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Keeping culture up in lockdown

By Ross Adams, CEO

It sounds clichéd, but culture really is our number one priority as a business. Whether it’s during the hiring process, or when we’re thinking about how to retain the best talent, or discussing how to continue growing the company — maintaining our culture simply has to come first.

It’s easy to talk vaguely about culture, of course. It seems like every company does. But few can actually prove it — which made being named one of Campaign magazine’s Best Places to Work in the UK last month even more encouraging.

As my brilliant colleague Helen put it in the article she wrote at the time: “Acast puts its employees first, because we know that if we empower our people to be the best they can possibly be, the rest will follow.”

And so, when the global threat of COVID-19 appeared, my first question was not how would it impact our ad revenue, or our operational expenditure — although of course those things remain very important considerations — but what would it mean for our employees and their families?

That’s why we made the bold decision to put a global working from home policy in place almost immediately, and cancel all travel arrangements — both way ahead of government advice. The most important thing was protecting our people, by ensuring they and their loved ones were kept safe, and that nobody ended up stranded away from home if borders were suddenly closed.

I talk a lot about helping support the best ‘you’ at home first and foremost, because I know we’ll then get the best you at work. And I believe it should always be done in that order. With lockdowns still in place around the world and many parents kicking off homeschooling for the first time, now more than ever it’s of the utmost importance for us as a business to bring ultimate flexibility to their work-life balance.

‘Happy Hour’ for our US team

We’re incredibly fortunate that podcasting is a digital medium and that we can be so agile, and it has very much been business as usual for everyone we employ — from a work perspective, at least. But the challenge we still faced was how to maintain that which we value most — our culture — despite being behind screens, hundreds or thousands of miles apart.

Our aim from the start was to keep everyone in the business engaged and motivated, but also feeling like they’re still an important part of a team — something even more vital for those we knew were going to be spending lockdown alone, a far cry from the warm and welcoming office environment they were used to.

And I’ve been blown away by the efforts of all our teams around the world. It’s really hard to put into writing what it means to see everybody coming together in the different creative ways they have, but it’s safe to say that Acast’s culture is alive and well in the face of adversity.

Team drinks in Australia

We very quickly, and relatively comfortably, transitioned all meetings to Zoom or Google Hangouts, including our quarterly Campfire session where everybody around the world tunes in to hear the latest from across the company.

I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced a 200-person conference call, and a few years ago I’m sure it would’ve been a nightmare, but thanks to the wonders of modern technology it went off without a hitch — and people even had a good laugh at the never-actually-ridden skateboards I have up on my walls at home. I’m still adamant they’re works of art by the renowned sculptor ‘Santa Cruz’.

Lunchtime catch-ups in the office kitchen and Friday drinks have been replaced with virtual versions — special thanks to Zoom for the customizable backgrounds — and various teams have run everything from quiz nights to Acast’s Got Talent, a night of what I’m sure was absolutely unforgettable entertainment for our US team.

Some of the other highlights I’ve been hearing about include book clubs and fitness and yoga sessions, and it’s so lovely to hear stories like Cedric’s, about how our people around the world are adapting to the changes in their personal lives.

The ‘plank’ challenge

If I may blow my own trumpet for a moment, I’m also putting together a short audio message — let’s call it a ‘podcast’ — each week, which I then share with all our teams around the world on Slack. Usually just in time for cracking open the first well-earned drink of a Friday afternoon.

It still remains unclear exactly when things will get back to normal, and no doubt it will be a different story for each different country we operate in, but we won’t take the decision to return to the office lightly — and will only when it is completely safe for everybody to do so.

Our people and our culture will always be our first thought. And whatever happens, we’re in this together — and we’ll come through it together.

Just another day in the ‘office’ for our team in France



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