Is open work culture the right choice for your startup?

By Nidhi Thakur|1st Dec 2016
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Let’s begin by pointing out that an ‘open culture’ is not synonymous with an ‘open office’. An open office is more specific to the floor layout you choose while designing your workplace – fewer cubicles, more communal seating, flying tables, etc. Whereas, an open work culture is more about the psychological vibe of the office – we’re talking about employee attitudes, satisfaction levels, and overall expectations. It could also be apt to note here that even while they’re theoretically independent terms, they are quite interdependent, as the design layout of an open office can affect the work culture, and vice versa.

Image : shutterstock

Image : shutterstock

Office culture is a huge factor that will define the overall image and feel of your company, and hence it’s very crucial to monitor and ensure you’re on the right path. While an open work culture easily seems to have the popular vote of most startups, are you sure it’s the right way for you? What works for you might not work for someone else, and similarly, what seems to be a popular work culture in your industry could not necessarily suit your vision of growth. To make sure you don’t blindly follow the herd, we’ve made a pros and cons list with respect to the key features of an open work culture:

Horizontal hierarchy

Pros: Dropping the obsolete hierarchical walls does inspire a more collaborative and self-motivated environment. With no managers breathing fire over your heads, you not only get the freedom to channel your creativity with less pressure but also start pushing yourself to be more responsible and self-reliant in your work.

Cons: While a collective team effort is a great plus, not having a reporting system/hierarchy can sometimes lead to a disorganised mess. Collective work also means collective appreciation, and this could hamper individual motivation levels if not properly handled. Also, depending on what kind of field you’re serving in, absence of hierarchy could be a deterring factor for your employees as they miss out on the status quo that comes with promotions to higher positions.

Flexibility

Pros: Working in an office that practices open culture comes with the perks of flexibility and creative freedom. You have flexible working hours, try different roles in varied fields which aren’t a part of your profile, and test your limits. This can be a great personal productivity and skill booster if your team takes it in the right stride.

Cons: The problem with offering flexibility is, you have to constantly monitor to ensure the graph doesn’t go too haywire. Giving employees the freedom to choose and chase their own targets, while motivating in most cases, can also go lead to mismanagement and loss of faith in your leadership.

Autonomy

Pros: An open office culture thrives on encouraging initiative among employees, the feeling of belonging to the organisation. In the absence of a vertical hierarchy, equal amount of power lies in every employee’s reach. This means you are letting your team set their own targets and devise their own methods to chase these. They’re free to actively pitch to new clients, juggle between multiple roles, and select projects which they feel the most excited about.

Cons: When does initiative turn into autonomy? When does it become too much? How do you know if the freedom is becoming counter-productive, instead of harbouring greater individual leadership and initiative?

Open communication

Pros: You’re working as one big team instead of several small ones. This means more clear and open communication across different verticals of the company to encourage a more collaborative effort. Everyone is aware of what’s cooking in the other section, and they’re free to join with their own ideas, opinions, and thoughts. This openness gives everyone the feeling of belonging to one family, creating a higher level of trust, satisfaction, and belonging in the organisation.

Cons: Open communication and work structures can be a slippery affair. Just like being in a joint family has its ups and downs, having an open office culture also means open disclosure and lack of confidentiality. Such an environment can also be an introvert’s nightmare. When everyone knows everything about every department, there’s little or no scope for personal space.

How your team works at your office will have a huge bearing upon their productivity and the overall efficiency of your organisation. Creating a culture that is inspiring and attractive, and deters attrition, should be every entrepreneur’s priority. That makes it imperative to observe and work towards building the right office atmosphere, one that cultivates better results and leads to higher employee satisfaction and happiness.