How a Swedish Tradition Helped Aditi Ramesh Build Culture at TransferWise
It was a Swedish coworker who first introduced Aditi Ramesh, Office Guru at TransferWise’s New York office, to Fika. On his birthday her colleague brought in pastries and invited the whole company to take a leisurely coffee break with him. This tradition, known as Fika, is one Swedish workers practice daily.
Fika time was an occasion to experience a part of her Swedish colleague’s culture and enabled Aditi’s coworker to bring a piece of his identity to work. Aditi noticed that the collective pause in the workday that Fika time created was a rare opportunity to chat with her coworkers about their lives outside work.
If Swedish offices could have Fika two times a day, Aditi thought, certainly it was possible for her New York team to have it one or two times a week? Even better, she figured, the idea aligned with TransferWise’s mission to seamlessly transfer currency around the globe by encouraging cultural exchange and collaboration between colleagues.
To kick off the first of many regularly scheduled Fika times in February 2016, Aditi sent out an email that announced, “Let’s all be human beings together and enjoy each other’s company. There’s only going to be one rule: nobody can talk about work!”
With that, Fika time became part of the TransferWise office culture. Over a year later, it’s a treasured tradition that happens every Monday at 3:15pm. No one schedules a meeting during Fika time. Even when Aditi is out of the office or working at another TransferWise location, she’ll count down to Fika time over Slack, and the office assistant she works with from Managed by Q ensures that the pastries are always delivered on time.
Because TransferWise’s New York office has about 20 employees, everyone has space to gather on the couches in the central lounge area around a basket of fresh pastries on the coffee table. Her colleagues have learned to anticipate Fika time, but if they’re absorbed in a project, Aditi walks around and reminds them it’s time for a well-deserved break.
Once everyone has settled around the baked goods and freshly brewed coffee, the conversation starts, with everyone abiding to the rule that no one is allowed to talk about work. Since it’s Monday, a lot of the chatter revolves around what people did over the weekend, whether it was checking out a cool rooftop bar or making a home-cooked dinner. Instagram photos are shared, someone announces they might be moving apartments, and everyone tries to figure out what ingredients are in the impressive pastries from the local bakery.
The team at TransferWise praises Fika time for giving them personal time to get to know each other and helping to take the edge off of returning to work on Monday. It provides employees who might not interact much during the day with a chance to catch up. It’s also an opportunity for new people to integrate into the team in a way that’s not forced. On Monday at 3:15, the newest intern could be sitting next to and chatting with the company’s founder.
Building culture at TransferWise is just one critical function of her job. Aditi explained, “My job is 50% setting up the office and culture, and 50% being of service to anyone and everyone on the team.”
An interest in managing people, creating teams, and start-up culture brought Aditi to TransferWise in 2015. While studying in the School of Management & Labor Relations at Rutgers University, she had an influential internship at Lean Startup Machine. There she was exposed to the energetic and entrepreneurial mentality of the growing start-up community, something she found really exciting. Another internship at Dow Jones led to a full-time role after graduation. While Aditi was working at Dow Jones as a Talent Development and Training Coordinator, TransferWise recruited her to join the New York office, where there was plenty of opportunity to build start-up-like growth.
When Aditi joined the company, the New York office was only 5 employees working out of a WeWork space. In barely over a year, she’s helped the company grow to almost 20 employees and move to its own office space. During the office move, Aditi spearheaded the search for a space and then organized the move itself.
As the company and its presence in New York evolved, so has her position. In addition to her office manager responsibilities, such as supply management, administrative work, and vendor relations, she also organizes and plans team events, including a Break The Banks NYC Hackathon. Over a weekend in December 2015, the hackathon challenged developers, designers, business leaders, and creative thinkers to utilize cutting-edge hardware and software to disrupt current banking systems and return power to the consumer.
TransferWise is guided by four core values:
- We get it done
- Customers > Team > Ego
- No drama, good karma
- This isn’t just a job, it’s a revolution
As Aditi plans cultural activities, she think about how those values are interpreted at the New York TransferWise office, as opposed to in their offices in London or Tallinn. The result is everything from an environment of open feedback to collaborative activities, which includes not only Fika time, but also catered Friday team lunches, laser tag outings, and competitive board game nights.
As a champion of office culture, Aditi has had the unique opportunity to help shape company culture in the New York market and share those ideas with other Office Gurus in the TransferWise network. Aditi recently visited TransferWise’s Tampa office to help them figure out a new office set-up for 2017. When she travels, she enjoys seeing how fast culture moves between different locations.
“Culture spreads like wildfire,” she said. “We have so much inter-office travel. Visitors to our office always take a piece of our culture back with them or vice-versa.”
While Aditi started Fika time in the New York office, she also introduced it to her new colleagues in Tampa, and it’s caught on in London as well. Her colleagues in these offices have taken Fika and adapted it to best fit within their own existing, unique cultures and schedules. Looking to the future, Aditi wants to continue to create opportunities for offices from different regions to connect and exchange cultural traditions across borders, especially as the company continues to grow.
“Now that we’ve laid the groundwork for developing a culture here, I’m excited for the next project,” she said.
Photography by Dominick Mastrangelo