Large companies like Facebook, Google, Twitter and even FreshBooks are known for their amazing corporate culture—crowd-pleasing perks like ping-pong tables, catered lunches and treadmill desks. While smaller companies with fewer than 50 people may not have the same budget for these perks, they can and should still look at ways to keep employees feeling engaged and appreciated.
Here’s how you can emulate some of the popular perks from large companies on a smaller budget.
Corporate Culture Perk: Catered Meals
Companies including Facebook and Google offer catered meals to encourage employees to socialize over food rather than leaving the building. Plus, it’s convenient not having to pack a lunch or go pick it up, and you’re more likely to work into the dinner hour if you know you can pop over to the cafeteria and grab a freshly prepared meal.
Small Business Twist: Salad Potlucks
Catering is expensive, so some smaller offices prefer potlucks. Instead of the traditional office potluck where employees bring their favorite casserole or a store-bought cake, salad potlucks don’t require any advance preparation. Each person brings a vegetable and/or a protein and arranges the ingredients in a line as if it were a salad bar. Employees can then build their own salad using fresh greens, shredded chicken, cherry tomatoes, and whatever other ingredients people bring. The more unusual ingredients can also spark conversations about how to cook with hemp hearts or where to buy chia seeds.
This approach is easier than remembering to make a homemade casserole or pick up a cake for a potluck. And since the salad potluck uses mostly unprocessed ingredients, it’s healthier too. Catering can be expensive and complicated when employees have special dietary needs, so allowing them to assemble their own salads lets people eat what they want. Some offices call this a salad club and encourage employees to self-organize salad clubs, which could help boost buy-in to this concept amongst health-conscious employees.
Corporate Culture Perk: Professional Development
Large companies offer ample opportunities for professional development. These include significant investments such as working with an executive coach, attending conferences, tuition assistance and outside speakers who educate employees and advance their knowledge of the industry.
Small Business Twist: Lunch and Learns
Set up a series of lunch and learns where employees share their expertise with each other over brown bag lunches. This could include professional skills such as honing an elevator pitch or creating more engaging PowerPoint presentations. Or it could cover unrelated but fun topics like photography and cake-decorating. The latter approach is that it’s not only affordable but it gives employees a chance to get to know each other as people. Who knew that your coworkers are pros at sushi-making or cartooning? Employees sharing their talents with each other also drives deeper engagement and camaraderie.
Corporate Culture Perk: Lavish Team Outings
Big companies spend thousands on team-building activities such as trips to escape rooms, laser tag or ziplining, happy hours, even retreats on a remote tropical island.
Small Business Twist: Homegrown Clubs
Encourage your employees to create clubs around the thing that interest them. Some experts predict that an office choir could be the next big thing in employee wellness. Other companies use book clubs to get employees talking to each other. As your company grows, consider setting up employees on “blind dates.” This allows employees in different departments to meet and exchange ideas. Here at FreshBooks, we’ve found that blind dates lead to cross-pollination of ideas and stronger social connections, which ultimately creates better collaboration and happier employees.
Corporate Culture Perk: On-Site Gym
Employers know that active workers are more productive and less likely to make pricey health insurance claims. Larger companies including Chevron, Hewlett-Packard and Intel invest in on-site fitness centers, which means employees can exercise without even leaving the building. Clif Bar’s California headquarters even features a dance studio, gym and rock-climbing wall.
Small Business Twist: Walking Meetings and Company-Sponsored Sports Teams
You don’t need a full fitness center to encourage your employees to get or stay fit. Take your cues from employees and their fitness interests to get them excited and engaged in whatever way interests them. Walking meetings have been shown to improve worker energy levels and spark greater creativity.
In fact, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg reportedly conduct walking meetings. If your surrounding area isn’t conducive to walking meetings, you could consider sponsoring an employee sports team to boost camaraderie (plus, you can get jerseys printed with your company logo) or hiring a yoga instructor to lead a conference room yoga class once a week. If you have someone on staff who’s certified to teach yoga, even better!
Corporate Culture Perk: On-site Conveniences
Silicon Valley is known for its over-the-top perks like masseuses on staff, ATMs and other conveniences. All of these are offered so employees can focus on their work. Facebook’s sprawling campus in Menlo Park, California features conveniences like massage and dry cleaning on the premises.
Small Business Twist: Occasional Conveniences
Maybe you can’t afford to keep a masseuse on site at all times, but bringing in a mobile masseuse can help boost morale and relieve stress. Starting at around $13 per employee, you might use this as a perk to reward employees for finishing a tough quarter or exceeding sales expectations. Or during an extra busy week, you could hire a TaskRabbit to pick up and drop off employees’ dry cleaning. But remember, when employees have a reasonable work-life balance and aren’t expected to put in 70-hour works, they have less need for these conveniences because they’re less stressed and have the time to take care of personal business.
The key to all of these perks is cluing into what makes your employees tick and catering to their needs and interests. If employees are more excited about occasional chair massages than lunch and learns or book clubs, then focus your efforts there. Small companies don’t have the same budgets as major corporations but they also have greater agility to adapt to employees’ needs and create an environment where people feel heard: two areas that count for a lot when it comes to employee satisfaction.
About the Author: Freelance journalist Susan Johnston Taylor covers entrepreneurship, small business and lifestyle for publications including The Boston Globe, Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur and FastCompany.com. Follow her on Twitter @UrbanMuseWriter.