Workplace Culture… isn’t an accident

May 29, 2023
Baya Ou Yang

Here at Milkbar, we often get complimented on the workplace culture or even just the ‘vibe’ of the office when you first walk in. It’s what clients will often mention, as well as guests who might be collaborating with us, and team members when they commence employment with us or when they do an exit interview. 

We, like many workplaces, have also been through our share of ‘slumps’ in culture and vibe, and know the immediate impact this has on the environment and productivity. And if there’s anything that a pandemic and 8 years of running a business has taught us (or rather, me), it’s that work/life balance is integral, but that also your place of work needs to be a supportive and positive place to be.

So what defines ‘good workplace culture’?

For a long time, the tech industry and start-ups were the gold medal pedestal standard for office culture and it really didn’t take a lot… Basically, anything that simply went against the grain of old-fashioned corporate culture. A slab of beers, bean bags, a table tennis table and an office where it was acceptable to wear tracksuit pants. Sounds a bit like your average 20-something sharehouse, hey? 

But we’ve moved on and what defines ‘workplace culture’ has become a bit more sophisticated than that. We are not perfect, but here are a few things we have made part of ‘our norm’ at Milkbar that may be beneficial to you or your organisation too.

Coaching and Training

We have a tendency to hire a lot of greenies. But it’s not just ANY graduate, we onboard the ones who show tenacity, confidence, enthusiasm and all of the foundation skills required for our industry but who might need a little extra training in the ‘hard skills’. It’s not to say we only hire juniors, but when you do choose to include them as part of your hiring processes, it also means you have to be prepared to train – and boy, we are. We also don’t believe that you ever stop learning – myself included – and learning is what engages us, stimulates us and helps us develop as humans as well as employees.

We like to check in on all of our team members’ individual Learning & Development Plans monthly or quarterly, and assign a budget per annum for extra upskilling of their choice. Ellen, for example, just completed a design certificate through RMIT in graphic design. 

On top of that, we have bi-monthly Innovate & Create internal sessions (lunch included, of course) where we zone in on relevant industry topics. We also just completed the annual Milkbar Coach-ella Festival – a line-up of 20 or so in-depth workshops hosted both internally and externally on specific topics… This year’s line-up included Professional Knife Skills from a local chef, and Social Media in the Music Industry presented by a guest from Mushroom Music Group.

Communication, Support and Transparency as a Priority

As a senior leadership team, we try our very best to listen to our team members and ensure they have as much transparency across the business as possible. The more context and transparency we can provide our team when it comes to decision making, the better. It’s not always possible to involve everyone in every decision we make, but something we can do is ensure people are heard and supported when it comes to change management.

Is it more time consuming to plot out detailed internal communications and have extensive 1:1 meetings? Yes. But is it worthwhile? Absolutely, because we all know that change can be scary, and we genuinely want to support our team to the best of our ability.

The Word ‘Milky B’

Sounds like a trivial thing, but a term of endearment that we try to encourage amongst ourselves and our friends and clients. It forms a huge part of our values and we know that by having a warm and fuzzy nickname for our team, it provides a safe space for LOLs and the non-serious things we do. In our Google Drive we have a big master folder called Milky B, which is home to galleries of team building activities, annual derp reels and all kinds of silly things.

WIP Hosting & Team Activities 

Each Friday, we alternate between having a team ‘Spoken WIP’ meeting and a ‘Hosted WIP’– and everyone takes turn hosting. A Spoken WIP is a more formal team catch-up, the usual things you’d expect a digital agency to be chatting through (current clients, updates, pipeline, annual leave, etc) but it’s our Hosted WIPs that get kind of weird and wild. 

When it’s your turn to host, you have free rein to decide what the session will be and are given a budget to play with to ensure it’s a lot of fun for everyone. Some past WIPs have included Carmela’s version of ‘Survivor’, Kristy’s ‘Halloween Pumpkin Carving’, Courtney’s ‘Corporate Friday’. Cryslyn’s ‘Taste of Malaysia’, Maggie’s ‘Sports Day’ and Ant’s ‘Cocktail Making Class’. We never know what to expect and it’s always a lot of fun and a great way to unwind from the week.

The Perks

Working in a creative industry means we get some pretty fun perks – complimentary hotel stays, office dogs, a never-ending supply of snacks, and lots and lots and lots of food/drink products. 

There are additional perks we have introduced to the company too. Each team member gets an extra day off in their birthday month, plus an additional 4 paid annual leave days per year – we call them ‘Disconnection Days’ because social media has a reputation for burning people out.

We also aim to go against the reputation agency life can have of burnout in general, and go out of our way to ensure workload is manageable and fair – and that it’s very rare to stay after 4.30pm in the office.

While the above might sound like it’s all just fun and games, it’s also strategically important to ensure workplace culture is strong for a number of reasons. First and foremost, a happy team is a productive team. Workplace happiness is also vital for employee retention. And happy team members will be more likely to effectively look after our clients, who in turn, are happier too!

If you have any questions about Milkbar and workplace culture, feel free to reach out to me. I’ve still got my training wheels on too, and am always keen to hear other ideas.



Sam is the Director/Founder of Milkbar Digital and has spent the past decade working across some of Australia’s most loved brands, including Priceline Pharmacy and Pedestrian.tv. She is passionate about photography and digital strategy, and in her spare time you’ll find her cooking, watching cat videos and hanging out with her and Nic’s twins, Daphne and Wren.

If you like what you hear and want to learn more about working together or at Milkbar Digital, get in touch! We’d love to take you for a coffee or invite you to see our plant-filled (and often food-filled) space.

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