Guest author Scott Gerber is the founder of the Young Entrepreneur Council.
Your startup's office environment isn't just the physical space you inhabit. Small, large or shared, it's what you do within that space that can influence everything from overall employee happiness to daily output.
We asked 11 successful founders, all members of YEC, what kind of workspace they prefer, and how that impacts the culture of the company they run. Their best answers are below.
1. Space Is the Body Language of an Organization
Space is the body language of an organization. It not only reflects a company's identity, but it also changes the way that your team works and influences the outside world's perception of you and your brand. Location, design and selection should be carefully considered based on what you do, what growth phase you're in, what image you are going for and what you can reasonably afford. A two-person hedge fund and a small app development startup don't share the same space requirements. Likewise, big and small companies that do the exact same work also have different requirements for their workplaces.
2. Comfort is Key
Even though we're an organization that communicates mostly through our computers, we put a lot of emphasis on having a comfortable, bright working space for our team. Recently, we moved into a new, significantly larger office space with tons of natural light, and perhaps most critically, more alternative work spaces. These spaces, such as a bed-like couch in the back, or our living room area, provide our team with opportunities to change-up their environment. Also, the addition of new common spaces increases face-time our team has with each other, which is key given that we're a company that mostly communicates online.
3. Environment Is Critical
One of my favorite startup quotes is actually an African proverb: "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." To me, the most important aspect of the startup environment is the way it allows the team to interact. Regardless of how great your idea might be, the thing that is as important as the idea is the team you pick to execute it. You have to provide an environment that will allow for team members to optimally operate together. How will they interact? How will they bump into each other? How will they share ideas? Ask for feedback? The way your environment is set up can foster an incredible ecosystem for your team.
4. Space Affects Morale
I think every startup needs to go through phases of growth and a sense of achievement in order for people to truly appreciate the growth of the company. For example, our company was started at home and continued to be that way until we could justify the expense of getting an office. There were days I didn't want to work from home and would work in a cafe or maybe a temp office. But I knew that once we had an office, it would let my employees know that our hard work made us able to afford this new environment.
5. Startups That Work Together Succeed Together
The space you work in definitely matters. We are in AOL's Fishbowl Labs in the DC area and work to ensure only top-notch startups make it into the space. We want to make sure that not only our culture is great, but also that we are surrounded by startups with great cultures. It makes a huge difference. We also try to hire locally; there's a lot of value to having everyone in the same room. No matter how great remote working and collaboration technology becomes, it can't beat those invaluable, impromptu hallway conversations that happen when everyone works in the same office. That said, expecting 100 percent of your staff to be in the same office is unrealistic. Ultimately, you need to find the best talent wherever it is, and some of our top engineers work remotely.
6. Home Is Where the Heart Is
It definitely matters what kind of environment a startup runs in. I believe strongly in the concept of a corporate headquarters. It allows team members to come together under one roof and feel unified in the work that they’re doing. It fosters communication and a sense of family among the team members that simply can't be replaced with any form of technology. Although we are flexible in our work hours, I want our team members to be with each other the majority of the work day. However, it is crucial to allow the flexibility of working remotely. With startups, employees are constantly traveling to promote the brand and are sometimes needed full time in certain regions that are key markets for the company and its clients.
7. An Office Keeps You Sane
I love working from home, and we have a lot of virtual team members who do just that, but I absolutely crave the social aspect and collaboration that comes with having an office. Whether it's a co-working space or a group of people working together at a coffee shop, I think it's particularly important to stay connected with other people early on in the startup process. You need the support of having people around to bounce ideas off of rather than holing up at home and creating in a vacuum.
8. Feeling Matters More Than Structure
The FEEL of the office is far more important than anything else. How do people feel? What is that feeling that's in the air that you can't necessarily describe, but everyone knows it exists? That is what start-ups need to focus on. Harnessing the right energy matters more than anything else. If you have the right energy, and people agree that it feels right and passion is floating in the air, then all you need to do is make sure people can focus and "crush it" and the rest will play out!
9. Startups Can Exist Anywhere
The beauty of a startup is that it can essentially run in any environment. The type of environment that it runs in does not matter as long as it fits the startup’s essential needs at that stage. In the infantile stage, it is great to run a startup out of a home or cafe because there is no overhead and the hours are flexible. Once the startup has a proof of concept and raises a small amount of funding, it might want to consider a flexible office space, such as an incubator or shared workspace like WeWork. It is a great way to portray a professional image without breaking the bank, which investors love to see. As the startup progresses and becomes more stable, it might want to progress to an environment where it can establish and promote its own company culture and build a home base.
10. People Matter More than the Location
It doesn't matter if you have your own office, work from home or work in an incubator. The important thing is that you seek out people who challenge and inspire you and who you can learn from. Many years ago, I ran my company on nights and weekends while working at a venture capital and private equity fund. What I learned from seasoned entrepreneurs I met through my day job as a VC taught me valuable lessons that I apply each and every day to my own company. Seek out people who have been there before.
11. Freedom Is Key
It depends on the culture you’re trying to create and the problem you’re trying to solve. Freedom is a priority of ours, and we structure our business around it. San Francisco and New York City are our two home bases, but we travel three to six months every year outside the country. Last year, we went to Buenos Aires and Berlin. This year, we’ve been to Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia, and we’re currently back in Berlin. Our employees can work anywhere, as well, and we use cloud-based tools to keep our team working together, including team meetings on Google Hangout. We also believe in the value of personal relationships. When we’re in cities such as San Francisco and New York City, we spend a lot of time building relationships with partners and potential clients.