When I acquired PartnerCentric in 2017 (after holding almost every position in the organization over a decade) there were two things that I knew were non-negotiables when it came to our company culture:
- My family was going to stay my top priority.
- My employees would feel empowered and supported not just as workers, but as whole people.
Now, on the surface, these two statements may look pretty standard. After all, who among working parents would say their families weren’t their top priority? What CEO would decide to create a workplace where the employees felt like worker bees?
These are things that most of us in the business leadership world agree are important, especially as we see more and more working parents among us.
But here’s the thing: while so many of us, from those of us in the C-suite to the newest entry-level worker, know that prioritizing family and work-life balance are what we should be doing in our companies, that prioritization too often becomes nothing more than a pie-in-the-sky ideal.
Instead of sitting in the audience at our son’s school play, we find ourselves stuck in a conference room at the tail end of a meeting that should have ended an hour ago. Rather than taking our children to school in the morning, we sit in traffic for the daily rush hour commute.
For those of us who have demanding jobs as well as families to raise, enjoy, and love, those experiences are incredibly demoralizing. They’re exactly the kind of thing that lead to the feeling of “not being enough,” and of not being truly present whether you’re at work or at home.
That’s the last thing I wanted either for myself or my employees.
So, as I acquired and grew the company, gaining clients, increasing our offerings, and holding our work to a high standard of excellence, I also focused intensely on the one thing that I knew was crucial if our staff was to feel supported in both work and life.
What was that one thing? Company culture.
Creating Culture with Intention
The most visible element of PartnerCentric’s company culture is that we’re an entirely remote workforce. Our staff of over 40 full-time employees works out of home offices all around the country, and that in itself alleviates some of the issues that working parents generally have to juggle. There’s no morning or evening commute, for example. Lunch breaks can be spent picking little ones up from school or going to a doctor’s appointment.
But being remote by itself isn’t a company culture. Developing a strong company culture requires thought, time, and a whole lot of intention.
For me and my team, that intention revolves around nurturing PartnerCentric staff in two ways.
First, we want them to grow in their careers and to feel empowered to learn, progress, and achieve. This is why we offer our employees a monthly book allowance and host regular book club discussions. We also prioritize leadership and career growth coaching.
Both of these programs not only give our employees opportunities to develop their personal and professional skills, they also help foster the close relationships and sense of connection that remote workplaces sometimes lack.
Second, we want them to feel supported in their roles away from our company, whether that’s as parents, spouses, or caregivers. One of my favorite ways that we live out this intention is our company retreats.
Every 18 months, we host an all-expenses paid retreat for our employees. But that’s not all—we also host all-expenses paid retreats for our employees and their families every three years.
These family trips are opportunities for us to see each other outside of our roles as account manager, COO, or product manager. On these retreats, we also get to see each other as mothers, fathers, partners, husbands, and wives. That’s highly valuable when it comes to building a staff that is supportive and encouraging of each other—and not just as employees, but as whole, multifaceted individuals. I feel that you really get to know another person, and who they really are, when they are interacting with their loved ones. And getting to really know people is essential for any organization to succeed, but especially a remote one.
Walking the Talk
Of course, there’s another important aspect of creating an intentional workplace culture, and that’s setting the example at the top. I know that if I don’t live up to my own intention of making my family my number one priority, my staff won’t feel able to do so either.
That’s why I’m not shy about letting my team members know that I’ll be offline for a few hours to help my daughter with her school project, or that I’ll be taking all four kids to the pediatrician this morning, so don’t expect an immediate response.
I also know that I’ve got to be respectful and aware of my staff’s and clients’ time, so wrapping up meetings on schedule and being as efficient as possible is how I operate—simply by default. That way, clients get the support they need swiftly and with intention, and no one is stuck on a work call at 6 p.m. when they should be watching their son make his first soccer goal of the season.
Creating an intentional workplace culture that encourages both work-life balance and exceptional client service has been one of the most rewarding challenges I’ve faced as the owner and CEO of a woman-owned, women-led company. My hope is that we continue to see more companies, and more business leaders, commit to actively fostering work-life balance not only for themselves, but for the employees who show up for us every day.
Stephanie Harris is the owner and CEO of PartnerCentric, the largest woman-owned performance marketing agency in the U.S. Having been the company’s first hire and having personally managed some of the largest programs in its portfolio, she believes a leader must know how to perform every role. Her writing has been featured in FeedFront, PerformanceIN,