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Nerf Guns And Artificial Intelligence: Making Work/Life Work

Can a business focused solely on profit ever develop a culture that inspires creativity and commitment?

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Can a business focused solely on profit ever develop a culture that inspires creativity and commitment?

Opinions

Nerf Guns And Artificial Intelligence: Making Work/Life Work

Can a business focused solely on profit ever develop a culture that inspires creativity and commitment?

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The explosion of startups over the last 10 years has come with a common theme: Companies are trying to ensure their success through a laser focus on profit.

In our time-pressured world such single-mindedness is vital for success, and yet, when taken to extremes it can quickly become a recipe for failure. When companies put the blinkers on and drive straight at the next big sale, something gets lost along the way, and that something is often the highly skilled and creative people on the ground.

Despite the best of intentions, a culture centred around supporting and developing talent often gives way to the urgent demand for revenue growth as investors become impatient.

Even without investor pressures, the reality of this sector is that often companies have to run just to stand still. That doesn’t mean that trying out new ways of working is impossible, but building a strong culture isn’t just something that firms can stumble into, it needs to be a conscious, sustained ambition.

As startup founders in the tech market, our business, PocketMath, is  one of many companies trying to combine putting people first with the constant strive for progress, and we’ve learnt some interesting lessons along the way:

Fun and miscellany are key

We want our teams to aspire to creativity, and that doesn’t come from repetition, restrictions or boredom. Often, an idea that starts out as a joke can wind up being an important part of what we do. When we first started, the developer team built an artificial intelligence bot into our internal chat.

They said it was to help answer queries and support new staff members, but in reality it seemed to be focused on chipping in on staff conversations with tongue-in-cheek remarks. It’s now so much a part of the team that many new employees don’t realise it isn’t a person until someone fills them in.

robo bot

Artificial intelligence can help to inspire your business in ways you never thought possible

Nerf gun battles have also become a recent passion and the warfare isn’t limited to one location. If you’re not in the main office, you can take out a “hit” on an unsuspecting teammate, who will then be ambushed by their loving colleagues. It may be a little bloodthirsty, but keeps us on our toes.

To respect your colleagues you have to respect their time

As someone smart once said, “either you run the day, or the day runs you”. In a startup, everyone has a lot on their plate, and the least we can do is try to give them control.

For example, any team member who is late to a company meeting must provide a reason to their peers, who then decide to accept or reject that excuse. If their peers reject the excuse, the late team member is given a forfeit – usually something involving a presentation on a curveball topic.

As a result, we find people are usually on time, or at least fairly creative with their excuses.

We also believe that as a company, we have equal responsibility to keep time. Each company meeting is timed and if the meeting goes over the promised time limit, money goes into a tardiness equivalent of the swear jar.

Everyone gets the same treatment

Our team is who we are and we want to make sure that everyone is treated fairly. For example all staff get equal vacation time, regardless of seniority or location, whether they work under US employment law or the much more generous UK rules. Everyone is working towards the same goals and so everyone needs the same time to recharge and pursue their non-work interests.

Different people also have different needs, so we’ve moved away from a 9-to-5 office model. Staff can work from home one day a week as standard and can shift their normal working day backwards or forwards depending on what suits them best.

money jar

Lengthy meetings are the enemy of productivity

In the UK, one of our newest offices, the smaller team size lets us hark back to the first months of a startup, but with all the experience and support of a global operation. In such a small office you get to do everything exactly as it should be done.

Our culture here is a lot like a family, the team make time to sit down for a meal together at least once a week, and really value unity and collaboration. Supporting each other is the core principal, both in producing fantastic work and having a great time, or as UK office lead Rob Blake puts it, “we work like sailors, and celebrate like pirates.”

Our culture isn’t perfect, and there are days when Nerf gun wars don’t solve the problems, but it’s important that we don’t lose that focus on the team. In the words of Richard Branson, “If you look after your staff, they’ll look after your customers, it’s that simple.”

Inside every business decision there should be one question: How will this impact the lives of our employees?

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Nerf Guns And Artificial Intelligence: Making Work/Life Work

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