There’s a stereotypical picture of the startup in today’s culture, often lampooned on TV and in movies as slovenly dressed Millennials building apps in coffeeshops or hip, wide-open workspaces full of the requisite game consoles and ping pong tables. These young business mavericks reject traditional practices and processes to embrace fluid creativity and collaboration -- suits and ties be damned.
What’s intriguing to me as CEO of a 22-year-old tech company is that, even through the lens of parody, these startups’ innovation-first, culture-second mentality could (and will, inevitably) benefit larger, more established businesses -- including mine. What they're perceived to lack in professionalism and business acumen they make up for in innovation, agility, democracy and mobility.
Here are three aspects of startup culture that every business -- large or small -- should consider adopting.
1. Changing workstyles
Startups are known for absolutely embracing remote work, telework and other nontraditional workstyles. While it’s often done out of necessity (i.e. not actually having a physical office space), the mentality that this represents is important. It’s not about the where and the when -- it’s about the work.
The fact of the matter is that technology has made the need to sit at a desk from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. outdated, if not altogether obsolete. Our emails, IMs, web and audio meetings are all accessible from anywhere, thanks to cloud computing and advances in our tablets and smartphones. And yet, many large organizations (some quite high profile) are bucking these trends by refusing to offer or even rescinding existing telecommuting opportunities.
It’s time for us all to realize the simple truth that work is no longer a place. And remote and flexible work options will be a key differentiator for businesses when it comes to hiring and retaining talent, fostering a culture that encourages work-life balance and empowering productivity for all employees.
2. Flattening hierarchies
Startups aren’t typically beholden to the rigid management structures of traditional businesses. Now, often this is because there simply aren’t enough people involved, but even as they grow in size, there’s a level of flatness and openness to them that larger companies generally can’t match.
Even if the management structure isn’t flat by design, the nature of a small organization like a startup gives everyone a voice. The opinions of each and every employee are equally valid and visible. Now, there are obviously logistical challenges to this sort of initiative as your company grows in size -- it’s a different experience capturing people’s opinions when they’re one of thousands as opposed to one of dozens.
But technology has again entered the fray to foster these kinds of company cultures regardless of how large or disparate your organization becomes. Social business tools, company intranets, shared team workspaces and more offer corporate communications teams the opportunity to bridge gaps and nurture a more intimate environment where everyone feels like they have a seat at the table.
Ultimately, it’s about creating a company culture where everyone feels valued and appreciated, as opposed to being just another number on a balance sheet.
3. Democratization of technology
If there’s one thing startups crave -- and thrive on -- it’s agility. They’re not subject to the inertia of larger organizations, the resistance to change that can bog down productivity and waste valuable resources. As such, the technologies they employ to stay connected are much more fluid. Unlike big businesses, they’re not at the mercy of clunky legacy systems that it would be too costly, too time consuming or too difficult to leave behind.
Small businesses and startups (and their Millennial constituents, which, by 2020, will make up nearly half of the U.S. workforce) have embraced disruptive communication, collaboration and workflow tools to give their employees the freedom to work however is best for them. However, larger companies are clinging to antiquated models of communication and collaboration, where features and functionalities are dictated from on high instead of being offered wholesale to all users across their organization.
Areas of the business without any direct contact or insight into what various departments need to get their jobs done are deciding for them how they need to work.
Even in larger organizations today, it should no longer be left solely up to a centralized, removed IT department to decide how Employee A needs to collaborate versus Employee B. A variety of communication, collaboration and workflow options should be made available to all. If they’re not, the seamlessness of cloud-based delivery models can give rise to Shadow IT, or employees circumventing IT to purchase and deploy the technology that they need to get work done.
Startup culture and entrepreneurial spirit aren’t going to infiltrate every Fortune 500 overnight. But some of the signs are already there: designing open offices, embracing remote work, transitioning key business tools to the cloud. The companies that embrace these innovations will find themselves ahead of the curve and staffed with the progressive thinkers necessary to innovate and succeed in the years ahead.