Being a part of a startup team is an amazing and instructive experience, not found in any other line of work or pastime. This combination of healthy chaos, inspiration, unstable hours and constantly changing the organization of work provides for an exciting job environment and does wonders to take you by the scruff of the neck and yank out of your comfort zone. No matter how much one likes it, it cannot last forever. It is tiring; it disrupts performance, in the long run, it implants many an unhealthy work habit.
Below are just some of the problems we had and recognized:
- Inability or difficulties in understanding how much time was spent for a specific segment of tasks
- Lack of hierarchy (yes, it can be a problem!): it was not clear whose decision is the final one, whose feedback is the most important etc.
- Little time for studying: considering how much changing Internet marketing is, we need to make sure we have time for self-education. Some of us used to read and study on the weekend, some – late evenings and somebody during lunch time (which is fine), but it was clear we needed to address this question.
At a certain moment, the situation simply has to change – which is exactly what we did in our company, joining the ranks of startups that strive to retain that spirit of inspiration that moved us since the early days, but adding to the mix a work process organization that would be more orderly. It is a very important step for us. On the one hand, it shows that we are no longer at a stage of being too busy fighting for survival to sit down and reflect on our long-term vision. On the other hand, it demonstrates that we know what we are doing and can change the things that are already working to make them work even better.
Here are a few points that played an especially important part in this qualitative change and can serve as valuable advice for digital companies facing the same kinds of problems.
Minimization of Meetings
We wouldn’t be the first to consider meetings at the same time one of the most time- and energy-consuming and the least productive activities company employees can be engaged. In absolute majority of cases, a meeting is a corporate analog of randomly surfing the Internet when you are supposed to work on some vital project. In other words, time spent in meetings can be used to a much greater effect doing some work; and we did our best to apply this principle in our company.
Of course, we didn’t eliminate them entirely – a company needs to provide an opportunity for employees to share their opinions and discuss issues – but we ensured that meetings are used to solve problems, not to imitate activity. This is done via detailed and concrete agenda for every meeting – everybody knows in advance which problems are going to be discussed, and is encouraged to prepare their suggestions beforehand. As a result, the meetings we hold amount to be short and up-to-the-point discussions, not many hours’ worth of idle talk.
Working without receiving regular feedback from your colleagues and higher-ups can be confusing and frustrating, leading to loss of motivation and productivity in the long term. Therefore, we started promoting free communication between employees whose tasks intertwine, and between the team and project leaders. The regular and uninterrupted flow of information ensures that everybody is up to date with the company’s goals and policies, employees know if some of their practices and approaches need to be altered, and so on.
One of the most annoying issues for any company, and a digital company, in particular, is that it is often unclear where all the time is going. Even if everybody is doing their best, it doesn’t mean that everybody is using their time to maximum efficiency. That is why a way to get an insight into this can go a long way in improving overall performance.
In our case, we’ve found a solution in Toggl Timer. This seemingly unassuming piece of software is simple to use and surprisingly effective in organizing time. The problem with most time trackers is that they are unwieldy, not very suited for team projects and demand constant attention. Toggl is such an excellent help exactly because it was designed with teamwork and ease of use in mind.
Toggl is extremely helpful both for defining what eats up most of the time and for planning. The first weekly report we’ve studied already provided us with valuable insights as to what our time mainly sinks into, and allowed for better prioritization of tasks. For instance, it turned out that several projects that were among the least profitable for the company tended to gobble up a disproportionate amount of time, so we took measures to concentrate on more promising lines of work.
Clearly-Outlined Roles and Responsibilities
At the early stages of our company’s existence, everybody tended to do the job for which they had an opportunity or time at the moment. A certain separation of duties existed, but it was rather ambiguous, and tasks often drifted from one person to another. Recently we’ve changed the situation: now everybody has a clearly defined set of tasks they are responsible for, roles they perform and areas they take care of. It doesn’t mean that one is supposed to ignore an issue if it doesn’t fall into their set of immediate responsibilities – it simply provides a better degree of concentration and makes it clear who does what. After all, when everybody is responsible, nobody is responsible – and we don’t want that.
Investment in Training
Investment in the team shows that employees are not just workforce but rather part of the company and that we value them. It increases productivity not only through applying new skills acquired by the team members but through boosting morale as well: when the company invests in an employee, they know they are appreciated.
The most obvious result of these changes is, of course, a considerable increase in efficiency. We no longer waste inordinate amounts of time on projects that don’t deserve it, we’ve managed to eliminate some wasteful practices that tended to eat up our resources, we no longer lose potential profit through misunderstandings between colleagues and management. A lot can be said for a less formal, less discipline-oriented work process organization, but a certain degree of control and efficiency evaluation go a long way in establishing a healthy work atmosphere and promoting greater efficiency both on personal and company levels.