of Lime is, in our opinion, the most rewarding thing we can provide.
  7. “Creating Amazing Experiences”: This is our internal mantra at Slice of Lime. It stands for three things; the experiences we create for end-users, the experiences our clients have with us, and the experience we all have coming to work each day. For the third, we strive to create some out of this world experiences for our team every year. Last year, this meant visiting Conan O’Brien as VIPs in his green room, sitting in a VIP suite for an Avs game, racing high-speed go-carts, and climbing a fourteen thousand foot mountain together. Experiences like this are unique to our company’s culture."
What are the key aspects of your work environment that make it conducive to productivity and employee satisfaction?: 

"There are a few things that we’ve done to ensure that the work environment is rewarding and challenging:

  1. We hire super-smart people: As a new senior employee comes into Slice of Lime, they bring with them a wealth of new knowledge. Our team is hungry for knowledge and we encourage the sharing and exploration of new ideas that we can assimilate into our own Slice of Lime process. This approach keeps us at the forefront of the industry.
  2. We encourage learning (and “learning by teaching”): On top of learning from each other, we also support outside learning. We have open memberships with online training sites like Lynda.com and teamtreehouse.com. We budget for each person to go to conferences. Lastly, we encourage people to speak and mentor others. Nothing ups your game in this industry than when you have to speak about what you do in front of a huge group of people.
  3. We empower our people: We work in pairs with two people working on one project (and only one project at a time). While they are supported by a Creative Director, Director of UX, Director of UI, and Account Manager, they also have a lot of autonomy in the project they are on. We trust our people to make decisions and to move the project in the direction they see fit based on user feedback and research. This sort of trust and empowerment is a challenge and at the same time very rewarding.
  4. We hire curious people: Everyone that we hire is extremely curious about where we can take the industry. We see Slice of Lime at the forefront of UX and UI and therefore feel a responsibility to push at it and make it better. Curiosity about how things can be different is a great character trait in our people. We don’t take things at face value. We challenge what we read. We challenge what we hear. We challenge ourselves and our own process constantly.
  5. We’re community facing: We are very well connected in our own community and support just about every event our there related to startups. As a highly visible agency, we aim not just to sponsor, but also to contribute knowledge back to the community. After doing this for 13 years, we’ve established trust with our community. We’re more than a logo listed under “sponsors” – we’re a company that deeply cares about the community we’re in and loves being a part of it. A wonderful side effect of this is the pride that brings to the people that work at Slice of Lime. We’re selective in who joins our team. When you do join, you’re not only joining a group of smart people that does great work – you’re a part of a company with a positive and well-respected history in the community."
What challenges and opportunities in creating a positive work environment are unique to user-oriented practitioners?: 

"We are very focused when it comes to the skill-sets in our company. We’re a UX Design agency, so we’re only hiring UX Designers. This includes a mix of UX Strategists, UI Designers, and Interactive Developers. Even with this focus, there is a mix personalities and needs from employee to employee. However, there are also common traits we look for when hiring, mainly:

  1. Extraordinary communication skills: The first thing we’re looking for in people that join the team is the ability to hold a conversation and articulate ideas clearly. This benefits our client relationships, but also has a positive impact on business operations. Everyone on the team communicates well with one another.
  2. Curiosity: Each person we bring onto the team has a part of them that is unsettled. They want to learn more about the industry and help push it forward. This has led to internal presentations, external panel discussions, and even putting on our own events.

I’d say that the most challenging part of having a team of UX Designers is the tendency to want to test and validate everything for longer than might be necessary. As company leaders, my business partner and I encourage treating our company decisions in similar ways to how we run client projects – we iterate. If something isn’t working, we change it. We something IS working, we talk about how to make it even better."

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 have both formal and informal ways of monitoring and maintaining employee satisfaction:

  1. Open door policy: If something is on your mind, talk about it. We encourage everyone to not wait for official meetings or reviews to express something they are concerned about or interested in. Why wait?
  2. 6 Month Reviews: We use a review tool called Small Improvements. This allows our employees to give self-assessments and align them with the assessments of their directors. In those meetings we talk about both assessments and see how well they line up. Most importantly, we talk about where each employee wants to go with their professional careers and discuss ways of achieving that.
  3. First Fridays: On the first Friday of every month, we meet for about 1.5-2 hours for a company-wide “retro” (short for retrospective). There are three columns on a massive whiteboard; Positive, Unsure, Needs Improvement. Everyone is invited to put up post-its on the board under these categories. Post-its are then grouped together by theme and discussed as a team. Themes with the most post-its get priority. Action items that are needed to course correct an issue or to explore something further are written on the board and then eventually recorded in our Project Management tool and assigned to people to address. This has been a wonderful way of keeping connected with everyone and having open discussion about how to make the work environment the best it can be."
Please provide any employee testimonials and, if available, retention/turn-over data that indicates your work environment is especially healthy.: 

"We collected a couple of testimonials from the team. Here they are:

"It's refreshing to be in a place where the experiences we all share at Slice of Lime are on par with the experiences we build for our clients. I find that I’m able to do great work because I'm challenged to share, grow and learn together with the whole team. There is an amazing trust between everyone in the company, and we are all given a lot of room to explore and even question the way we do things. The co-founders (Kevin and Jeff) believe in hiring super-talented, senior-level practitioners who sometimes seem more like family than co-workers. We’ve hiked a “fourteener,” raced go-karts, mountain-biked, and have enjoyed numerous happy-hours and celebrations together. Being in Colorado means we have endless adventures just minutes from both offices and we take of advantage of this as often as we can. It’s because of these shared experiences that we are able to challenge each other and collaborate without letting our egos get in the way. We hash things out on our whiteboard walls, we head to local coffee-shops to talk through tough concepts and pair-design on the same Mac when it makes sense. I know that my work would suffer if I wasn’t so comfortable working as close as I do with everyone else here."

"Working for Slice of Lime is unique. It's been a number of years since I've enjoyed working with a group of people this much. A healthy perspective on work/life balance, a high regard for each other and our clients, and doing meaningful work are some of the things that I think make being a part of this team so appealing and, in a time when most companies celebrate sacrificing your soul for your job as heroic, so unique."