I’ve recently been chatting with people from various agency setups across Bristol and the South West. When the subject of company perks arises, I’ve been proudly flashing what CookiesHQ has to offer.

We’re a web and mobile development studio, so one of the first perks on offer is a development machine of your choice, maxed out with all the tools you could need. We offer each of our team members a Kindle reader and maintain a good e-book library. Alongside this, we have a decent conference budget and holiday package, so not too bad, all things considered.

Up until recently, I thought that these were our major perks and the rest was just…well, you know, the way that things are in agencies. It turns out, that’s not always the case. Through opening up to more people about the way we operate as a company, I discovered that our biggest perks were actually hidden in our core values.

The elephant in the room, a.k.a. “financial perks”

Competitive salaries, a good pension and benefits such as life insurance etc are essential and expected these days, and they very much depend on the size of the employer. A larger company is more likely to have better packages than smaller ones simply because they can afford to offer it. Does that make them better workplaces? Not necessarily. There are other considerations when thinking about improving your company’s perks and it goes past the financial to the experiential.

It’s not rocket science: creating a nice working environment will keep your staff happy and allow them to produce their best work. Over the five years that CookiesHQ has been operating, we’ve come to realise that it’s often the little things that have the biggest impact.

Remote working

When Nat and I started the company, it wasn’t long until we realised that working together in the same room 100% of the time was not a good idea. From the start, we decided to invest and learn how to make the remote-first approach successful for the two of us, so that we could work from different physical locations, but still collaborate on projects.

When the time came to recruit our team, we decided that this was the way we wanted to operate. If people wanted to work from home, so be it; if they lived in Spain, why not?

Now, we do have a nice office here in Bristol, but despite that, nobody is expected to come in to it at any time. You don’t need to warn us – just turn up on HipChat and we know you’re ready to work.

Team time

Having a remote-first culture is mostly free and it can also be your biggest perk. Even if you’re all in the same city, the remote-first approach allows your team members to accommodate their lives around work and vice versa.

However, it’s essential to have some time all together to bond as a team, especially for those that are working from afar. A couple of times a year, we have team building days where we all come together to enjoy each other’s company in real life; for those working in the Bristol office, we make sure to have a proper lunch break together in another room to separate break time from working time. If you want people to communicate well when working together, you need to give them time to bond and get to know how everyone ticks.

Work-life balance

Some people were surprised when we told them that we insist on not working into the evening or on weekends here at CookiesHQ.

Because we started the company as a husband and wife team, we always made a point to not work on certain days or after a certain time. I remember Nat and I made an agreement that we would even stop talking about work as soon as we started running the bath for our little one in the evening. It gave us a natural ‘line in the sand’ between work and family life, which was essential, both personally and professionally.

When we started hiring people, it was extremely important that the work-life balance was respected, for us and for our team members, so we just kept doing the same thing.

During the last five years, we’ve never needed to ask someone to work on weekends or stay late because we had to finish a project, which is something we’re proud of. I’ve always seen having to do that as a failure on the part of the management team and truly believe that if your project is properly managed & people are doing their best work during the day, you don’t need to put in the all-nighters or weekend work in order to deliver.

Needing people to work such long hours seems to be an industry standard, even if everybody knows that it’s detrimental to both the people and the quality of work produced – an over caffeinated brain can’t function as well as a rested one!

If you respect your team’s work-life balance, they should lead a happier life outside of work, be more productive during work hours and hopefully create better work for you in the long run. Win win!

Our office is ‘boring’

I like to joke how our Bristol office is probably one of the most boring offices in our industry.

Yes, we may have a few quirky motivational posters on the wall and geeky things dotted around, but our office is always dead quiet. No music, no fancy ping pong table. Just one (silent!) open plan room and two extra rooms for people that need to isolate themselves. This was ‘boring by design’. Having previously worked in a loud/music heavy shared office, we’ve seen the negative impact it could have on people’s ability to focus.

Since we can’t expect people to do their best work in a non-matching environment, we made the decision that, for us, being ‘boring’ and maintaining good working hours is more important than having lots of toys or a massive sound system to keep the team happy.

Let them learn and play

Doing client work can be intensive. Coders and designers need space to wind down, replenish their creative juices and have a bit of time off from client work to play, experiment and learn. This is why we decided to run our own Cookies Labs.

How much time you give them to play depends on your setup. Some agencies can afford to keep all Fridays off of client work (and that is our ultimate goal), but we had to adapt and settled on everyone having one week per quarter, shielded from client work, where they can work on their own projects, write open source code or learn a new technology.

Conclusion

When talking to people about the way we operate, it seems that all the points above are far more important than a Kindle or a gym membership. Whilst the financial perks are the ones that cost the most, they aren’t necessarily the ones that make the most difference to your team. By allowing your staff to leave at a decent time in the evening and spend some quality time outside of work, as well as having surroundings that allow them to focus, you’ll find you will succeed in creating a productive and happy working environment.

I wish we’d hear more about companies because of their ethic towards employees, rather than the fact that they have an office slide or a ping pong table, but I guess it takes one Cookie at a time to change the whole industry.