I see the same look on every new employees face (by way of video of course) when they hear about our longest-standing, and most proud company tradition. There’s a smile hiding a slight twinge of fear and anxiety with that look that says, “You’re joking, right?”
Sadly for them, and thankfully for the rest of the team, it’s not a joke. We’re serious.
It’s the moment when every new TaxJar employee learns they have to sing in front of every employee in the company.
Yes, sing. As in out loud. In front of people. Live.
Why on earth do people have to sing?
Bear with me on this. I grew up playing sports. It’s all I ever wanted to do. (The TaxJar team gives me a hard time because I use way too many sports analogies.) One of the things I loved about sports, particularly baseball, were camaraderie and tradition.
When you create a company, you’re not only trying to solve a problem for customers, you’re also creating a culture. For me, tradition (and camaraderie) are super important ingredients to building culture. Culture and a sense of togetherness is the difference between punching in everyday 9-to-5 and going through the motions, and feeling like you’re part of something special, something with a purpose. Culture is even more important when your team is completely distributed. We can’t go out for meals or drinks after work to get to know each other better, so we have to get more creative.
Like many great remote cultures, we do a lot of fun stuff to make the day interesting. For example,
- Create endless memes and share .gifs in Basecamp (where we live as a company). (That’s right. We don’t use Slack.)
- Talk about food any chance we get.
- Force each other to do pushups on camera whenever forbidden or banned words or phrases are used.
- Friendly wagers on stats and metrics. (The last loser had to buy the winner’s pets a Christmas gift.)
But the tradition that has really captivated the team is known as TaxJar Lounge.
Here’s how it works. There are two rules:
- Pick any song you want (as long as no one has sung it before)
- The entire team has to be present for your performing debut. Normally your turn to sing is the first company-wide meeting after you join TaxJar.
What the heck led to this?
In our early days, I was searching for a way to get the team to let our hair down. Although a lot of the earliest TaxJar team members knew each other professionally, we really didn’t know each other that well. We talked on the phone and Skype chatted. We didn’t even have Basecamp yet. We were trying to be as capital efficient as we possibly could be (and we still are, btw), so we didn’t have immediate plans to be in the same room together to get to know one another.
The other big driving force behind the creation of this particular tradition was our stage in life as a company. It was a really big deal that we actually had employees beyond our core starting group. What we were doing was working! I wanted every new employee that came aboard to be recognized, and to have their moment, so to speak.
As for the idea itself, I can’t claim to be the creator. I blame sports again. I borrowed the idea from my college days as a walk-on on the Boston College baseball team. On the first road trip of the season, every freshman had to sing a song in front of the team.
A couple of things really stood out from those days: first, the talk about singing started early in the school year, like in the first couple of practices. There was literally 5 months of buildup. That was more than enough time for a young mind to conjure up all kinds of anxiety. The other thing I took away from my experience was that singing the song made each player “officially” part of the team. From there on, the rest of the team had your back. That mean everything to a 18-year-old freshman who looked up to guys two, three, four years older.
Over time our tradition has evolved. The earliest TaxJar team members were lucky, they had to sing over the phone. Now that we host every meeting on Zoom, and the newbies have to sing on video. But the team never disappoints. Folks are dressing up, using props and even circus arts – and all trying to one-up each other. And who knew? A few members of the TaxJar team are talented enough to take the show on the road.
The Medal Stand
Just to make things even more interesting, TaxJar Lounge has morphed into a friendly competition. The top 3 performances are ranked, in order, on the TaxJar Medal Stand. The team eagerly awaits the updated medal stand after each performance. It’s a big deal when someone is added to the stand (and therefore someone gets bumped off).
Just for fun, here are our current rankings:
- Justin – Performing “Waldesgespräch” in a tuxedo
- Jonathan – Performing “Send in the Clowns,” with a juggling finale
- Graham – Performing a timely holiday-themed “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” accompanied by a pug named Waffles in a reindeer costume
Think you can do better? Check out our current job openings and start warming up.