In our ongoing series, Culture Collective, we are sitting down with workplace professionals to discuss the importance of positive workplace culture. This week, we talked with Rebecca Katona, Chief of Staff at AtlanticLIVE. Rebecca has worked at Atlantic Media for 6 years. She moved to DC 12 years ago and resides on Capitol Hill with her husband Joey and two sons Calvin and Winston. She is an avid listener of the West Wing Weekly podcast and loves entertaining for friends and family.
What are three words you would use to describe your workplace culture and why?
I would describe our culture as generous, familial and fast-moving. Fast-moving is more related to the nature of the work we do. We are constantly in motion and that certainly impacts our culture.
Familial because we spend a lot of time on the road together. People have late nights and early mornings, delayed flights and challenging venues and these experiences bind the team together.
Generosity is one of the pillars of our organization. . It is core to how we actually perform the day to day operations of our business. People are generous with their time, generous of spirit and generous of knowledge. It’s something that people have genuinely attached to, beyond it being just a statement on our website. The generosity of my colleagues blew me away when I first joined the organization.
What is your office super power?
I firmly believe we collectively have the brain power and physical muscle to launch a spaceship, even though none of us have any degrees in science, and I think that says a lot about our team. There is an absolute dedication to our product. If there is a job to be done, we will accomplish it. So yes, I think we could get a rocket off the ground if that was the task put in front of us.
Why is company culture important?
I think company culture is important, because I think talent is important. I think the people who work at AtlanticLIVE are essential to the product we build. If the environment isn’t supportive of their creativity and their personal and professional growth, we won’t be a desirable place to work and, therefore, we won’t retain good talent. Our product will suffer, our revenue will suffer and I think to not believe that those things are inextricably intertwined is short sighted.
What does your team normally do for lunch?
We are the lucky recipients of a Sweetgreen outpost here in our office. So we are big consumers of kale! We have a big communal table in the center of our office that we refer to as the “oyster bar,” because it looks like an oyster bar. Oftentimes, you’ll see people eating there during lunch, just kind of taking a break, eating and working together there.
Beyond Sweetgreen, we also have a significant population of very diligent lunch packers, which I think is very impressive in a young workplace. Everybody is working really hard and often that means having a working lunch, but the fact that the oyster bar is at the center of our workplace says a lot about what we prioritize and how we spend our time together.
What are ways your company brings your team together?
We definitely seek out opportunities to celebrate our work and celebrate the talent across our staff that makes the work possible. We just closed out our huge landmark festival, The Atlantic Festival, about a month ago. We celebrated with tacos and a margarita machine and that was a big hit!
I’ve also yet to go to an all staff meeting that did not involve snacks. We love to eat and food is an essential component of how we sustain ourselves. We have a lovely snack cube and a dedicated snack committee that restocks the cube on a monthly basis. When we talk about a holiday celebration or a celebration of our work, we’re figuring out how to feed each other both with affirmation and also with food.
If you could propose an idea to positively impact any company’s culture, what would it be and why?
I think it’s important to listen to your staff. That sounds really elementary, but listening and then actually developing an action plan out of that listening is the most important thing you can do. Last year, our president, Margaret Low, took time with every staff member across our organization. She logged 15+ hours just listening, with the sole purpose of getting their feedback and thoughts on culture. Then, she took that feedback and spent a lot of time synthesizing and digesting it, read it back to the group and then, from there, laid out a plan. She acknowledged where we had room to grow in terms of bolstering our culture, acknowledged what we do well and didn’t want to lose sight of, and then figured out a way forward. Much of my role has been shepherding that process and then figuring out what the next step is. What we spent the last year doing was just really showing up, making sure that who we said we are is who we are in practice and that people are supported in the day to day functionality of their role.
We’ve made great strides. Some of that has come from identifying moments and places in time when we wanted to regroup and reconnect in a more informal setting. Next year there’s going to be an increased focus on professional development. So when we think about 2020, we’re figuring out how we pour back into our staff and what tools to give them to support their professional growth. It’s important to see if those tools are not just something that benefits them while they’re here at AtlanticLIVE. We have a lot of really bright staff and I know that they won’t be here forever and I want to give them tools that will benefit them over the full course of their professional life. I want them to know and really believe that that’s what we care about. I think the act of listening is really important, but if nothing comes out of it, it’s actually highly detrimental to culture. If you’re not prepared to do anything then you shouldn’t even be listening, because you’ll certainly lose everyone’s trust. If you’re willing to listen and commit to action, it’s the most powerful thing a leader can do.