How Box exported its Silicon Valley culture to London Credit: Stephen LawsonIDGIDG
Business Management

How Box exported its Silicon Valley culture to London

Cloud storage vendor Box set up its European headquarters in London's Shoreditch at the beginning of 2018, just off of Silicon Roundabout, and has been working hard to establish a working culture that embraces its founding principles while adapting to its new home.

Under its 33-year-old cofounder and CEO Aaron Levie, the company has a very typical Silicon Valley culture, underpinned by a set of mantras like: "Blow our customers' minds", "Take risks. Fail Fast. GSD [get s**t done]", and '10x it'. It also runs the Live 10x programme, which deals with stress management, work-life balance and self-care concerns for employees.

So how do these principles translate to other corporate cultures as a company like Box scales fast?

"There are core principles that are part of our DNA that are easy to scale if you have a global mindset. Those key ideas around our values, and why we do what we do, allow the regions to interpret what that means globally," Tiffany Stevenson, vice president and global head of talent and belonging at Box, based in San Francisco, told Computerworld UK.

Stevenson admits that some of these principles may seem strange outside of the Silicon Valley bubble, such as "make mom proud", which may require a bit of explanation to new employees in other regions.

"[That] can feel very Silicon Valley," she admits, "but what we really mean is being aware of our blind spots and things we might do without malcontent but bring into the office, where we might unintentionally make someone uncomfortable. So that's about exploring that and being trained to address those behaviours when they happen to hold ourselves accountable."

Another example was an old principle of "bring your wacky self to work" which has now shifted to "bring your _ self to work" after the company decided "not everyone would be wacky and you can imagine how that may have landed in the UK," Stevenson said, adding that the blank allows for more "authenticity".

All new employees also get to experience that Silicon Valley DNA within a week of joining, as they visit the Box headquarters in Redwood City and meet Levie.

All Box employees are also given Impact Days to volunteer their time for the social impact work of their choice and each employee is given a free account with online learning platform Udemy and one free workshop per quarter at General Assembly for skills and training.

Building out ERGs at Box

One important part of the Box working culture is its employee resource groups (ERGs), which provide a forum for specific employee needs to be voiced. In the UK this includes Pride at Box, the Box Women's Network and the Green Team, which focuses on sustainability.

Now, a fourth ERG is soon to be added in the UK, where a diverse set of employees come from nearly 30 countries, making it a perfect example of the need to have cultural awareness when expanding into new regions.

"In the US we tend to look at ethnicity and not country of origin as a way to codify identity, but in the UK it was important to recognise those aren't the same," Stevenson said.

"So we had to have a conversation around how the model that works in the US could potentially alienate people in the UK," with the resulting group called Mosaic.

The new CFO

Box also employs chief fun officers (CFOs) in each of its offices - a voluntary position with a maximum one-year term - responsible for designing and executing quarterly team building events and strategies, such as Halloween costume competitions and fantasy sports leagues.

Stevenson explains that although the F stands for fun "it represents a culture of engagement and belonging and a space where everyone feels welcome from day one and there are events to engage with people and share common activities."

So how did this go down in the traditionally buttoned-down environs of a London office?

"I think one of the things that’s been great is not having to export the programme/CFO role verbatim from the US. We’ve had the freedom to put our own spin on it and accommodate the differences in culture in our London office," one of the London CFO's, Sam Thorpe, told Computerworld UK.

For example, it may not come as a surprise that employees in the UK respond better to impromptu activities than organised fun. "For example, we've surprised everyone with pushing a cart of ice lollies around the office on a hot afternoon. We've hosted a surprise chicken nugget eating contest during our bi-weekly EMEA All Hands meetings. Small things matter to people," Thorpe said.

Box won the Best Place to Work in Tech award at our 2019 techies awards.

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