As the owner of a WordPress web design company in Vancouver, it was inevitable that I adopt a managing style conducive to working with Millennials. It’s taken a bit of getting used to. Owning a small business now makes you the default proprietor of happiness, and a curator of workplace fun. You definitely need to consider the office culture.

Generation Why

I’m a member of Generation X, and I’ve had the opportunity to work alongside Baby Boomers and Millennials alike. In terms of working styles, I feel the younger generation holds a distinct workplace mindset all their own.When I initially opted to start my own company, I wanted to avoid that 55 hours-a-week lifestyle I had become so accustomed to in my previous career. Of course, that old school mode of thinking can be tough to shake.

More Play, Less Work

Encouraged by the successful office culture template set forth by Google and Twitter, Millennials now anticipate engaging with their workplaces in equally fun and exciting ways. They are an extremely focussed group of technically minded people, but Millennials demand their playtime, too. I’ve noticed the line between work time and free time has become somewhat pixelated, to the point of blurriness.

Meet the New Boss

I’ve worked for businesses that placed intense scrutiny on budgeting and speed. When I established Forge and Smith, I was determined to steer clear of that ingrained nose-to-the-grindstone work process. I have a strict no overtime policy that ensures staff maintain their work/life balance. My goal was to foster an environment where people could take pride in doing their job well. I wanted to create an attitude where a sense of teamwork and craftsmanship would trump the conventional “just a job” mentality.

In an eight hour work day, you can realistically expect to see only about six hours of actual billable work being done (with no detriment to clients’ projects). As a business Principal, I’ve found myself having to bite my tongue in those moments when I observe the fun cutting into designated work time. It’s a delicate balance, but it’s a line you need to walk as team leader.

Here are some of the ways I’ve gone about fostering a stronger work culture.

1. Join in the fun.

Somebody brought a crib deck into the lunch room one day. This established our long-standing tradition of playing card games during the noon hour. It’s a great excuse for me to join the developers for a (mostly) lighthearted strategy game. Team building doesn’t have to entail weekend retreats and trust building exercises. As the boss, it pays dividends to always be interested in whatever motivates the rest of the team.

2. Nurture team bonding, but don’t force it.

Did I mention there is also a small contingent of staff here that doesn’t play cards? Opting out of the fun is okay, too. I have a competitive streak and would love to get the entire team out of the office for an afternoon at the batting cages. Obviously this isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time. There are other ways to bond. I’ve discovered local conferences are a good way to entice staff to convene outside the work environment. Your crew don’t necessarily have to be besties, but they do need to have a mutual respect for one another. Respect is a precursor to liking. As the boss, you need to respect everybody’s preferences.

3. Hire the right personalities.

It’s been said many times before, but personality is key when it comes to selecting the right employees. This remains a truism regardless of generational differences. It only takes one wrong personality to cast a black cloud over the entire team. Skills and experience can be developed over time, but the wrong mix of traits in a new hire can negatively impact a team’s chemistry. I’ve discovered the advantages of a slow and methodical hiring process, as well as the benefits of a quick termination. Letting go of people is never fun, but it’s all part of maintaining team morale. Never underestimate the importance of the collective mood.

4. Let people indulge their passions (within reason).

As long as it doesn’t interfere with business, allow staff to express their individuality. Whether it’s a team member’s penchant for electric guitar, casual attire, wearing headphones, or bringing a pet to the office, make concessions for staff to personalize their work day.

In order for a team to gel, it helps if they can play together. Obviously the term ‘play’ is subjective. Treat employees well and you will be rewarded with dedication. Millennials, in particular, approach the digital arts with an enthusiasm that bodes well in customer relations. This zeal can also be cultivated with smart company practices. Treat your office like the delicate ecosystem that it is. Always showcase the workplace culture you desire by personal example.