Part of the fun of running your own company is that you get to make the rules. A zany environment is a fun environment, and helps stir the pot to come up with new ideas. In my experience, there’s no textbook for entrepreneurs that says people can’t wear pajamas to work, or laws dictating that fun is not allowed. None that I’ve seen, in any case. I might be reading from the wrong books.
As I’ve mentioned before, we’ve got SparkFun and Google as models to look at how other fun, successful companies work to create a collaborative environment. Projects are encouraged with free time, offices are set up to encourage interactions and drop-by chats for idea exchange, and SparkFun’s infamous tweeting kegerator is the stuff of legend. While we’re not there yet with being able to afford Google’s 20% time devoted to personal projects, it sets the bar for the kind of business we want to be someday. In the meantime, we’ll just have to make do with our official office policy of Margarita Fridays and the newly founded tradition of happy hour pub crawling. Startups are supposed to be fun, and having a team you can spend time with rocks.
One of the reason being a business owner has always been so attractive to me is that I’ve never personally worked in the kind of work environment I would have liked to spend time in, with the exception of the summers I worked as a camp counselor. Working a job is a literally trading some valuable time of your life in exchange for money. The less tedious the job, and the more empowered you are as an individual, the easier it is to feel passionate about what you do, and to make it your own. Sure, there’s always parts of the job that no one wants to do, but there’s a lot to be said for maximizing the fun and minimizing the tedium.
We do virtually all of our work online, so we don’t have customers or clients to impress on a daily basis. We’re free to decorate our space as we see fit, and to be the company on the inside that we’ve each always wanted to be. Creating silly ambiance is one way I’ve always enjoyed personalizing a space. I’ve long been a collector of knick-knacks and geek toys, and our office is peppered with things hiding in corners and on shelves, just waiting for people to notice. We just instated the new robotic French-period Robospierre to crack the whip on dilly-dallyers. Eerie Cthulhu statues lurk in the rafters. Homages to Tesla the rock star scientist are on the walls. Portal posters link the office to the Matterhorn. It’s a smorgasbord smattering of geeky Easter eggs that people occasionally notice and laugh at.
We play hard too. Our company party last summer was at Jump Street, the warehouse palace full of floor-to-ceiling trampolines, and many a back-flip was turned by our CEO and his motley crew. At Christmas we filled up on painful, nay, toxic levels of delicious Beau Jo’s pizza before the courtesy wheelbarrows came round to roll us back to our homes. As a more regular benefit, our work scheduling is pretty flexible and designed to help people have lives outside of work – I can’t count the number of times I’ve been unable to do important things because my work schedule prevented me from being there. I’d much rather be fully present than be distracted by what’s going on outside of work that I can’t be there for, and I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling that way.
We’re dog friendly, too! All we ask in exchange for the constant stream of attention and treats they receive is that they occasionally pose with the products for our photo shoots. (Jackson has been grudgingly compliant thus far.)
The culture of a company is important, especially in the early days of a company. It’s the social glue that makes people interested in the work they do, it’s the kind of thing that sticks with a company as they grow up, and often an easy thing to overlook. Culture can be an emergent behavior, but it needs to be jump-started and nudged in the right direction to get past that common fear of “can I really do this at work?”. It’s my job to keep things from getting out of hand and to keep things on track , but I find more and more that we can be a company we all enjoy working at and still manage to get our work done.
What would you do with your workplace, if you could remake it how you wanted?