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What Makes a ‘Great Place to Work’?


This month Nina Pattinson joins Betterworking from Microsoft where she worked as a Yammer & O365 Customer Success Manager. Nina joined Yammer 2 1/2 years ago and has coached enterprises across the retail, energy, pharmaceutical and public sectors to transform how they work through the successful rollout of enterprise social. She is passionate about the ability for enterprise social to better engage employees and drive bottom line priorities.

At Betterworking, Nina will continue to coach and support our customer base as they progress with their enterprise social rollouts, working to drive the transformation these businesses require. She will also be taking a lead role in our ongoing business development, marketing and partner strategies.

What makes ‘a great place to work’?

During my time as a Customer Success Manager at Yammer and Microsoft, I had the opportunity to witness and understand how large and small businesses from across a wide range of sectors and European countries are currently operating. Similarly I saw how these companies are looking to transform, particularly when it comes to their ability to respond to market forces, to better collaborate internally and externally and to engage employees. My customers were looking to enterprise social networks to drive this transformation and I had the job of helping them to successfully embed enterprise social and its associated new ways of working into their organisations – a job which I loved!

At Yammer, because we built (and were continually iterating upon) a product that’s value was to enable better collaboration, innovation and employee engagement, it was imperative for us to live by those ideals ourselves in the ways that we worked internally. I can say without a doubt that Yammer was the best company I ever worked for and would like to lay out some of the essential reasons why in the following points. Yammer became the ‘ideal type’ towards which I wanted to lead all of my customers to in their enterprise social journey.

So what are some of the essential elements making up ‘a great place to work’? I only propose to cover a few of the most important.

Vision and common purpose

I’d argue that what motivates people most of all to work hard for their colleagues and organisation as a whole is a meaningful vision of what that organisation is trying to achieve. At Yammer we were building and selling a cutting edge enterprise software product that promised to change the world of work. We believed in the efficacy of taking the consumerist approach to developing software (agile, iterative development) and we believed this product could help companies work better by being better able to collaborate, innovate and engage employees.

This was a compelling vision – one that went beyond just purely *selling* our product – that every employee was steadfastly committed to and we understood how our day-to-day work contributed to that overall goal. The idea of making companies better places to work was what motivated me, not how many licenses we’d sold. Today, Microsoft continues with that vision in developing its cloud version of Office – Office 365.


A community of employees differs to the entire employee base of a given company. A community of employees conveys that the group of all employees is welded together by a common goal, shared norms and behaviours (culture) and is imbued with collaborative, creative and respectful working practices.

At Yammer we were blessed to work with crazily smart, creative and hard-working colleagues but we often played as hard as we worked. Equally, we collaborated in the true sense of the word, always offering help to others and seeking guidance and critique, whether that was from those in our direct teams or beyond. We celebrated our achievements as a community, whether this was via long congratulatory threads on our internal Yammer network for great achievements, or a good night out after a successful event we’d run for customers. Crucially, we also operated in a community with our customers, learning as much from them as one another.


It goes without saying that our use of a Yammer network internally hugely contributed to our ability to work in the ways I’m describing in this post. Perhaps the most significant was our ability and desire to work transparently across all teams and parts of the hierarchy. We used Yammer for all of our communications and many management and team decisions were debated at length on our network.

Of course we were also ‘working out loud’, which means to work in the open, using Yammer groups to communicate with colleagues and sharing documents we’d produced internally or for customers so others could make use of them or provide critique. Working out loud is not the same as *updating* other colleagues on what we’re doing.

Transparency breads accountability, and therefore trust. We were able to ensure that we stuck steadfastly to our original vision and were able to trust managers to make decisions on our behalf and for those company goals. Following our onboarding into MSFT, it was incredibly exciting to see that organisation start to work in a more open way.

Autonomy & Recognition

Something that was a real culture change for me when I joined Yammer was that we were empowered to work where we wanted, when we wanted. Many would fear that this would mean your employees might be dossing about when ‘working from home’, spending all their time on Facebook or doing laundry. On the contrary, because of our commitment to the company’s goals and passion for the product, as well as our desire to see our customers succeed with Yammer, we thought nothing of getting up at 4am to travel to see customers, or working late into the evening to have calls with our colleagues in the US or finish customer work.

We were also incredibly grateful for the perks we received, such as free lunch or being able to bring dogs to the office. I therefore worked harder at Yammer than at any time previously. What this way of working ultimately stood for was a culture of trust and respect. Treat employees like children and they will behave that way. I knew my colleagues were counting on me to do a good job and I worked to that end every single day.

Our culture of recognition added some essential balance to the culture of autonomy. Seeing my colleagues get praised on our network incentivised me to work harder. But our culture of recognition most importantly merited teamwork, helping others and making an impact – it’s one thing to work 9 to 5, but if you’re not producing any meaningful outputs then that’s a working day wasted. I was elated to see in the past 6 months that Microsoft has started to take on these performance indicators more and more for many of its teams.

I recently asked my friends on Facebook ‘what makes a great place to work’? I initially received a number of posts from former Yammer colleagues, listing list of a lot of the fun perks we’d become used to, for example free almond milk or ping pong tables. Luckily it developed into a more meaningful thread, with some telling contributions, the best for me being (thank you to Rav Dhaliwal) ‘an open and transparent communications culture that puts the customer and employee at the heart of any decision and where trust, individual ownership, creativity and empowerment are actively encouraged and promoted at all levels. And ping pong tables’.

To continue this discussion and more, join the Betterworking team at CIPR Inside’s next event on 2nd October to discuss ‘changing behaviour for better business’.

Author: Nina Pattinson @NinaJaneMonique


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