Disco Culture Corner: Palantir.net

Full-service web agency Palantir has a close-knit staff that celebrates collaboration. This is made remarkable by the fact that most team members work remotely.

Yes, the development and design firm has achieved this rare feat, a friendly culture with close relationships between people who see each other in person once a year. This is something that Colleen Carroll, Director of Operations for Palantir is incredibly proud of as the organization has grown and scaled.

While Palantir's headquarters are in Evanston, IL, its employees work across the country and communicate via tools like Slack, Google Hangouts, Zoom, and e-mail.

Collaborative work is the outstanding quality of Palantir, where the phrase “get better together,” inspired by the Drupalsphere, is often heard. Carroll and others have fostered a culture in which a high level of input from the client is valued, and in which feedback is free-flowing among colleagues.

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The video component of conferencing and workflow software is paramount in Palantir culture. Not only do colleagues see each other while working, but Carroll ensures everyone uses headsets that supply uniform sound quality. She stresses that being able to hear the conversations without dropped or scratchy sound is more than a technical nicety, but crucial to truly personable collaboration that can happen remotely, as long as the conditions are right.

There’s a friendly vibe running through Palantir, a comradely ecosystem nourished by trust. Carroll favors the word “dorks” to describe herself, and—affectionately—her co-workers. There’s much love for sci-fi books and movies, and also food. The team members know each other’s interests and avocations, which are as diverse as stand-up comedy and intense fondness for pets.

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Carroll asserts that a workplace with divergent viewpoints and experiences is a rich one in which a mix of opinions strengthens the final product. Palantir reveres the individual even as it promotes constant collaboration. When asked about the company’s core values, Carroll is quick to point out that they carefully use the word “principles,” a less emotionally-fraught term, explaining, “we don’t want people to let go of their individual values.”

Neither does the company strictly regulate the style and format of communication—the ethos seems to be the more the better. Palantir’s 2017 Annual Report is more of an infographic, wherein the company proudly lists numbers of e-mails sent (781,556), Slack messages (32,216 per month), and so on.

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“We trust people to do good work,” Carroll says, explaining why team members have great latitude in terms of process. She adds, “we also trust that they will make mistakes, and we believe that they have the capacity and resources to fix those mistakes.”
There are companies who boast a small number of e-mails and meetings, as an indicator of maximized productivity, but that’s not the Palantir style. Carroll disagrees with regulating format or quantities of communication, saying, “that is a reaction to something, rather than solving a root problem.”

Palantir is a living advertisement for collaboration software; by embracing cutting-edge technologies and integrating them wholly, the company allows flexible hours and working styles for their employees, an ideal that more companies should be meeting, according to optimistic predictions from decades ago.

The company facilitates its prolific collaboration with a culture of appreciation. If a Palantir employee shows flexibility, solves a problem, or even shares great recipes via Slack, they can expect kudos. The appreciation tool Disco is a staple at Palantir, giving the company a way of showing appreciation that makes sense to them more than earlier applications. Disco is integrated with Slack, tallying up the kudos (“plus-plusses" internally) and giving colleagues, in Carroll’s words, a way to “demonstrate our silliness and our celebration of each other.” She adds, “that goes beyond physical location.”

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Disco Culture Corner: Palantir.net
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