Amidst the pandemic, companies of all sizes and scale have had to rapidly adopt technology and become more digitized. The startups are at an advantage here as they are inherently agile and flexible. According to McKinsey, smaller organizations are often more successful at reskilling their workforces because they follow agile principles. One of the key challenges, however, for organizations working remotely has been maintaining their culture – expressing workplace values solely through screens may have a limited impact. Often, at the helm of this culture in a startup are the founders themselves, who build the company from ground-up. The litmus test for startup founders has been fostering this culture and a spirit of curiosity and innovation in teams while working remotely.
Imbibing the soul and entrepreneurial energy of a startup
A startup culture inspires excitement and nurtures a sense of mutual connection and purpose. For as long as this spirit sustains, engagement amongst employees will remain high and businesses will keep their edge. The key to ensuring this is providing an employee experience characterized by independence and creativity— through “voice” and “choice.”
Moreover, startups are innately comfortable with ‘fail fast and move on’ culture. From the founding teams to the younger cohorts, startup teams have innovated and failed multiple times before tasting success. Given the current scenario, tech and product startups have managed to redefine the workplace because of this very fabric that is intrinsic to their existence. Most founders have got to where they are by challenging the norms and notions of what is conventional, which has set them up for success amidst these extraordinary times.
Startups today are not bracketed in their thinking on how organizations and hierarchy should work. Most startups adopt the first principle thinking which goes on to say that one must question all assumptions till it is broken to its elemental units. In doing so, a whole host of archaic ways of thinking about people at work, the need to be told what to do and how to do it, accountability, the meaning of success and many such restricting aspects have been replaced by open thinking.
A culture which does not hinge on boss-subordinate dynamics or a do-as-directed approach but instead emphasizes on creative outcomes has a strong foundation to allow employees the elbow room to take risks. As taking risks and failing becomes permissible, employees are naturally inclined to innovate. Imbibing and assimilating the idea of not waiting for the perfect solution but continuously trying a variety of approaches, even if it means failure, is what sets a startup on a strong footing when it comes to innovation. Regular reinforcements of this while working from home makes sure employees are picking up the pieces after a failure and moving on to the next challenge with equal courage. Refusing to consider a view merely based on who it is coming from and instead paying heed to ideas backed by creativity and data makes a startup a hotspot for innovation. The ability to disagree with the status quo without taking offense is practiced with ease at most young startups. In doing so, a psychological safety net is created which certainly helps bring in innovative thinking.
Shaping remote working models through the lens of a startup
Majority of the company culture is created consciously as a result of the things we have control over -- hiring the right people, training and upskilling, setting a clear vision and goals, implementing good processes, demonstrating company values, and rewarding the right behaviors and results. A startup in its initial years is built entirely on frequent communication, exchange of ideas, quick suggestions, and active involvement in different business processes, team buildings and plenty of informal video conferences. The pandemic has made the optimization of a startup’s digital solutions stack inevitable. The need of the hour is to gain more insight into how the business will run going forward, and be more cohesive as a tech company, both internally and externally.
One way to approach this is through over-communicating – despite the increased time commitments, the alignment and feeling of belongingness it brings is invaluable. More town halls, more virtual after-hours and more informal catch ups keep people connected and lead to better idea-sharing. The open floor from the pre-pandemic era needs to be replaced virtually by creating structured and unstructured opportunities that make the leadership teams more accessible. Scheduling Zoom lunches, virtual coffee breaks or just reaching out to say hello breaks stereotypes associated with hierarchy, making the leadership seem approachable. For new employees, personalizing the onboarding process instead of a one-size-fits-all approach helps ensure the company culture is well assimilated. Even in the virtual world, employees, particularly new joinees, must be able to “feel” the culture. Lastly, a trial-and-error approach, vital to a startup’s existence, must be well-integrated into the employee engagement models. Culture is a team-oriented concept and constantly trying new ways to celebrate it basis the feedback and response from employees should be a part of the process. After all, a startup culture originates from an attitude and a mindset— not from the physical workspace.