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Welcome to Culture Champions, a blog series where we dive into the minds of exceptional individuals who are driving positive change in their workplace. In each installment, we’ll be speaking with culture-focused managers and contributors who care about making a positive impact on their team. 

We spoke with Rob Ryan, the Marketing Operations Associate at ZBiotics. Rob shared his unique perspective on building culture at an early-stage startup, and divulged some tips and tricks for other employees looking to do the same. Keep reading to learn how you can boost your workplace culture!

Can’t wait to learn more about being a Culture Champion? You can also read past interviews here. Explore our conversations and discover new ways to build a workplace where everyone can thrive.

A photo of a laptop with a remote Zoom call open and a mug besides the computer.

Culture Champion Tips & Tricks

1. Give us your one-minute pitch on who you are and what you do.

“I’m the Marketing Operations Associate at ZBiotics – we’re dedicated to creating, providing, and championing GMO products for good.

I really help our marketing department run like a well-oiled machine week in and week out. I coordinate follow-ups after our weekly check-in, which we have every Tuesday. We meet as a department and just go over what’s going on. 

Among other things, I help manage our marketing expenses and make sure those are all in line. We also partner with a lot of different YouTube and podcast influencers on YouTube and podcasts, so I help build out our landing pages for these partnerships, which we have every now and then. We have 15 people right now, so I would say that no task is too small these days.” 

2. Tell us about your favorite team-building activity or tradition.

“This is an easy question to answer. We have a company-wide standup every day of the week (except on Wednesdays) where we meet for 20 minutes. We’re still small enough to do this. It’s just our daily standup with the whole company and we get to see each other, which is awesome.

The main focus of this meeting is to outline what our main priorities are for the day individually and to inform people what we’re doing that day. But after that, we have 5 to 10 minutes where we give colleagues or team members kudos. We give shoutouts to team members for going above and beyond, or knocking a task out of the park. I really love that recognition that we have on almost a daily basis, because it really helps maintain positive morale. Every day, we get to acknowledge the positive in what we do for each other.”

3. What’s one thing you do to build a positive culture for your teammates?

“I try to be positive day in and day out, but that’s obviously not always easy week over week.

One of the biggest things for me, especially for a remote-first company like ZBiotics, is trying to maintain watercooler conversations. We might not all be together in the same physical space, but that doesn’t mean you can’t reach out to a colleague and just chat with them. 

We use the Google suite of tools (like GChat), so it’s really easy to start a conversation and ask, ‘Hey, how’s your day going?’ 

It really helps when work isn’t necessarily the main topic of conversation. You get to know each other in a better way, and on a deeper level, it helps build empathy across the team because you get to know your colleagues personally. 

There’s really no downside to just asking someone, ‘Hey, how’s your day going?’ every once in a while.”

A photo featuring the Zbiotics team at an in-person meetup.

4. If you had all the budget and time in the world, what’s the first thing you would do for your team culture?

“Having more opportunities to meet in-person, maybe even quarterly, would be fantastic.

Being a remote-first company, we really make it work well for us – but it’s always a pleasure when we get to meet in-person. At ZBiotics, we have an annual kickoff every year in January where we all get together. This past year, we met in California, just south of San Francisco near our lab (which is in Mountain View). It was really cool – we got to tour the new lab and meet everyone. 

I even got to meet some coworkers for the first time who had recently come aboard. We also have a company retreat halfway through the year in July where we try to all get together again. 

Those in-person events are so invigorating to me. Of course, we’re there to do work first and foremost, and these in-person events are always really productive when we are together. But it’s just amazing to see the work that everyone does and to just be around everyone. We get to see each other face-to-face and bond in ways that we normally wouldn’t if we were working remotely.”

5. What’s one thing a manager or higher-up has done for you that made you feel like you were truly part of the company? 

“I really felt like I was a part of the company really early on and I think that is a testament to ZBiotics, its onboarding process, and the culture in general. 

We’re a science-first company and we have quite a few PhDs on the team. Our CEO, Zack, has a PhD as well and he meets with every new hire to walk them through the company’s science for an hour as part of the onboarding process. Bringing that into the fold is really awesome and I hope we keep doing it as we continue to grow.

Zack is also such a personable guy, and it’s really easy to get along with him and chat about anything. He’s always willing to answer questions about the science behind our products, and it can get complicated very quickly.

Another thing is that when I was first brought on to ZBiotics, I was hired as a Growth Marketing Associate. Over time, the work that I enjoyed doing and gravitated to towards most was more in line with marketing operations. My manager, Candace, not only recognized and identified that, but also had the frame of mind to allow for flexibility in my role and responsibilities. She and ZBiotics’ leadership team really helped transition me to the role I’m in now, which really meant a lot. You don’t really come across companies that do that kind of thing and have that kind of flexibility.”

6. If you could share one piece of advice for building a strong work culture, what would it be?

“You can’t force culture to happen, but you can encourage it. There’s kind of a fine line there in terms of culture and walking the walk, but there are ways to foster it. 

One thing that we do during our startups, which is kind of fun and helps foster constant learning, is sharing a fun fact of the day at the end of every standup. We choose someone the day or week before, and we have this person present as a fun fact for 5 minutes. It can be about anything! We’ve had a lot of random ones – we’ve had fun facts about pickles, we’ve had fun facts about snails, and anything in between those two things. It feels very natural and just kind of genuine, which is great.”

For Rob, ZBiotics’ strong culture and leadership team motivates him to do his best work for the company and stay with them for the long haul. 

“I love this company so much and the people are so great. The culture is really phenomenal. I’d love to stay long-term and see ZBiotics grow as a company. I think most, if not all, my colleagues would say the same. It’s just such a unique company and culture, and everyone really enjoys it.

It really motivates me on a day-to-day basis. I want to do my best because I see my colleagues doing amazing work, and I want to meet them where they are.”

A person writing on their laptop.

What’s Next for Rob Ryan?

In his free time, Rob enjoys reading and writing as much as possible. He has a personal Substack newsletter that he sends out occasionally to friends and family. “It’s a fun, creative outlet for me just to share what I’ve been thinking about or what I’ve been listening to.”

When he’s not reading or writing for his newsletter, you’ll most likely find Rob at a concert.

“I’m really big into music as well, so I try to see as much live music as I can. I have a lot of shows coming up this spring and summer here in Chicago, so that’s exciting.”

And even more exciting news? ZBiotics is hiring! If you’re interested in being a part of ZBiotic’s community-focused culture, you can apply for open positions here.

More Than Just Culture Champions: How Airspeed Can Help You Build a Cohesive Team

If you enjoyed reading our latest installment of Culture Champions, check out our other blog posts here. Read helpful tips, insights and best practices to help you create a stronger, more engaged team at work.

Would you like to be featured as a Culture Champion? Let us know here.

And if you’re looking for a simple and effective way to build culture at your company, check out Airspeed’s suite of Slack apps. Airspeed is an all-in-one platform that can help you create a more connected team with built-in engagement tactics. You can introduce new colleagues, encourage watercooler conversations, celebrate milestones, recognize your team’s hard work, and see where your coworkers are located – all without leaving your team’s Slack workspace! Start creating your remote work culture with Airspeed today.

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