Wheelhouse’s Unconventional Approach to Being a ‘Best Place to Work’

Chelsea Norman / 15th September 2020 / Comment / Culture

It was a year and a half ago when I found that the growth path that I had at my previous company had been slashed by its new owner and I began my search for a new job. I had interviewed for my current position at Wheelhouse in four parts over five weeks. This was seemingly overkill compared to conventional experiences I was having with other companies I had applied to.

It wasn’t until I was part of the Wheelhouse Team that I knew why that process was so important.  This team is built scrupulously to ensure a culture fit.

Wheelhouse has a Team Culture mentality, understanding that we are each working toward the same goals that our CEO, Aaron Burnett, has set for this company:

  1. Be the best partner to our clients
  2. Be the best place to work.

Now with over a year under my belt at WH, I’d like to share a series of what makes this company stand out from the rest when it comes to best places to work for and work with as an agency. Community, education, generosity, and support are the foundations of our commitment to continuously improving our culture.

Part 1: Community

My extroverted nature means that I typically bring my wide-smiled excitement on a first day at a new job. When I arrived at Wheelhouse’s waterfront property, the 8,000 sq ft office was nearly empty with only the sounds of the seagulls echoing through the open sliding doors facing the canal. Progressively, the sounds grew louder: morning greetings and laughter, the grinding of coffee, the sizzle of eggs on the stove – I was met with immediate comfort.

Finding Community

Everyone warmly welcomed me. I recall eating lunch alone outside and a new coworker asked to join me. Since that first day I’ve come to personally know and work with each of my colleagues thanks to the dedication to community that our leadership holds. I built friendships through Friday happy hours, small-group lunches, while rooting for the Mariners from the stands, and while learning a new virtual reality arcade game.

Caring. Friendly. Empathetic. These aren’t just characteristics of Wheelhouse team members – they are qualifiers.

It’s incredibly empowering to feel surrounded by such like-minded spirited individuals.

Building Community

Are you a frequent adventurer? Do you love sharing dog photos? Perhaps you are a music buff and want new song recommendations. Regardless – there’s likely a Slack channel to geek out on with those who share similar interests. I personally follow: Adventurers, MusicNotes, Movies, Pets of Wheelhouse, Book Club, and the Random channel. Especially since working remotely, these silly conversations are where I find my “bonding moments”.

There’s always room to introduce your passions into the WH community. I love painting and always loved the idea of leading a paint-and-sip class. I brought the idea to Aaron that I lead such a class and he not only approved the expense but was there painting Dandelions In the Breeze with seven of my coworkers. I’ll be hosting another one this fall, after our virtual Cooking and Wine Tasting classes.

Protecting Community

In my opinion, communities are built of many voices and at Wheelhouse I really feel like we each have an opportunity to engage in any conversation at hand and are encouraged to do so.

An example of this is our monthly Community Meetings, a catered meal ornamenting long tables to host a group of 40. The first half hour is dedicated to sharing a meal with your neighbor. As a lesson in hospitality, we are encouraged to offer our neighbor servings rather than self-service to remain attentive to the needs outside of ourselves. Every so often we will also take 30 minutes for gratitude. By having an open floor shout out to recognize who we appreciate in the group. It makes me feel seen and cared for.

The latter half of the Community Meeting is to review business updates from accounting, business development, marketing, and HR. These slides provide transparency to all staff on the health of the company so that we can see the direct impact of our work. We take time to celebrate personal and team accomplishments, but there have also been times when we’ve faced a less celebratory ambiance.

Several months into my employment, we each received an email that several staff had been laid off because we were at the time behind in revenue.  The first community meeting after that was – awkward. We were walked through a timeline and told why it had to happen, we were shown the accounting and then the floor was open for discussion. And like any family does, you sit and have those seat-squirming talks to learn and grow. As one leader helped answer questions of how we will avoid this in the future, another wiped a tear away from their cheek. It’s never easy to lose family. I tell you this to say:

We don’t stray away from discussing pain points in our work and our culture because it helps us grow stronger as a group, in which we each play a part.

Embracing Individual Parts of Our Community

At the beginning of this year I joined the Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity (DEI) committee. As a lesbian, it was important to me to have an active voice in something that directly impacts me.

We began with a needs case for why we had 10 members resourcing time to this initiative, which is nearly a fourth of the company. A statistical breakdown of our demographics (because we’re data nerds) showed us opportunities for improving our diversity. We layered this data with our personal stories of why this work was important to us and presented it to Aaron (a cis, white male). He was open-minded and agreed that this was an important aspect of our culture that we needed to strengthen. Since then we have developed a DEI page on our website, wrote some blogs of our personal experience, and created a DEI company survey to ensure all feel safe and cared for.

That initiative has only further blossomed since the Black Lives Matter revolution called all of us to action this summer. We’ve extended our DEI work to include blind recruitment for hiring and established a need for a diverse interview panel.

We have also begun strengthening our education on how to support communities of color and what our role is in systemic racism. Next time, I’ll share more on our approach to BLM, our education fund, and other learning opportunities Wheelhouse invests in for its employees.

Next: Part 2: Education


The Wheelhouse Way

We’re committed to continuing to build a culture of diversity and inclusion at Wheelhouse. If you or your organization have any tips or proven methods for us, we’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Also, if you are currently facing challenges with nurturing diversity and inclusion or dealing with any other People- or Culture-related issues during the Covid-19 pandemic and would like the input of our experienced HR and People professionals and other team members at Wheelhouse with expertise in these areas, please reach out! We’re leaning on values like Hospitality, Generosity and Trustworthiness during this time of crisis and we would love to connect with you or help you however we can.

By Chelsea Norman