Creating a culture of joy in the workplace

Creating a culture of joy in the workplace

Cockroach Labs didn’t hire me to be a DJ, but it’s Tuesday morning and I’m soundchecking my audio software to make sure that when I press play on Olivia Rodrigo’s “Good 4 U,” a full stack engineer in Seattle will feel the exact same weapons-grade-sad-girl-rage as I do in Manhattan. We are coming up on two full years of working as a fully distributed company in response to a pandemic that I’m afraid is nowhere near done working its way through the greek alphabet and, by extension, our way of life.

It’s 12:02pm and the chorus just hit its most impassioned “Good for you! You look happy and healthy!” It’s a sarcastic refrain that I echo to the audience in total sincerity. There are dozens of screens with happy and healthy faces looking back at me, some cringing at my unabashed fandom for the “Driver’s License” singer, others dancing along and smiling. This is not a typical scene at a company-wide meeting for most tech companies, but it’s pretty close to the norm at Cockroach Labs.

Every Tuesday at 12pm EST, our entire team comes together to hear updates from our CEO and other presenters on events and initiatives happening around the business in support of our value of Communicating Openly and Honestly. For a full year now, I’ve kicked off these meetings with a few minutes of music and some light trivia for everyone to answer in the chat. It’s such a small part of the week, but it’s quickly become a large part of how Cockroach Labs creates a culture of joy. 

Celebrating Each Other

What does that mean though? A culture of joy sounds like the subject line on most of the cold outreach emails I get as a Workplace and Culture Manager; in other words, buzzy and unattainable. For Cockroach Labs, joy manifests itself through our programs, our traditions, and the way we interact with each other on a daily basis. In those same team meetings I just mentioned, we have a segment called peer-acks where one of our founders, Ben Darnell, will read out anonymously-sent peer acknowledgements written as songs or poems. They can be everything from haikus that celebrate a Technical Support Engineers’ quick thinking, to a paragraph-long poem about our serverless release following the style of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven. As a years-long tradition, peer acks (and Ben’s winning delivery) have made celebrating each other’s efforts a core part of the experience of working at Cockroach Labs. We take joy in cheering each other on.


Most folks who have joined the company while we’ve been distributed have heard me drop this absolute heater of a line: “we are all working where we live right now, and it’s okay for life to happen while you’re working.”™ Kids will scream into meetings, dogs will need walking, your partner might want to surprise you with a snack or a cup of tea during a presentation and it might be a source of levity for weeks. There’s a lot happening in all of our lives right now— and I’m very thankful to be at a company that understands that work is only one part of that. 

One of our core values, “Establish Balance,” has taken on even more meaning in a distributed work environment. When you’re working where you live, you have to take extra steps to separate the two. I love seeing blocks on people’s calendars for afternoon walks or time with family. In support of balance, our Flex-Friday program encourages a meeting-free day of the week dedicated to heads-down work and personal development (or time to create a righteous logo for your team).

Through programs like Flex Friday and our flexible PTO policy, we empower our team to work in the way that’s best for them and to unplug when they need to. There is joy in flexibility. 


This fall, while the days were still long and the COVID graphs were still short, we were able to get our team together in-person for the first time since we went remote. To minimize travel, we hosted a series of local, outdoor events called Roachella, full of art, games, food, music, and most importantly, people! Being able to meet coworkers who I’ve only ever seen on screens was absolutely incredible. As each person walked up to our event, the reception was not unlike those viral videos of family dogs seeing their owner come home from college. It was a bunch of us ecstatic to see one another at last. 

The events themselves were a blast, but what excited me most of all was that the warm receptions weren’t limited to folks who have been at Cockroach for a long time. People who had joined in the weeks before Roachella were welcomed with the same enthusiasm as everyone else. Whether or not we’re in-person, that welcoming feeling persists in our culture. Through our onboarding process, through our engagements, and through the way we come together to celebrate. There is joy in community.

It takes work

Cockroach Labs did not hire me to be a DJ, nor did they hire me to be a “Culture Cowboy,” or a “Workplace Wizard,” or “Optimist Prime,” or any of the other made-up titles I’ve amassed in my email signature over the years. In fact, it’s a wonder Cockroach Labs hired me at all. At a time when a lot of similar companies were laying off Culture and Workplace teams in response to the pandemic, I was encouraged to double down on my cultural efforts. More than anywhere I’ve worked, Cockroach Labs has intentionally and consistently invested in creating a culture of belonging, support, curiosity, excellence, and of course, JOY. 

I’m hard-pressed to find anyone who has not experienced some loss of motivation over the course of the pandemic, I know I certainly have. But for every moment when I’m feeling a bit burnt out, I have another flash of excitement, some reminder that this, too, shall pass. A peer ack poem that gets a raucous applause, a Tea Time event where a coworker teaches embroidery, an ugly holiday sweater competition run through an app built on our database, or a sea of smiling faces every Tuesday at 12 as “Good 4 U” fades to a close. Creating a culture of joy takes work and preserving it takes even more. I’m thankful to be at a company that commits to that work everyday, a company that doesn’t hire DJ’s but claps along to the music all the same.

Join us in joy. Check out our careers page.

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