Saturday, March 11, 2017

Determining the Correct Work Environment


There have been many different approaches to business work environments through the decades. While management styles have evolved -- from top down management to bottom up and collaborative cross department cultures-- so too has the work environments themselves changed.

Growing up as a kid I saw business a serious endeavor. A place where men in three piece suits and women in dresses arrived punctual, had narrowly-defined roles; they were cogs in the great wheel. It was an extension of the assembly line mentality of the 40s and 50s. With each decade the work environment and work culture changed. When I attended the MIDEM in Cannes, France  in 1999, I was handed cards that weren't rectangle, but oblong; no longer with titles like VP of Marketing or some other title we've seen for generartions, but rather Guru of Inspiration, or Prince of production. This new generation were looking to shake things up. No one contributed more to this causual-comfortable concept more than Steve Jobs in his everyday black tee shirt and jeans.    

When I first went into business I had visions of grandure, a professional looking office with serious people moving about and motivated by a purpose. As I write this however, I'm sitting on a restaurat outdoor terrace running a digital agency with mostly remote locateion employees . The past two Decembers' in fact I worked from a beach cafe with Arabian sea crashing on the shore not 50 meters from where I sat. Everyday was work, sun, sand, surf ... and Margarittas.

When I started my first company in 1982 it was just me, my younger brother, and my younger still brother in law.  So we didn't need much space. Moreover, I had a freight brokerage firm, so I had to setup my office in the truck center -- where all the free lance drivers would come to get fuel, pick money, get their trucks weighed, park the big rigs and, pick up work from guys like us.

Needless to say it wasn't pretty. It was a truck center -- with an atmosphere akin to an auto mechanic shop. Our work culture was casual but we were deadly serious about the work, delivered excellent service and, as a result, grew from $10,000 (of monthly revenues) that January to $130,000 in monthly revenues a year later.

By then I'd often go to work in a limo 3 days a week. But that luxury didn't change the work environment nor the work culture; it was still dirty and casual. I wanted upscale and professional. Though my brother later in life becaame headed of marketing for a Fortune 500 company, back then neither he nor my 16 year old 25 year old looking brother in law were upscale professionals. They were kids, as was I at 23. They'd dress in jeans and tee shirts. If someone called for accounting, they'd place them on hold, wheel on the chair from one desk to the other  (butted up against each other) and pretend to be a buttoned up business executive. Inside our 12 x 12 office it was rediculous, of course, but also provided some comic relief in a highly stressful industry.

Twelve years later -- after a 2 year hiatus from the freight industry, indulging my interest in the entertainment field -- I setup shop in the subburbs, away from the dirt and grime of the truck center.

In fact Tom Cruise's sister Cassie had her Santa Fe Cafe down the block from my new 2,500 square foot offices. I ate there often. My new office sapce still wans't high scale professional, but it was getting closer, and it was a well-organized, well-run operation. Work culture? It was focused but casual; my partner and I and our operations manager would often engage in computer war games during the lunch break; several of us were in the men's basketball team together, so the work environment, I guess, had a friends and family vibe to it.

 By 1997 I had reached that office environment and work culture I'd been chasing through the decades. It was impressive. We leased a facility containing 200,000 sqaure feet of wharehouseing (on seven acres of poperty), with its own railroad track to service trains inside the building, and 7,000 square foot of office space that we designed ouselves. Top it off with a 40 foot sign out front, and yes, it was impressive.

So how did I get from there to a patio in India where I was profiled in Entereprenur Magazine in an article about remote work force?

I had sold off my stake in the freight logistics company and was now running an entertainment company, with a high scale office at Herald Square in Manhattan. While I was at a coffee shop in the east village of NYC, I met a young fellow that altered my perceptions and ambitions. He asked me directions and I recognized his accent: "South Africa?" He told me he was from Capetown and in NYC on business, then off to Montreal, Canada.

It was 2000 and the Internet was exploding in every direction. This young man (20 or 22 I would have guessed) was an online animator. So I inquired, "where do you go after Montreal, back home to Capetown?" In a dead-serious look he replied, "Home is where ever my computer and backpack is."

Goa India 
That thought lingered. I began to consider a mobile work style that allowed me to travel. The plan in my head further evolved when I read a passage and the review of book by author Rolf Potts:

“The more we associate experience with cash value, the more we think that money is what we need to live. And the more we associate money with life, the more we convince ourselves that we’re too poor to buy our freedom.” 

I've now been workiing remotely for fifteen years. While there are models that are used by the masses, tested, tweaked, and re-deployed, you can establish a work culture any way you choose. The tick is finding out what works best for your company and it's employees and, also, is inline with  your own ambitions.

Dare to dream of the life you want to live. In August the directors of Incognito World, myself included, will set off on  a motorcycle trip to the Himalayas. You never know, during the adventure we stumble on our next great idea!