If there’s one thing startup businesses are renowned for, it’s their company culture. Working at a startup usually offers candidates a more flexible, less corporate and often a more casual working environment. There are countless jokes about startup businesses offering ping pong tables and slides in their office spaces, helping them to appeal to the younger, millennial demographic. However, this ping pong table can act as a perfect metaphor for the relaxed approach that startups offer; prioritising enjoying work and passion for what they do as the central aspect of their company culture.
Right now, maintaining company culture is difficult for all businesses, but especially startups. The majority of workers are still working remotely from their homes, and it’s likely that many companies will never return to the traditional 9-5 at a desk culture. With all employees in different locations, it’s as hard for startups to maintain a fun, laid back atmosphere as it is for established businesses to sustain a corporate one. Just like corporate companies can’t stop workers from slyly working in pyjama bottoms while working from home, startups can’t ensure their staff are embracing flexible hours or keeping in contact with the team. Without the office chit chat, well-decorated surroundings, quirky benefits and even the prospect of an after-work drink or two, it’s easy to lose the fun company culture many have carefully crafted.
Ways of working are changing more rapidly than ever before. Even startups which are renowned for flexibility and agility are having to reconsider their ways of working as priorities of employees and candidates change. Therefore, maybe businesses should be less concerned with maintaining a culture that worked before the pandemic. For startup businesses, like any other, it could be time to adapt your company culture to fit with a new way of working and a new way of thinking.
Which raises the question, how can startup businesses translate the ping pong table culture to working from home?
Focus on the broader culture
Firstly, your startup business is about so much more than playing games in the office or having a beer on a Friday afternoon. It’s time to focus on the bigger picture and your wider culture. Why do your colleagues really enjoy working for you? What is it that your company offers them emotionally that other businesses cannot? Instead of focusing on the little moments that can make them happy whilst they’re in the office, it’s time to think about how you can make the overall employee experience better no matter where your employees are. Qualities like supporting your team, engaging in fun activities and creating a culture of trust will all work in your favour.
Outline your philosophy
Startup businesses tend to attract talented people that believe in their mission, hold similar values and are passionate about the business. If you feel like your startup is losing the grip on its company culture, it’s time to reinforce and strengthen your philosophy. Consider why you started your business, or why you joined, and emphasise what makes your business unique; from its overall goals to values it holds in high regard. You can translate this philosophy throughout both your internal and external brand messaging. Allow it to form the basis of your employee value proposition. This way, your values are incorporated into the everyday running of the business, and employees know exactly what to expect from you, as well as what you expect from them.
Prioritise your product
If your startup is succeeding, it’s because you have a great product, right? While it’s easy to get bogged down in creating a good company culture and employer brand, remember, most of your team have joined because they believe in your product and mission. It’s time to start prioritising this again. After all, if your product fails, so does your business. If your people believe in your product, then that passion will drive your company culture, you’re all working towards the same goal. It will emphasise their sense of purpose whilst working remotely, and while teamwork may be a little harder, can unite teams.
Put your people at the centre
To ensure the people behind your startup feel valued and happy at work, make them the centre of your company culture. As a startup, you have the advantage of having a relatively small team. Before you consider scaling your startup, talk to your people and discuss what they believe could be improved especially if they’re working from home. It’s better to iron out any of these details before your business scales and the number of people increases. Focus on the people you do have, meeting their needs and ensuring they’re happy at work. Happy employees attract more employees and improve your employer brand significantly; positioning you as a great place to work. Plus, employees feel more committed to an organisation if they feel as though they are prioritised, so a people-centric approach can empower and motivate your team.
Startup businesses are also known for their flexibility. It’s easier to offer last-minute time off, to let employees work remotely and to allow flexible hours if you have a smaller team. However, suppose you shift your startup to remote-first company culture. In that case, this flexibility must still stand, or your business may lose some of its appeal to employees and could risk damaging your employer brand.
Let your team know they can switch their hours around to support their personal lives; if they have a doctors appointment in the middle of the day it’s no problem, or if they need to finish early that’s fine too. Approach remote working with the same flexibility that you offer in the office environment to maintain your company culture. Don’t expect your employees to be chained to their computer from 9 am – 5 pm when working from home if you didn’t expect it in the office. Startups and other businesses offering remote working as a long-term solution must trust their employees to get their jobs done to a high standard in their own time.
Promote work-life balance
Historically, many talented people have been deterred from applying to startups because they imagine the work-life balance isn’t great. It’s understandable, with a small team and big ambitions there will likely be nights that you have to work later to meet deadlines or your team may have to give up a day off to prepare for a big meeting. However, the last thing you want at your startup is to have employees feeling like they can’t escape work. While working remotely, it’s much harder to separate daily life from work, and with your work, in such easy reach, it’s growing more common for employees to work extra hours.
Plus, if leadership teams can’t monitor their teams the same way they do when you’re all together, employees start to feel a level of guilt about the hours they work. Make sure you ask about their weekend activities and promote having fun outside of work through conversations and sharing your stories too. Startup businesses could also offer wellness sessions and initiatives to unite the team and help maintain that fun, people-first culture.
If you’re looking for help refining your employee value proposition or have concerns about maintaining your startup culture in the new normal, contact us to start your conversation. To stay up to date with the latest startup insights from our experts, sign up to The Startup Lowdown using the form on this page.