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Q&A: BrainBox AI's Nathalie Benoit on the Importance of Workplace Culture

Our VP of people & culture discusses the importance of workplace culture in a company that has sextupled in size since 2019.

Workplace culture is the values, attitudes, preferences, and behaviors people in an organization have that make each place of work unique. In short, it’s “how we do things around here”. Countless studies have shown its centrality to the success of a business and the happiness of its employees. But what exactly constitutes a healthy company culture? And how is one maintained in an organization that’s rapidly growing and evolving? To answer these questions and more, we sat down with BrainBox AI’s Nathalie Benoit, VP of people and culture.

Q&A: BrainBox AI’s Nathalie Benoit on the Importance of Workplace Culture

Q: With over 20 years of experience in HR under your belt, you must have experienced all kinds of cultures in the workplace. Could you tell us what you’ve found are the most important factors for a healthy company culture?

A: I would have to say transparent, open communication is at the top of the list when it comes to company culture. It enables people to collaborate better – and just that one thing already gives a business a competitive advantage. The next thing I would say that’s important would be a shared vision. If you have a clear, common mission across an entire organization, you find employees are more engaged, they’re happier, and they continue to grow within the company. I think this also comes back to having a strong internal communication that reinforces employees and leads them toward this common goal. A strong leadership team supports this; it creates a clarity of direction and it helps build a common trust and respect among employees. That’s why at BrainBox AI we have quarterly reports delivered by Sam (the company’s president). We want to be transparent, making sure we’re all on the same page, heading in the same direction. Because if there’s a clear reason behind why you’re doing what you’re doing, your work becomes more meaningful. 

Q: Clearly common goals are what binds the BrainBox AI team together. But could you tell us more about the culture within the company? What makes it unique?

A: I actually came to work at BrainBox AI because of its culture. Going in, there was already this very strong, positive energy that came from our senior leaders. I could see that they really valued their people and they valued the work that they did. And this impacts their employees, who end up becoming advocates of the company’s great culture. I wanted to be a part of that, I wanted to hone in on and maintain this positivity.

Another thing I love about the culture at BrainBox AI is that everyone is open to thinking outside the box. Everyone’s input is valued. This makes the environment really engaging and fun. And I think this respect and freedom of thought comes from the fact that the company has a more relaxed, non-hierarchical structure. Employees of all levels have access to a lot of senior leaders and that builds this level of trust, mutual respect, and continuous learning. The agile structure and the fact that things move forward very quickly makes working at BrainBox AI exciting and rewarding for employees. They work hard, they drive the company forward, they learn, they grow, and they feel appreciated because they’re a big part of the changes we’re constantly experiencing.

Q: Speaking of change, do you find BrainBox AI’s values evolve with its employees?

A: Absolutely. The company is young and it’s growing very fast. This means that things are constantly changing and evolving. It’s important at BrainBox AI that employees are a part of this change. The things that don’t change though are our core values – one of which is putting the team first. Day in and day out, our people are always collaborating and prioritizing the team. They’re always ready to help. In fact, I’ve never reached out to anyone who has told me “that’s not my job”. Never. Everyone’s in it for the good of the company, which is a fantastic attitude. There is a strong sense of community, of everyone helping each other out.

Q: But how does BrainBox AI maintain this strong sense of community when most of the workforce is working online – particularly since the company has grown so substantially since the start of the pandemic?

A: We’ve grown so fast, yes. Especially over the past year. But you know what? We wouldn’t be growing so fast if our culture didn’t function so well. And a lot of why we’ve worked so well during the pandemic is down to trust. Our team knows that we trust them. They don’t need to come into the office, though we appreciate it when they do. They have the freedom to work from anywhere. What matters is that they still collaborate, and that the work gets done. 

Q: So you’ve had to make adjustments during this time, as has everyone. Do you think the pandemic has changed the BrainBox AI culture in any way? 

A: Yes and no. Many of our employees were already accustomed to working from home or at least working in front of a computer all day, but I do feel the pandemic took it to a different level. I think we gained a lot of respect for those who were working remotely before the pandemic, and I think we’ll be a lot more considerate of them going forward. 

We definitely had to be more creative and proactive when it came to maintaining the company culture. It is a challenge to continue to work and evolve together from behind our screens, so we make sure to have weekly town halls and frequent syncs just to touch base with everyone. This way our people can still feel the culture, even if they are just in their living rooms. We also often conduct surveys to gather our people’s thoughts and suggestions to find out what they need so we can make adjustments and keep the culture evolving with them.

On the other hand, the pandemic has really shown us that we can hire people from anywhere. We don’t have to restrict ourselves to hiring in Montreal. We can collaborate with the best people from all over the world. And that has really enriched our team.

Q: Keeping your people content is a top priority. What, then, do you believe companies should be doing to ensure their employees are happy and productive? 

A: I’ll tell you one thing I don’t believe in. I don’t believe in big, annual employee surveys that end up doing nothing. I believe in bite-size, real-time questions. If we want feedback from our people, we’ll ask questions right away, we’ll get the answers, and we’ll implement the changes. Problems need to be addressed quickly and change needs to happen constantly to stay relevant with regard to employees’ needs.

It’s important at BrainBox AI, for example, that our people feel engaged, empowered, and enabled. We help them do this by coaching our management team to engage with their teammates through open communication, by remaining available to them, and by recognizing the work that they do. Recognition for a job well done also helps people feel empowered. Our people love to solve problems, so we involve them in decision making every chance we get to help them feel more empowered in their roles. Enablement is also super important – that’s why we do everything we can to provide our team with the tools and the environment they need to be creative and innovative and produce their best work. 

Q: Is part of this enablement allowing employees the room to grow professionally within the company? If so, what kinds of opportunities do you provide them with to facilitate this growth? 

A: Absolutely. I think it’s important to understand where employees’ interests lie, instead of just assuming you know what path they want to take. At BrainBox AI, we have a career planning and development program that provides each member of the team with the platform to plan their career growth. They can discuss their personal career aspirations and objectives with their managers and, with the support of HR, together we come up with an action plan to get them where they want to go. We provide tools for our people to reach their goals through stretch assignments, projects, shadowing, and knowledge sharing. We really invest in our people, and not just in the short term, but in the medium and long term too. We do everything we can to help our hard-working employees continue to feel heard and to improve, learn, develop, grow, and succeed.

Q: I’m afraid that’s all the time we have. Before we wrap up, how can those who are interested find out more about the workplace culture at BrainBox AI?

A: They can take a look at our social media pages. We’re often posting content that showcases who we are and what our values are. We also like to spotlight our team members, to show them off because we’re so proud of them. Of course people can also always contact us if they have any questions. 

Want to find out more about BrainBox AI’s workplace culture? 

Check out our social media pages or contact us.