The Productive Startup

The Productive StartupFrom passion projects to stock options, there are many reasons startups lure some of the world’s most impressive talent. But in that casual culture, it can often be difficult to keep that work chain flowing; in fact just the term “work chain” is enough to induce spasms. How, then, can a startup make the most of its fun, creative environment while still staying productive?

Know the Good and Bad of Open Plan

Creating a culture of innovation relies on the free flowing exchange of ideas. And there’s just not much “flow” at all when employees are blockaded behind boring white cubicles, or sequestered in full offices with closing doors. An open plan office has the potential to keep collaboration, camaraderie, transparency and response times high, as every employee can keep abreast of what the other is doing and offer a friendly hand.

And yet, as anyone who has tried to work in a room full of loud friends can attest, there’s a time when even the most talkative worker needs to just sit down and type in silence. While the strategic use of headphones and a good play list can be effective, a startup can encourage productivity in the open plan space by setting aside separate quiet rooms for employees to book when they’re in full productivity mode or are leading a sales call. These rooms needn’t be large, just equipped with the full range of technology, from phones to Wi-Fi.

Designate Time and Space for Socializing

For that matter, if you’re going to set aside space for quietude, why not a designated social area, too? Go beyond the regular break room doldrums by setting aside a comfortable room with couches and tables people will actually want to use. In smaller startups with a more family-like feel, you may even want to schedule communal lunches, either daily or once a week. This will help strengthen camaraderie without disturbing those in the rest of the office who want to put their heads down and power through lunch hour.

Set Ground Rules for Meetings

The problem of being buddy-buddy with your coworkers again rears its head in meetings, which can be easily derailed with jokes about what happened last weekend to insular drama about who did what to whom and in what manner. If you’re finding your startup’s meetings consistently derailed, it’s worth taking a look through this guide to productive meetings and getting a few ground rules and procedures in place.
This doesn’t mean embracing corporate rigidity. In fact, Marissa Mayer, once of Google, now of Yahoo, was famous for whipping those meetings into line. Her tips, combined with a few from other top companies:

1. Set an agenda. And stick to it. This might sound obvious, but it’s worth discussing this explicitly with your team so that it’s clear to everyone just what this means. Politics, complaints, excuses, whatever; make clear that all of these things will have their day in the sun…in private.

2. Have “burst” or “flash” meetings. If your team uses the agile method, this will be easy for all to understand. Try to eschew lengthy meetings where everyone tries to squeeze something in for short meetings of ten to fifteen minutes that focus intensely on one issue for the day. You might even consider displaying a big clock in the meeting room for all to track.

3. Keep the invite list small. Of course, all hands on deck meetings are necessary from time to time, but for the most part, only rope employees in who are directly relevant. You’ll be happy when they don’t distract the meeting with tangential concerns, and they’ll be happy to be left alone to work on what they do best.

Design With People and the Environment In Mind

Sustainability isn’t just about looking out for the earth; it’s about maintaining the health of a startup, too. The best startup offices will be designed to maximize its use of natural light, and will make use of the best renewable furniture, paint, carpets and ventilation, so that employees never have to worry about just what it is they’re breathing in, and health concerns won’t slow them down.

Likewise, an office with a finger on the pulse of the latest in ergonomic design will also keep employees working away. From office chairs to desks (treadmill desk, anyone?), keyboard trays to phones, hire an expert to get everything set into the proper height and to choose the products designed with the human body in mind. Everyone will get a whole lot more done if they’re not constantly massaging their lower backs and reaching for the Advil.

Embrace the Cloud

Startups live and die based on how well they collaborate and communicate. The more transparency there is, the better every employee can wear those multiple hats and lend a hand when a hand is just what’s needed. The cloud and mobile technology in general are both essential tools for making this happen. Whether it’s working through Google Docs, Dropbox, Basecamp, or a range of other tools, the cloud will enable everyone to access critical information from wherever they are, and sync it all together without a thought. One caveat here: you’ll want to pick one mobile platform where it can all come together, rather than trying to operate across multiple competitive systems that don’t play nice. Here’s a great guide to cloud computing for those less familiar with the process.

The productive startup is a powerful force with which to reckon. Getting the right structure, systems, and tools in place will free a startup’s most creative forces to better have those big ideas, rather than spending their time chasing after the information they need or trying desperately to block out distractions. Implement these measures, and you just might take this thing public in a year or so.

image credit: Shutterstock

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Innovative Data - Numbers Telling a BIG StoryRob Toledo is Outreach Coordinator at Distilled, aka marketing coordinator with experience heavily focused online. Technologically driven, with a love for SEO, outreach, link building, content creation, conversion rate optimization, advertising, copywriting, graphic design, SEO, SEM, CRO, Google Analytics, social media, creative content…you get the picture. He blogs at stenton toledo

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2 Responses to The Productive Startup

  1. Pingback: The Productive Startup - Innovation Excellence (blog) | Yusuf Chowdhury's Digital Marketing Daily |

  2. More generally, I think startups need a set of written governance policies from the outset. Please see for further explanation and templates to make the job simple and easy.

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