‘Culture-first’: how Box Inc.’s HR strategy drives business success

Culture isn’t just something that Box Inc. talks about, its entire strategy is built on the idea of “culture-first,” says its chief people officer Christy Lake who has helped the cloud content management company create an environment where a positive work culture is part of everything aspect of what it does.

ITBusiness.ca spoke with Lake, just before her one year anniversary with the California-based company about why Box puts such a focus on culture as well as her thoughts on overcoming challenges in the changing world of human resources.

Christy Lake, chief people officer at Box Inc. Source: LinkedIn account

Lake joined the Box team in January of 2018 as its first chief people officer. “As we scale, it’s incredibly important that we stay true to our values and to what makes Box an incredible place to work,” stated Aaron Levie, Box’s co-founder and CEO in a press release at the time.

He went on to explain that Lake’s background in HR leadership made her an ideal candidate to help Box “continue to build an organization that develops talent, celebrates diversity and cultivates a place for Boxers to do their best.”

Building culture-first

Box was founded in 2005 by then university students Levie and Dylan Smith. In its early days, the co-founders would drive an old Volkswagen bus around Redwood, California to increase awareness about the brand. Today that bus sits in the company’s Redwood headquarters and serves as a mini bar (with kombucha) for Box employees to enjoy.

Box’s Volkswagen turned minibar-Redwood, Calif. Photo by Meagan Simpson

However – that old Volkswagen isn’t the only thing Levie and Smith (Box’s chief financial officer), brought with them into the current version of the company. In a 2017 interview with the Los Angeles Times, the Levie said that culture has always been the key to Box’s success.

“We think culture-first,” explains Lake, “while we do have the very traditional practices, I think one of the things we keep front and centre is how are we creating and implementing different programs, processes, [and] decisions that we are making with culture as sort of our front and centre focal point.”

Any decision process for Box, whether its performance, recruitment, rewards and compensation, physical office spaces… whatever it might be is based on this idea of culture-first, she tells ITBusiness.ca. “[We ask] is it something that is a mirror and reinforcement of the value set that we are looking to hold and shine a light on.”

Lake is responsible for what would be considered a traditional HR department but she does so much more than that, Box brands its HR department as its ‘People and Places Organization’; Lake is also in charge of ‘Workplace Services and Global Real Estate Organization’ – all this simply means she oversees the company’s physical office spaces as well as the people who make those buildings work.

Part of Box’s HR is its “people strategy” as Lake calls it, putting an emphasis on creating a sense of belonging among employees.

One way that the company creates that sense of belonging is its employee resource groups. Lake explains that the groups actually came out of a grassroots movement by Box employees, or ‘Boxers’ as they like to refer to themselves.

Boxers started creating groups around common identities, or similarities that they shared and eventually Box, as a company, embraced it and these groups have become the foundation of its efforts around belonging, Lake explains.

The numerous resource groups vary from ‘Families at Box’ to ‘Women at Box’ and work together on a variety of things from education, to celebrations and will even collaborate on programming initiatives.

“We stay very connected with [the groups] to understand what [people’s] different experiences are so that we are mindful and cognizant of those issues,” says Lake.

Diversity and inclusion

The resource groups are one way for Box to be mindful of employees’ differences and address some of the challenges that have seem to plague many tech companies.

Tech companies from Silicon Valley all the way to Toronto have long had problems around gender and the workplace.

Historically tech work environments are most ‘friendly’ towards young workers, pushing those workers to work hard, long hours, and forego work-life balance. This is one aspect that has led to a persisting the gender gap and makes it harder for tech workers with families to feel welcomed or able to compete in the industry.

And while things have gotten better in recent years, hurdles still remain; women only accounted for 23 per cent of the overall workforce at giant tech companies including Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Google and Microsoft in 2017.

Lake says Box is addressing some of these issues by not only creating an inclusive office environment but offering things like benefits that address the needs of different workers.

“We connected with families at Box to understand some of the things that are important to them and would create a more inclusive and welcoming workplace,” Lake says, “and we built that into our benefits roadmap.” She says the company put in a number of benefits last year for employees with families around balancing time at work and home and this year already has plans to grow its leave support for mothers, fathers, adoptive and parents of all kind.

Box also implemented programming to support travelling Boxers who have young families and plans to add fertility benefits in the coming year as well.

Box was even listed as number 30 on Fortune’s ’50 Best Workplaces for Parents’, noting the “level of transparency the company shows to each employee is pretty mind-blowing.”

Lake says these are important examples of creating a positive work environment that will then, in turn, create positive business success.

The changing world of work

“Increasingly, when you think about the environment that we’re all working in today, people want to work for a company and in an environment that they feel more closely reflects their personal value set,” Lake tells ITBusiness.ca.

She explains that the days of having a personal life and professional life are gone and its important for tech companies to embrace the idea that company values should line up with personal values.

“When we get the complete you, not just the professional you, you’re able to be more creative, more innovative. You’re able to be more expressive about your perception and perspective on things, says Lake, “and this benefits the company ultimately because what our customers get from having the whole of you in the workplace, is just disproportionately higher.”

But she says Box isn’t looking to increase work life at the cost of personal life, its about melding the two. She says flexibility and integration are important to the California-based company. For example, if her son has a concert recital at two in the afternoon, Boxers are open, flexible and willing to accommodate what you need to do when you need to do it.

“The more that Box can connect with what matters and is meaningful to workers, the more we believe people are going to be able and interested in bringing the whole of their perspective into the work.”

But social and personal concerns are not the only issues facing HR departments and tech companies enlarge. Similar to the Canadian job market, the U.S. is facing a talent gap in the tech industry, with too many jobs and not enough highly-skilled workers to fill them.

Lake says similar to other tech companies Box faces challenges from a recruitment and retention standpoint. And keeping with its overall strategy, Box addresses these issues culture-first.

“[Box’s] approach has been to really create the most dynamic and engaging, work environment as well as being conscious of the type of work. We believe the recipe for success is meaningful and challenging work in an environment that’s inspiring, engaging, that allows you to have the greatest possible contribution and impact,” she explains.

Lake says even with challenges that still face the tech industry enlarge, she doesn’t see Box’s approach as an outlier. “Most companies are moving in this direction,” she notes. But even she noted based on her personal experience working for various companies including HP (Hewlett-Packard) and Home Depot previously, Box is unique in its level of commitment to its strategy.

“I think what is unique about Box is how cohesive from the leadership team down, the focus is on the employee, the Boxer experience, and the commitment to a values-driven workplace.”

The key for the cloud content management company says Lake is combining an inspiring work environment, meaningful and challenging work that gives employees the feeling of positive contribution and impact. “When those three stars align, we have really great success.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Meagan Simpson
Meagan Simpson
Meagan Simpson is a staff writer for IT World Canada. A graduate of Carleton University’s journalism program, she loves sports, travelling, reading and photography, and when not covering tech news she can be found cuddled up on the couch with her cat and a good book.

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