What role does the physical office space play in the overall culture of a company? How highly should employers prioritize this?

Emily Nishi: Office space is such a critical part of our people strategy. When I think about culture, I think about how it’s manifested not only in what we do and say, but also in what employees see around them every day.  What you value as a company should be reflected in what's around you.

When designing the space, the team felt it was important for our office to embody our core value of “Be Yourself” by making it feel collaborative and inviting. We’ve done this by creating a warm and open work environment with a number of casual meeting spots, kitchens, and lounge areas.

We value inclusion and “Uplifting Others,” so at our SF office, for example, you will find inviting mothers’ rooms, prayer rooms, “no pups allowed” conference rooms for those with allergies, gender-neutral restrooms and so on.

We’ve also made an effort to ensure that offices in different cities reflect the local culture. For example, our Nashville location features conference rooms named after famous country musicians and there’s a fun wall of wigs we fondly call our “Dolly Parton wall.”

We’ve brought the same design aesthetic to our driver Hubs across the country — in cities like Atlanta, Denver, and Phoenix — which is where drivers can get in-person assistance to ask questions, get information, connect with other drivers and get on-boarded. It was important to us to create a welcoming, streamlined experience for drivers to make sure they can get in and out quickly, and have a positive experience every time.

No matter the physical location, we want to make sure that our culture and values are seamlessly apparent through the design of the space.

Nikki Krishnamurthy: We believe people should feel excited when they walk into work every day and office space plays a big role in creating that kind of positive energy. We take care to ensure that each office is designed to encourage different kinds of work to take place simultaneously. We believe our open floor plan inspires collaboration, and nearby community seating and lounge areas with comfy couches allow people to chat, catch up and work in more informal settings. We absolutely prioritize our culture, which is why we also prioritize our spaces — it’s key to our success.

How can rapidly growing startups maintain that fun culture while evolving to be an established company with a more traditionally corporate structure?

EN: Maintaining our values and culture while we scale is incredibly important to us, but it’s also important that we remain flexible as the organization grows and make adjustments along the way. For example, in 2017, we re-launched our company values and shared specific stories to demonstrate what they tangibly look like for Lyft employees. Our three values — Be Yourself, Uplift Others and Make it Happen — are at the foundation of everything we do and have guided the company forward from Day 1. This starts with our co-founders, John and Logan, who make it a priority to ensure that the entire organization stays rooted in our mission of improving people’s lives with the world’s best transportation.

A significant part of maintaining culture starts with hiring. When we evaluate candidates, we don't look for culture “fit” but for culture “adds” to ensure that we’re constantly striving to create a diverse workplace with a variety of opinions and backgrounds. We believe that diverse perspectives are critical in shaping direction, mission, vision and values. We work with our Employee Resource Groups to also keep our work environment as inclusive as possible — they’ve helped us develop our Gender Inclusion and Affirmation policy, which led to our gender-neutral bathrooms in our offices, and we’ve partnered together to expand our benefit programs from mental health to parental leave.

NK: We try hard to keep things fun and infuse each space with local touches, which can make the office feel more like home. 

It’s also important to recognize that traditional work styles are changing and that not every employee works the same way. Some need quiet spaces while others crave interaction. We believe that supporting employees to find their own balance will help them be more productive. 

And when you’re building a company that spans countries and timezones, one of the best investments you can make are conference rooms and seamless video-conference technologies that make it easy for employees to feel like they are working face to face — even when they are thousands of miles away!

How can an employer maintain and foster employee engagement through a company’s difficult times, especially during times of bad press?

EN: Having regular all-hands meetings is an important and meaningful way to keep employees engaged with and connected to the organization’s missions, values, and goals. It’s a great time to reiterate the company’s North Star and steps being taken to get there. At a recent all-hands for example, one of our co-founders read aloud a story shared by a Lyft passenger about an amazing Lyft driver who helped her during a ride — when hearing these stories, you can’t help but be inspired!

NK: Timely, open and honest communication is always key. We’ve found that being transparent and making sure employees hear the latest Uber news from our leadership builds trust and creates a sense of community. If employees trust one another and their leadership, it can make all the difference when challenges inevitably arise.

As companies develop arms that reach into different business areas, do you think it is important for a company to maintain an overall office culture? Is it beneficial to have each arm of a business take on its own culture?

EN: I think every team has its own culture within every organization. But through the hiring process, we’re focused on making sure that each individual is a great culture add to the overall organization, in addition to the team they’re interested in joining. Ultimately what’s most important is that we all live and breath Lyft’s three core values — Be Yourself, Uplift Others and Make It Happen — no matter which seat you’re sitting in.

NK: There are some aspects of our culture that we work hard to ensure are universal within all branches of our company. At Uber, these include things like our cultural norms, which start with “Do the right thing. Period.” But I think it’s also inevitable — and positive — that different parts of the company, especially in different offices around the world, will develop their own sense of culture and community. This, too, is part of fostering and embracing diversity, and I think ultimately makes us stronger overall.