Work Happier: David McKay, Head of Culture at innocent drinks

We’re Work.Life, the workplace wellbeing experts. Over the last 5 years, we’ve been finding out the secrets to what makes people happy at work, creating our very own Work Happy podcast, and trying to measure happiness in our workspaces. In light of Covid-19, we wanted to take it one step further, and find out how people leaders at some of our favourite businesses have been navigating the pandemic and keeping their teams (you guessed it…) happy and engaged at work.

First up, it’s David McKay, Head of Culture at innocent drinks on all things company culture, team engagement and remote working challenges. Excited?! Us too.

 

Hi David! First of all, we’d love to hear a little bit about you and your role.

Weirdly enough, I joined innocent exactly 8 years ago today. I started off as our Office Superhero, which was a split between looking after Fruit Towers facilities (our London HQ) and making innocent a great place to work. Roll forward 8 years and I’m Head of Culture (and still working closely with our Office Superhero). My role covers a broad range of areas that impact employee experience and engagement – our offices, well-being, inclusion & diversity, internal comms, events, embedding values and behaviours. And of course, managing our response to Covid this year. The list goes on… (which makes it an incredibly exciting role!)

 

Say I knew nothing about innocent, what can you tell us about the company values and culture?

We ultimately exist to help people live well and die old. It just so happens that we do this through making natural, healthy and delicious drinks that are convenient for people to grab hold of.

We’ve got 5 values: natural, responsible, commercial, generous and entrepreneurial (8 years here and I still can’t spell that last one right first time round…). The great thing about innocent is that you truly see them being lived and breathed every day. We apply them to everything we do, from the big company decisions to the small everyday things we do. So whilst there are so many aspects of our culture, I’d very proudly sum it up as ‘genuinely purpose and values-led’, as everything anchors to them.

 

Broadly speaking, what do you think are the most important aspects of company culture?

Definitely purpose and values play a leading role – we make drinks, but it’s why and how we do this that makes us special. If I were to call out a few aspects that are important to me, I’d say community, openness and a healthy dose of fun are important. All of which have been tested this year and their importance is more evident than ever.

 

So thinking way back to before the pandemic, how did you approach company culture?

There are so many ways we do this, but I’ll focus on a few:

  • Company events – we usually get the European teams together every summer but weren’t able to do this in 2020. Also a lot of smaller events to team day outs to Friday beers in the office – all impacted by covid.
  • Well-being – one of the things I’m proudest of at innocent is our mental health offering. In a nutshell, we’ve got core training across the business, supplemented by one on one coaching, external support, mindfulness club, and a range of materials like action plans and ‘mindful moments’ that land in our inboxes.
  • Community – we usually kick off our week all together with the Monday Morning Meeting (the MMM), have lunch together, and have a whole host of activities that encourage us to build connections we wouldn’t otherwise get across the business. We even factor this thinking into our seating plan across Fruit Towers.

 

“Work is just one aspect of life and everyone’s circumstances are different. At such an uncertain time, people need their employer to make life easier, not harder.”

 

Sounds great! So what about when lockdown hit – what actions did you take straight away?

Safe to say there have been challenges but we’ve managed it really well. First things first, when lockdown happened was personal wellbeing; work is just one aspect of life and everyone’s circumstances are different. At such an uncertain time, people need their employer to make life easier, not harder. Our messaging was consistent: you and your family’s health and well-being come first. We followed this up with quickly adapting our mental health offering, increasing our confidential coaching sessions and creating a series of videos with our external expert. We also had Feet Up Friday in June, giving everyone an extra day off (3 months in to lockdown when working remotely was beginning to take a real toll across the country). Next on the agenda is mental health first aid training.

With community and events, it’s obviously not quite the same as all being together but we’ve adapted really well. Our MMM is replaced with a weekly newsletter and regular video comms from our leadership and people around the business. We’ve also had all sorts of virtual events, like magicians, live music and comedy. Individual teams have done a range of things too like escape rooms and cocktail-making classes.

 

How has your thinking evolved over the course of this year? Is it any different now?

We’re looking at how we adapt our entire people offering – some of which are things we had on the horizon, that we’ve bought forward (one positive of the last 6 months!). The big one that everyone is talking about at the moment is flexible working. At innocent, we know we are going to be more flexible in the future but before rushing into creating a long-term policy quite yet, we’re getting input from the business and factoring in thinking around things like the value the office brings, L&D and employee benefits.

Remote working also means we are looking at how we support managers better in giving them real time feedback on team engagement, how we deliver L&D, and what the future looks like for internal comms.

 

Are your team still working remotely?

Yes! Government guidance changes regularly but at the moment, the message we’ve given everyone is WFH if you can (which it has been since lockdown eased). Fruit Towers is open for our product development team and anyone who wishes to go in for personal reasons (for me, going in once a week does wonders for my mental and physical health).

 

And what do you think have been the main challenges of sustaining company culture while your team are dispersed?

I mentioned a few above but collaboration is difficult – particularly for project work. A good personal example I have is that we are currently building a carbon-neutral factory in Rotterdam. I wouldn’t class my travel there as essential (and wouldn’t as there are bigger things at play at the moment) but it makes designing an office and working with architects and new team members tricky. There are people joining the business (and my team!) that I haven’t met in person, which has a knock on impact on community. Building rapport over video call isn’t quite the same…

 

Do you think team engagement has improved or worsened this year? What have you been doing about it?

Our engagement results are really quite healthy, which is a great achievement this year, all things considered. I think this is largely down to our approach to managing Covid and focusing on communication across the business.

 

Many companies will have been hit hard during this time – and unfortunately that can mean a reduced people/culture budget. What do you think businesses can be doing regardless of budget?

It’s true, it would be lovely to have an endless supply of money but it’s not realistic. There are 2 things I’m conscious of when making financial decisions:

  1. Your business is made up of people, so although hard to measure, you will see a return in investing in people. People/Culture shouldn’t be cut without considered thought first – especially when it’s not clear how long we will be working as we are now. Easier said than done, but focus on what’s most important by using engagement surveys. Involve people around the business to input and resolve – they will have a heightened awareness of the challenge, feel invested themselves, and help you come to quick wins that are low cost but high value.
  2. Not everything has to cost money – one new thing that I love is that our CEO, Douglas, now calls everyone on their birthday to say hello and check in with them (I’m not sure he sings solo though…). Pretty impressive, considering there are 650 of us. Doesn’t cost a thing and says loads about our culture.

 

And finally, what makes you happy at work?!

Ooh, big question with lots of answers. The thing I love (which innocent gives me) is being in a fast-paced and challenging environment that has purpose, whilst having fun along the way.

 

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