Our story today starts with a bit of Addgene history...
As you may be aware, Melina Fan, her brother Ken Fan, and her husband Benjie Chen co-founded Addgene in 2004. They worked tirelessly to get Addgene from a concept to an up and running repository. As they built the foundation for what Addgene is today, there was a lot of blood, sweat, and, I’m guessing, literal tears (though none of the founders have EVER confirmed this with me). While things were incredibly busy in those early years, the founders knew that company culture and enjoying your job were important parts of team buidling - they relieved some of the pressure of start up life and maintained their sanity by throwing fun into the mix.
Thus, our founders and early employees spent this remaining time by elaborately pranking each other, dressing in costume, and holding competitions (ranging from cook-offs, to corn toss to trivia, and everything in between).
Eleven years later, Addgene is a company of fifty instead of three, and we are sending hundreds of plasmid requests out each day. As you may imagine, it keeps all of us quite busy. Though there still isn't time for goofing off, the company culture here at Addgene has remained paramount. Candidates who interview at Addgene frequently ask the question, “What’s your favorite part about working at Addgene?” Most Addgenies reply with an enthusiastic, “Our company culture! Addgene is the best place to work, we do SO many fun things!!” Okay - honestly, maybe not everyone replies with quite so much animation, but the gist is a common answer to this question. We truly work in a unique environment where, in addition to furthering our mission by hard work, we genuinely enjoy each other’s ideas and company.
The Addgene summer picnic
This past weekend was the annual Addgene Summer Picnic - a time when Addgenies and their families join together to feast and play lawn games. In previous years, this event was held at Executive Director Joanne Kamen’s home- a testament to the familial aspect of Addgene. As our size has drastically increased, it would have been a tight squeeze for all of us to fit in Joanne’s back yard this year, though she generously offered. Instead we picniced outside of our new office space on the nicely manicured lawn of University Park at MIT. I’m sure at some companies, employees wouldn’t be caught dead coming into the work vicinity over the weekend, even for an event where there is food and beer. Ha! We had over 60 people join the fun - including a lot of future Addgenies as shown in the photo below. Kids and adults alike enjoyed some friendly -or in some cases, serious- competition with our corn toss boards, Kan Jam, and Ladder Ball (I finally discovered my hidden talent in Ladder Ball... there might be a possibility it was just beginner’s luck, but I’m feeling optimistic for the next tournament). Minus a little rain towards the end, it was another successful event!
Addgene company culture
At Addgene we organically developed the philosophy of “work hard, play hard.” Part of the reason we sincerely like spending time together is that when it’s time for fun, everyone is confident that their teammates and project collaborators have completed their work thoroughly. It’s kind of a chicken and egg situation- do we work so hard so we have time to play later? Or, does our play encourage us to work hard? Whatever it is, if you throw in some passion for our mission to share reagents with scientists around the globe, the end result seems to be a balance of productive and happy employees. The teambuilding culture helps us build relationships and thereby work better together.
I realize I may have painted a rose-colored-glasses-esque picture of how everyone is kind and collaborative and all we do is have fun all day long, whistling while we work. This is certainly not the truth (partially because I can’t whistle). No, we’re not all BFFs. Yes, sometimes teams disagree. Yes, sometimes work is a bummer when you’d rather be at the beach or binging a new Netflix series. The thing that has made all the difference here at Addgene is the emphasis placed on team building throughout the years. This team building merriment happened naturally when Addgene was a family affair back in 2004. As Addgene has grown, it has taken effort to continue the tradition and plan enjoyable events for employees. We now have a team of three (myself included) that plan big company events and fun things to do throughout the month. Although we are busy with many other work responsibilities, we make team building activities a priority and have organized many events over the years. To keep the organizational side of things from taking too much of your time, scroll down for some tips on how to make a successful event at your company.
The point of this post isn’t to make you all jealous that you don’t work for Addgene (though we are hiring!) but to encourage everyone to make an effort to build relationships with their colleagues. It can be easy to get caught up in the minutia of the workday, but that minutia gets much more manageable when you can enjoy the people you spend 40+ hours with each week. In conclusion - get out there any have some fun together!
Laura’s Top 10 Event Planning Tips!
1. Take suggestions
Some of Addgene’s best events have been at the suggestion of an employee, or have come to fruition from a lunchroom conversation. It’s tough to come up with new and interesting things to do, feel free to crowdsource!
2. Free food generally gets people to show up
If you feel like you may have low participation numbers for an event you are planning, dangle the carrot (or more popularly- cookies).
3. Do something outside of your ordinary environment
Team building events like Escape the Room or Habitat for Humanity take you and your co-workers out of the office and into a completely new realm. It allows for the usual office dynamics to be mixed up a bit. Who know that the quiet guy from the lab was such a master drywall hanger?
4. Utilize your office space tooBalance point number 3 with doing fun things within your office. This way people don’t only associate the office with work, but also with having a good time. Host a board game tournament or beer hour (only if it’s cool with your legal department) right in your breakroom.
5. Throw some physical activity into the mixIt’s easy to sit around and just eat with your co-workers. Don’t fall into that rut! We’ve done everything from kayaking, to field day, to relay triathlons, to 5Ks. Many of these examples we’ve done annually - they are fan favorites!
6. Keep it simpleThis may be an obvious one, but don’t make things too complicated for yourself (especially if you are the sole event planner)! If you have a very intricate itinerary, there is a higher likelihood that something will go awry. Don’t plan something that will involve a huge group getting from point A to B to C to D, etc.
7. Don’t let a tiny [or non-existent] budget get in your wayFun events don't have to cost a lot, or anything at all really! We've had plenty of events that included a simple corn hole set and a cooler. Chances are one of your colleagues has a frisbee at least. Use it!
8. OrganizeIf you’re doing an event that requires people to be in groups, organize your troops prior to the event, and let people know exactly where to be and when. This pre-planning will avoid chaos and delays in getting the fun started. I’m aware that “organizing the fun” sounds a little neurotic, but hey- sometimes fun needs to be had in an orderly and timely fashion.
9. Ask for helpMy grandma used the old adage “many hands make light work” all the time. She was a wise lady for many reasons, but this saying is especially true. If your event requires a lot of set up or cleanup, ask for volunteers to help out. Delegate- it will save you time and sanity!
Make sure people know that there is something fun happening! Addgene actually has chimes outside of our break room. A ring of the chimes means something fun is going on and to get there fast! Spread word of your plans by email, gong, evite, posters, megaphone, or your company’s intranet. Don’t forget about the power of simple word of mouth - be sure to bring up your event in casual conversation to get people excited!
Laura Veckerelli is the Administrative and Operations Coordinator at Addgene. In addition to her operational responsibilities, she enjoys organizing team building events at Addgene and cultivating community within the company.