We Like it Here

by Emily Powers

It’s true, we like it here. Fresh Tilled Soil was recently selected as one of the best places to work in Boston by the Boston Business Journal. As someone who is responsible for People Operations, I must admit that the application process roused both wild confidence and creeping fear in me.

The winners were selected based on anonymous feedback from a survey completed by our whole team. We didn’t know the questions, nor could we influence the responses. That’s right, no bribes of a potential Taco Tuesday allowed. At first, I felt confidence, “Of course we’ll do great! We work so hard every day to make sure this is the best place to come to work.” Then the fear and doubt crept in, “Wait, what if all the efforts aren’t enough? What if the team writes terrible things?”

When the results were revealed, I breathed a sigh of relief, kicked the self-doubt to the curb, and reflected on how we made it to this point. Culture is a ragingly hot topic. In fact if I’m being honest, it pains me a little to type the word. It seems every article out there extols the cultural virtues of Google, Facebook, and Netflix, encouraging the rest of the world to get in step with these giants and offer gratis all-you-can-eat lunch buffets. When I set aside my initial cringing reaction to releasing yet another article about culture into the universe, I realized that we should actually be grateful for these articles. The more people speak out about the small and large steps we can take to improve workplace satisfaction, the more people will wake up each morning looking forward to heading into work (and doing great things). With this in mind, I wanted to use this award as an opportunity to reflect on the heroic efforts by our founders and leaders that have made Fresh Tilled Soil a magical place to come to work.

There are three key drivers of culture here: Empowerment, support, and balance. It all starts with the people. We seek to build a team of mini-founders—individuals who are incredibly self-motivated, driven, and up for crafting the ideas and taking the risks necessary to build truly remarkable products and experiences. Once we’ve found and hired great people, it is our job to keep them empowered, supported, and balanced.

Empowerment touches upon one of our four core values: Own The Work. This means you build trust, you admit mistakes, and you take pride in your work every day. It is well known around here that if you approach Richard (our CEO) with an idea, he will 100% back you up. Our team is empowered to make decisions, make mistakes, and to impress, all without a formal approval process.

Support is built through clear communication and good processes. I know, this sounds boring, but it’s true. If, in your first week on the job, you are fumbling with HR paperwork, not sure who to talk to, wondering where your desk is and how to feed yourself, you are starting off in murky waters. One of our proudest People Ops improvements was the 2015 revamp of our employee onboarding process. New team members are now warmly welcomed weeks before they even start. They are provided insight into our company values, their future teammates, the tools we use every day, and they get a sneak-peek at their 8-week onboarding plan so they know exactly what’s ahead. Our 44-point onboarding checklist (yes, 44 points) ensures they arrive on day one clear-headed and ready to dive in. This type of process overhaul is just one example of our mindset in People Ops. We are constantly asking, “What can we do to keep our team free of hassles and completely focused on doing exactly what they are most talented at?”

So, you build the A-team, you empower them to do great things, you support them, then… you make sure they don’t work too much. Yes, this is where balance comes in. We insist upon wellness and balance. First and foremost, we don’t work weekends, and we allow for flexible work schedules and work locations. We trust (and empower) our team to be fully effective regardless of when or where they’re working. Upon that foundation, we build a whole lot of initiatives to encourage wellness. To name just a few: Running Club, spontaneous planking, monthly massage, yoga, company gatherings, and generous policies like unlimited paid time off. When you hire a team of top performers, you need to keep their overachieving nature in check. Sometimes you need to remind them when to call it a day and tell them to go for a run every now and then (or plank!).

Being recognized as one of the best places to work in Boston confirmed that our efforts really are producing results—we do like it here! However, let me assure you, there is no check box to tick here. I was once told that HR is a race without a finish line, and no statement is more true. It is the spirit of relentless improvement that truly keeps an organization thriving. So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to uncover more areas for improvement.

About Emily Powers

“Ask Emily” is the refrain most commonly heard around the Fresh Tilled Soil office. Type A, obsessed with lists and spreadsheets, fervent on follow-up: she’s...