Elements of Startup Culture
1. Casual Dress Code
Again, a casual dress code is the first thing that comes to mind when folks think “startup culture,” and for a good reason. It’s a key component of the startup lifestyle, and it’s also the easiest element to notice — after all, a t-shirt and jeans look quite different than a suit and tie.
The business-casual dress code is probably the most pervasive aspect of startup culture. Today, many major companies encourage business-casual dress, or have no dress code whatsoever. But why?
Many employers have realized that their workers are happier and more productive when they’re comfortable. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see this aspect of startup culture completely transform the corporate aesthetic over the next decade!
2. Flexible Hours
Allowing employees to set their own hours or work from home gives them a tremendous sense of control over their lives, which makes them happier and more productive. Obviously, there are situations that require teams to assemble at a set time and place, but otherwise, giving employees some flexibility and freedom can seriously boost morale.
Some businesses set days each week when people are encouraged to work from home, which is easy to schedule around (i.e. just don’t schedule any staff meetings that day). Others have flexible morning start times, allowing workers to show up whenever they want, as long as they’re in by 10 am (and don’t leave until their work is done). Point being, no matter how a company chooses to implement this flexibility, it can make a serious impact on their employees’ quality of life!
3. Innovation is Encouraged
In a traditional workplace, the emphasis is placed on simply completing tasks rather than finding fresh or innovative ways to get things done. In a startup environment, the management acknowledges that employees may have ideas about how to improve processes and streamline their work in ways upper-management wouldn’t have thought of.
Startups rely on innovation to thrive, so it makes sense that startup culture leaves the door wide open for a variety of ideas. As an employer, you never know when someone will have an idea that could save you tons of time and money!
4. Recreation Activities
Yep, we’re talking about the stereotypical ping-pong table in the conference room. Somewhere along the line, startup founders figured out that no employee can be productive nonstop for eight (or more) hours a day. Everyone needs a break sometimes.
Many folks get their best ideas when they’re blowing off steam, too. Personally, some of my best thinking comes when I’m physically active. That’s why tabletop games like ping-pong and foosball are becoming commonplace in the modern office — they combine light physical activity and competition in order to refresh employees’ minds and bodies during the workday.
5. Everyone Has a Voice
At major corporations, it can be all too easy to feel like your voice isn’t heard or your opinion doesn’t matter. This isn’t the case at a startup. Startups offer much more inclusive environments, largely because the operations are typically quite small. Of course, the larger the company, the more difficult it is to allow everyone an opportunity to voice their opinions.
One way large companies can achieve this is by delegating more power to middle management, and having these employees form teams of entry-level workers. This way, the middle management can effectively gather feedback from the entire staff. Employees who believe their voices matter are bound to be more productive and excited about their work!
6. Culture Grows With the Company
As a company grows from a small startup to a massive operation, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain that fun startup culture that draws in so many initial employees. If a business owner wants to maintain the startup vibe as their company grows, they have to put in the work.
Having a company newsletter is one way to encourage camaraderie in a large-scale workplace. Sending out a weekly email that recaps employees’ achievements (personal or work-related) can make folks feel much more united and personally validated at work. A friend of mine recently told me that his company has begun including employee photos in their newsletters, making it easier for folks to match names to faces around the office.
There are many other ways to maintain a startup atmosphere as a company grows, but the basic principle is to foster a friendly, vibrant environment that breeds innovation!
7. Rely Less on Email
Even though email has only been a popular mode of communication since the late 1990s, the email format is already a bit stiff and formal for modern startup culture. Many companies are shifting away from email in hopes of improving the future of corporate communication.
Some businesses today actually schedule “email-free” hours to help employees stay on task -- rather than be distracted by the constant influx of new messages in their inboxes. Others are replacing email entirely with messaging services like Slack. Slack and similar apps more accurately reflect the way people talk in everyday life, and allow employees to be part of multiple messaging groups to further streamline the communication process.
8. Increased Transparency
While it sounds simple to just “be honest” with employees, sometimes it’s easier to leave things unsaid than it is to be entirely truthful in a corporate environment -- especially when it comes to sensitive subjects.
In startup culture, however, transparency is key -- even with the touchy subjects. Being honest about compensation, promotions, and other information that impacts the staff is essential to building trust and loyalty in a professional environment, whether it’s a startup or a well-established corporation.
9. Employee Recognition
Weekly newsletters, employee of the month awards, and any other efforts to recognize employee successes are great for building an inclusive culture at any company. It’s important to keep in mind that workers truly want to feel like their efforts are appreciated and justly rewarded.
For example, when an employee gets a promotion, an employer could send out a notice not only announcing the promotion, but also explaining why they were chosen for the job. This type of validation motivates the recipient of the promotion to keep up the hard work, and reminds other employees that if they step up their game, it won’t go unnoticed.
10. Wearing Multiple Hats
Frankly, this aspect of startup culture developed out of necessity. Startups typically have limited staff, so their employees must be able to cover a wide range of responsibilities.
While corporate culture has traditionally depended on fairly rigid job descriptions, today the corporate world is beginning to integrate more flexibility in employees’ day-to-day duties. This keeps workers from getting bored with repetitive work, and allows fresh ideas to be generated from more diverse sources. After all, even in a massive corporation, employees are complex people with wide-ranging abilities -- not just cogs in a machine.
11. Teamwork Over Hierarchy
One thing that’s always bothered me about corporate culture is how often you hear about the “team,” when there’s actually very little teamwork taking place. Most of the time, it’s just a hierarchy in disguise.
A genuine focus on teamwork is an essential aspect of startup culture. Not only does team-based work lead to better communication, it also eliminates unnecessary displays of egotism and power.
Startup culture encourages teams to be built on competency rather than seniority. In the modern workplace, people who bring relevant skills to the table should be brought together to work on specific projects — regardless of rank.
12. Owning Your Work
One of the most inviting aspects of working at a startup is the ability to see your work impact the company at large. Startup culture compels employees to take ownership of their work with the awareness that the more effort they put in, the more they will get out of the job — both personally and professionally.
Smart corporate employers today make sure their employees understand how their work influences the team as a whole. This allows employers to replicate this distinct feature of startup culture on a larger scale, and foster a feeling of personal progress within their workers that’s often missing in traditional corporate culture.
13. Interaction With Upper Management
At a startup, everyone knows the owner(s) -- in fact, most employees probably work with them directly on a regular basis. On the contrary, in a traditional corporate environment, many employees have never even met the owner(s) of the company they work for.
Obviously, this is much easier to accomplish in small businesses than in large businesses with several layers of management. Still, even massive corporations should ensure their employees get a chance to interact with upper management from time to time. It’s much easier to give your best effort every day when you know and respect your professional superiors (and vice versa)!
On the whole, startup culture emphasizes comfort over formalities, transparency over secrecy, and teamwork over hierarchies. While these values are easier to implement in a smaller workplace, they’re totally achievable in a large corporate environment, too -- a fact that’s already being proven by some massive corporations today!