By Max Lynch on Dec 26, 2012

As of last week I am proud to say that Ben and I hired our first ever employee for our software company, Drifty Co.

It’s an extremely exciting time. I’ve always been interested in what makes a great work environment, and now I have the chance to create one.

Ben and I have come up with a few list of cultural details and perks we think are important for a small software company such as Drifty, and we intend to roll these out over 2013.

Since this is a work in progress, I’d love your feedback on our list, including anything we are missing.

Features of a Great Workplace

  • They pick their computer. Buy it for them, let them pick the hostname, etc. No one should have to work on Windows if they’d prefer OS X. And if they want a laptop to take home, they should get one.
  • Let them pick their own email address. This avoids the unfortunate case where early employees are and later employees are or some other less “important” naming convention. No one likes being a number.
  • No defined vacation policy. We’d like to experiment with no “earned” vacation time. Instead, everyone should feel comfortable taking time off when they’d like to or need to, within sane limits. I think the difficulty with this will be making sure people actually take time off and know the policy is there to make sure you do (this is a cultural consideration, primarily).
  • Company credit card access. Within reasonable limits, no one should have to ask to purchase things that make their job easier.
  • A clear salary system. This will be the most difficult to implement and nail down the details, but I think it’s extremely important to have a salary system that eliminates any large variations in compensation among similar positions that were primarily based on negotiation experience at hire-time. Squeezing the maximum dollar out of inexperienced employees is a short term cost savings with really negative long term consequences.It’s also important that progress in the startup is reflected in salaries. If employees join on at a reduced salary in the hope that the company will continue to grow, and it does, they should not have to renegotiate to have their salaries “upgraded.”
  • Telecommuting. Ben and I built our first product Codiqa almost exclusively remotely. We’d come home from our 9-5’s and hop on campfire to work until the morning hours. I think anyone should be able to work from home when they want to, not just because getting to the office that day is hard (weather, kids, etc.). It sucks staying home and feeling bad about it.On the flip side of this though, I think one of the greatest things about working with smart people is hanging out in person. I do want to have a physical presence with local employees where possible (at least for now).
  • Quality furniture and office space. No one likes working on crappy desks with bad chairs, or in office spaces that just don’t compare to other companies. I’d like us to all have quality chairs and desks, with a fun office space that we can be proud of. Basically, that means having a ping pong table and a kegerator (at least!).Our office space will optimize for productivity and communication. This means Ben and I will not lock ourselves in an office, forcing employees to knock to talk to us. But it also means we will provide ample space for private discussion and quickly fix complaints of noise or unwanted distraction. As a starting point I imagine an open floor plan with plenty of room between desks, and conference rooms for private discussion. I am interested in private offices but I don’t think we’d find affordable space to do that.Also, coffee should be available at all times.
  • A brand to be proud of. Everyone should be proud to represent the logos and branding of our company and products. If they aren’t, we should make drastic changes to fix that. We should have high quality swag that employees actually want to wear, and it should be free to them.
  • Dedicate time and resources to learning. Everyone should take time to learn and improve their skillset. All employees should be invited to conferences the company attends, as well as any they would like to go to on their own. New technologies should be embraced, if at least to explore new ideas and approaches.We should encourage side projects and periodically hack on things together that are not related to work.
  • Trust and Equality. Never should our employees feel that they are not an equal to anyone else working at the company. Of course, there are ownership details that vary between the founders, the investors, and other employees, but each and every person hired has the same weight given to their ideas as the next.This also means when an employee is hired to do a job they specialize in, their work or advice should not be thrown out on the whim of the founders or investors.We will hire based on our ability to trust our employees to do great things, and be fastidious about fixing mistakes in our trust.

Learning Experience

This list provides solutions to workplace problems Ben and I have personally experienced or have gathered from the experiences of others. While it’s not a perfect list, we feel very strongly that to hire and retain great people that love their jobs, workplace awesomeness has to be taken seriously right from the beginning.

The cost of getting this wrong is drastic: hiring is a large time and money drain, and a toxic work environment is difficult to clean up as well as being a failure of our dreams.

We expect to fail at implementing this list. But part of forming a great company culture is failing at things, and acting quickly on the feedback of your employees to right them.

This list will be a team project with all of our current and future employees, and that’s what really excites us the most about hiring and growing a great team of people we love working with.

What about you? What perks or cultural features do you think make a great work environment?

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