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Rise of the Startup

How startups have reshaped the way we work.

Ditch your suit and tie, drop the office jargon, grab a gluten-free mocha latte and head for the nearest beanbag. Startup culture has been explosive in recent years, with small businesses popping up left, right and centre, offering the ‘next big thing’. Startups have quickly gained a reputation for offering a laid back and flexible work environment. Tie this in with the reputation of millennials (every startup should have at least 3) being unmotivated smartphone addicts, and you’ll probably be wondering how anything gets done in an office full of ping-pong tables and sleep machines. By exploring a traditional office setting and comparing it to the modern startup work environment, we’ll be able to see why the latter is becoming so popular.

The work environment in a startup is highly contrasted to that of a more traditional office. Firstly, while traditional work environments are likely to have a clear hierarchy, emphasised by offices, cubicles and titles, startups generally adopt a ‘no-walls’ approach. This means you’ll likely be sat within earshot of your CEO, head of marketing, designers, etc. This offers fast, transparent communication for the whole team and a general feeling of equality among the employees. This is certainly more welcoming than the 1x1 cubicle you would likely find in the corner of an early 2000’s office space. However, this ‘no-walls’ mentality can do a lot more than making employees feel equal and welcome, it will encourage a more sceptical dialogue, which all employees will feel comfortable contributing to. This means that whether you’ve been working with the startup for a week or a year, your thoughts will be valued as much as everyone else's; in fact, as you’ve recently joined, it’s accepted that you’re likely to have original ‘outside-the-box’ ideas. Traditionally, a new employee would have to prove their worth and get a few months under their belt before their ideas can truly influence the company's direction. You can probably imagine that a startup environment is likely to make an employee feel far more valued than in a traditional work environment.

A ‘9-to-5’ environment doesn’t just refer to the working hours, but rather to the expectation for everyone to dress a certain way, follow strict conduct and stick to the timetable. This can be very damaging to the team for a number of reasons. Alongside the growth in startups, an acceptance that people work best in different ways. Some employees may be more effective working from home, others may prefer sitting on the office sofa rather than the desk, or perhaps work more effectively by starting and finishing work earlier. Giving employees the freedom to work their own way is a great way to ensure make the most of their time. This also offers a break from routine. Working the same hours, the same way, without these freedoms can quickly diminish your employee's motivation. A concern here will be that, given too much freedom, employees may not be as productive as they should be.

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The revolution in work environments, spurred by the startup boom has caught the attention of such giants as Google. Offering their employees endless free services, gyms, volleyball courts, bowling alleys, gourmet food, massages and so much more.
Employees are given a lot of freedom to work where and when they work best. The ‘no-walls’ approach is also adopted, despite a large hierarchy. As a result of this, Google has very high employee satisfaction, and it doesn’t seem to have harmed the company’s productivity in recent years. Another freedom for Google employees is their freedom to change job role, department, projects and so on fairly easily.

So, working in a startup style environment is likely to offer you more flexibility, influence, freedom and creativity than a traditional office setting. You may be wondering, with larger companies switching over to the startup work style, are there still benefits to working with newer, smaller firms. Consider this, if you join a new startup, you can help grow a company which has the potential to become a market leader. Smaller companies are able to redirect their activities much faster than larger companies, meaning that your input is more likely to make its way to the clients. Whether you picked the colour scheme for the website or helped write the code for the software, your contribution will make an impact.

So with big companies starting to adopt this more flexible work style, you may wonder why you should look to work with startups over big firms. While beanbags and sleep machines are a nice office feature, startups are ultimately set apart by their goals. There are many small businesses in the UK and overseas who use the term ‘startup’ very liberally. While the term startup can be applied to any recently founded business, the term has come to mean so much more in recent years. With the arrival of accelerator programs and popularisation of SME investment, the term ‘startup’ has become synonymous with small companies that have original ideas, and big objectives, often looking to become market leaders, if not creating new markets.

Working for a true startup comes with a sense of mystery and excitement as you don’t know where the company or indeed yourself will be in a years time. What you will know, is that your contributions will play a significant role is the company’s growth. This will give you a rewarding sense that the company is your project as much as it is the founders.

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Sam Allen

Sam Allen

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