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Company Culture


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Now let’s talk about the fun stuff. What are the perks of working for your company? Unlimited coffee and beer on tap? Catered lunches a few times a week? A casual dress code? An open floor plan with plenty of opportunities to interact with coworkers? Ping pong, foosball, or a basketball hoop? A dog-friendly environment?

And the perks don't have to be limited to the office. Lots of startups offer stipends for gym memberships, discounted movie tickets, or company T-shirts and other swag.

Not every business that has these kind of perks is actually a startup. Walk inside a place like the California-based Clif Bar, a company founded in 1992, which has more than 300 employees, and you notice the “startup vibe.” You see that right away, from the atrium gardens that let in natural light to the repurposed bikes, kayaks, paddles and surf boards suspended from the ceiling that serve as artwork.

There’s a 40-foot bouldering wall, a fitness center, a yoga room, dance studio, massage rooms, and locker rooms for the employees. They also get free access to certified trainers and nutritionists, and the gym provides 33 different fitness classes including rock climbing, yoga, and spin class. Each week, employees get more than two hours of paid gym time.

Every Friday at 5 p.m., 15 or so Foursquare engineers, designers, and researchers take a break to collaborate on creative exercises. They convene in a meeting room for an hour-long session that serves as the weekly meeting for the Product Experience team. But instead of talking business, the objective is to use that hour imagining and creating things.

The company places a high value on problem solving, and the Product Experience team gets to exercise their brains, doodle, and create art by repurposing existing products. For one week’s challenge, they had to think of a new Pebble watch that tells times using non-minute based units. One person created a sundial, while another measured time in shots. In another week, everyone got a picture of an item in the office and a clear plastic film was put over it. They had to draw a new interface on whatever surface they were given.

For this exercise, Jon Steinback, who leads Product Design at Foursquare, got a photo of a urinal. He then made a massive carnival game with rows of ducks running by. The game included a meter that measured how well the players were doing. Once the players hit a certain level in this mock first-person shooter game, they got to wash their hands.

Your startup office space might be your living room. You may have secondhand furniture and rusty windows, but perhaps the perk is that you cater lunch every day. That’s how ZocDoc, an online medical care scheduling company, brings employees together. They value team unity, so they’re offering to pay for food to foster an amiable environment.

Whatever value-added touch you extend to your future employees, know that the best perks are ones that allow employees to stick around and feel like they’re trusted, incentivized, appreciated, and given room for their creativity to prosper.

Let’s expand on those ways of ensuring your workspace has the right vibe:

1. Trust your employees. Employees are more likely to stay with a company if they feel like the management and employers trust them. Avoid micromanaging employees. Organizations with a high level of trust have increased employee morale and have more productive workers and lower staff turnover. Once you instill a level of trust in your employees, they also learn to make the right decisions regarding work culture and responsibilities.

2. Incentivize your employees. Many young professionals love startups because they offer unique financial incentives that motivate employees to produce great results. It doesn’t always have to be hard cash. The incentives can be something like a piece of the company equity or stock options and bonuses for performance. Naval Ravikant, founder of startup advice site Venture Hacks, says it’s important to treat all employees, especially the early ones, with dignity: “Treat early employees as late founders.”

3. Be flexible with your employees. Startup life isn’t easy, and the hours can be long in the beginning, but employees appreciate it when their bosses let them telecommute or provide them with flextime, improving overall job satisfaction. There are other ways to shift the work culture, so that it’s not dependent on the number of hours sitting in a cubicle or an office. For example, the results-only work environment, ROWE, allows employees to be judged solely on job performance. The creators of ROWE, Jody Thompson and Cali Ressler, found that productivity increased an average of 20 percent and voluntary turnover rate decreased by 90 percent when companies shifted away from a regular 40-hour workweek.

4. Show employees you appreciate them. Catering to the daily needs of employees is a crucial way to empower and motivate them. Google provides nap pods and free electric car rental, unlimited vacation time, and free gym memberships. All of these perks speak to the well-being of the employee and enables them to put out quality work. Employees who feel appreciated are more likely to stay long-term.

5. Allow employees to thrive with creativity. Let the video game nerds get their fix in the game room, and let the quirky designer doodle on her tablet. Fostering a creative office environment can benefit everyone, especially if you’re trying to strike a balance between the analytical and creative minds. Places like 3M let employees dedicate 20 percent of their time, or one day a week, to creating something they love. This is just another way to nurture and expand creativity.

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