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Do you know how many times I've been asked:
— Do you really work in a Startup? So, do you wear tracksuits, can you wear slippers at work, are you always throwing office parties and do you work lying down on beanbags?
— Mmm… more or less.
According to the Treccani dictionary, the term Startup refers to the initial development phase of a new business that generally belongs to the internet or information technology field. After five years, a firm can no longer be styled a Startup.
So, why are firms that are giants in the tech industry sometimes referred to as Startups? Are Uber, Google, AirBnb, Houzz and Spotify Startups? Well, I wouldn’t say so.
Nevertheless, all these firms are what you would describe as tech companies and they share – with the majority of firms that we call Startups – an innovative and revolutionary way of envisaging the workplace, the relationship with employees and how the workload gets assigned.
Where does this way of seeing the world come from? From Silicon Valley, where the first tech Startups were born, companies that have now become Google, Apple, Twitter… Have you never heard of them?
This is why the association of ideas we talked about at the beginning doesn’t seem so bizarre now.
At one time, I was working as an intern for an old-school multinational company; in my mind as a graduate from the Bocconi University it was a step I needed to take in order to understand how the world goes round. I’ve never felt so useless as I did in that period, even if I did make a lot of photocopies and I never spilt one drop of coffee.
After several months of coffees, photocopies and uncomfortable clothes, I went to work for a smaller firm, a Startup. It was then that I understood that when you’re all working for the same goal, it’s easier to feel a part of a team and to appreciate what you are doing every single day.
At one time, I was even writing an article for Pianoprimo while I was answering the telephone as part of the customer care team - Good morning, I’m Alessandra, how can I help you? - Here, I’m officially part of the marketing team and I take care of business partnerships.
Madness? No, but a business such as this needs a certain degree of flexibility because every day presents a new challenge: if your computer programmer colleague needs a hand, you’ll be sitting at the IT desk, there’s no doubt about that. Actually, they’d never let you write code: flexible of course, but you don’t improvise at work!
What are the pros? You’ll acquire new skills, a wider understanding of the type of work you do, you might discover that you have a creative side when for years you thought that you only had a knack for sales and, most importantly, you never get bored.
And the cons? You do get things mixed up sometimes:
— Elisabetta who, the graphic designer?
— She’s not a graphic designer anymore, now she works in the marketing department.
— Ah… Elisabetta from the marketing department then.
The other night I was having an after-work drink with my old friend Rebecca. She was wearing an elegant black suit and stiletto heels, I had a grey jumper on and Nike trainers. Rebecca works for a renowned consultancy firm, I work at LOVEThESIGN, a vibrant Startup on the rise.
They say that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, and it might be why this new workplace philosophy backs the theory that you don’t become a good employee just by wearing suit and tie, but also if you’re wearing trainers. Is “comfort” the new keyword? I think so.
On casual Friday: in Rebecca’s office you can wear jeans and leave dark colours at home, at Google you can wear pyjamas.
When you’re working in a relaxed environment, you’re all working towards the same goal and the average age is around 32, even if you don’t believe in mixing work and friendships, after a month you’ll find yourself teary-eyed at a karaoke bar with your colleagues and your boss singing Gli anni by the Italian band 883. And drinking a gin and tonic, of course.
After all, you spend 8 hours a day with your colleagues, why shouldn't you try and be friends? You shouldn’t be obliged just to work, it should also be pleasant. That is how it should be.
A few years ago, a friend of mine who works for a well-known Italian firm told me that it’s housed in a 6-floor building and that each team is allocated a floor according to its rank. You’re nothing if you’re on the first floor, you’re the boss if you’re on the sixth floor. Furthermore, all the desks are separated from one another by a screen.
I work in an open-plan office, which can be slightly noisy at times – especially when the colleague sitting beside me decides it’s time to blast out the latest hit – but it’s also stimulating.
The Silicon Valley firms were the first ones to break down barriers. Google, Yahoo, eBay, Goldman Sachs and American Express also support the same principle. Facebook’s boss, Mark Zuckerberg, asked the famous architect Frank Gehry to design the biggest open-plan office in the world, because it had to house 3.000 engineers. When Michael Bloomberg was still a business man, he was one of the first people to embrace the open-plan concept, stating that it promoted fairness and transparency.
We are still not sure if open-plan offices increase productivity or vice versa, one group of scientists says one thing and another group says the exact opposite. I like it.
It’s essential however to have communal areas where you can socialize, eat and spend some time together. Eating at your desk should be banned.
Even better if the office space is pleasantly decorated, colourful and furnished with several beanbags to lie on. But perhaps we are biased.
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