Running A Startup Office – As You Grow
In my last post (Dummies guide on setting up an office space), I described a lot of things about getting an office space, setting it up and some hacks to run it efficiently. While that’s a good beginning, over the past few months I am realizing that scaling an office space brings its own challenges. In an office with as many as 15 other people, the dynamics are very different than what it was with just 5 people. So here is a quick and dirty guide on things to watch out for as you grow your office space.
a) Food and Water:
As we grew from 4 to 16 people in a single office, we realized that a 20 litre packaged drinking water barely lasted a day. What would previously go for 3 days now needs a refill every day. We should have explored options of getting a tap connection and attach a filter to it. However given that we choose to bring in packaged water spending Rs 80 for each 20-litre pack, we now have to setup two different water dispensers to ensure we have enough to sustain all 16 people.
Another issue is food. With 4-5 people, we could have our lunch on our tables or at a corner in the office, everyone together. The same doesn’t work anymore. We do not have a large separate space for lunch and food smell gets trapped inside the room due to the closed area required for air conditioning. We have since converted the small reception area that was lying unused (which we were almost about to use for seating more people) into a lunch area. We have lunch in two or three installments, folks getting a tiffin from home get a preference to go first.
(In our next office space, we would plan for a separate lunch area and a small pantry.)
With 5 people we could rely on our mobile hotspots to backup if the primary Internet connections fails. It never did when we were 5 people. We never prepared a serious backup. We got a separate line for heavy downloads which was a bit un-reliable and only accessible by WiFi. Last month, we had three occasions when the primary Internet went down. Some critical tasks came to a stand still.
Since we opted for cheap desktops (used ones) and most of them were connected with a physical LAN cable, the limited backup didn’t work for all. Our backup Internet line is on WiFi. Ouch. We have since started to spend Rs 700 on every desktop to make them WiFi enabled. We are also looking for more reliable connections in our area and replacing the backup line, which isn’t very reliable.
We are also stocking at least one extra CPU and LCD monitor to deal with breakdowns in systems. That happens and we don’t want to lose that half-day of productivity in fixing it.
c) Culture & Canvas
One recent worry has been culture. As over a dozen people are seated in the same office, we need to discipline ourselves and decide upon certain workplace rules. Here are a few
i) We communicate over IMs as much as possible. This is done to avoid breaking the workflow of a colleague even if he is sitting right in front of you. In case it is a urgent communication or a quick verbal chat, we raise our hand and wait for the other person to respond. Wearing earphones and deep focus on the PC screen is considered super busy and almost never disturbed.
ii) Language: With 5 people and mostly friends before colleagues, the language discipline in office was non-existent. We now have a rule to use any slangs only after 7PM J
iii) Timings and Holidays: Working on Sundays, no defined timings and a leave whenever one pleases worked fine with less number of people. Overtime we have started to declare holidays and half-days in advance. For certain staff we also have timings, tracking and penalties for leaves / late arrivals.
iv) Office outings are now planned. Occasional dinner for teams or a cheap rock show outing happens once in a while. You won’t believe how much that boosts the morale; kill stress and increases bonding between different people. Ultimately productivity increases.
d) Relationships and Admin:
We have a few neighbors in our office complex (it is an old bungalow) and we have warm relationships with all of them. These relations were built either by sending over sweets occasionally, chatting over pani puri in evenings or just initiating a conversation once in a while whenever we run into them. We have shared WiFi password, food and even office space with our neighbors (both ways) when needed. Contacts for carpenters, plumbers and electricians are good to share things, we also plan to have one common Internet line amongst a couple of offices to save on some $$ now. Warm relationships with your surroundings help. Especially for a low resource startup. We also used SwitchMe to save as much as Rs 3,000 every month on electricity for our neighbors and ourselves recently.
There are various admin tasks that come up at regular intervals and we (as founders) do not spend any time in dealing with these. Factors like plumber, electrician, paying the restaurant bill for deliveries, water supply, taking reading from electricity meter that is shared with a neighbor etc is now dealt jointly by a couple of staff members. A petty cash is maintained and we look at these only once in a while. We do not need a full time admin, but existing staff is given added responsibility to handle these.
So, as you are starting up your business, growing it and prospering, do remember the 1-10-50 rule.
“If you are a 1 person company, the best advice and help you will get is from a person running a 10 person company. If you are a 10 person company, your best advice would come from a 50 people company. Go talk to them.”
Annkur P Agarwal is the founder at PriceBaba.com