Traditional Workplace vs. Startup Culture

Although “startup” continues to be a buzzword, there has been a lot of talk lately about whether or not the “tech bubble” has burst, or is going to burst. Fortune remarked that venture capitalists are more discerning than ever, pulling out of risky bets, growing more wary of tech companies’ tendency to be overvalued. Yet startup culture continues to become more and more ubiquitous; whether you talk about the rise of AI, the bad ethics of Uber, or about the next wave of fintech, it seems that tech–however it might evolve–is here to stay.

This means that the traditional business model is becoming increasingly replaced by the startup model and its unique work culture. Gone are the days where people check into an office building from 9-5, shuffling paperwork, working for the same corporation for a good part of their working life. Today, it is increasingly common to meet people who work remote from Lisbon for a startup based in San Francisco. The world is more connected than ever and it’s no longer too much of a stretch to suggest that you can probably get really great WiFi even in Timbuktu.

So what are the benefits and drawbacks of working in a startup vs. a traditional business?

Traditional Workplace: Set Hours
Startup: Flexible Hours

If you work for an international banking corporation, you will work from Monday to Friday, your hours are more or less set. This has the benefit of achieving a work-life balance in some ways–after 5 pm, slide to “off” your work brain and turn “on” your family-life switch. If you work in a startup, you may be able to start at 11 a.m. but work can encroach on your weekend life and “after hours” is a vague term that nobody who works in a startup really understands. This is especially true if you work remote as you don’t have a physical office to separate work from life.

Traditional Workplace: Corporate Culture
Startup: Come-As-You-Are Culture

If you work for a corporation, chances are that you will own “business casual work wear.” A pencil skirt from Zara; oxford dress shirts. If you work in a startup, you’ll see that the stereotype of the 23-year-olds in hoodies isn’t far off from the truth. You can almost look like you rolled out of bed and into your co-working space. But the drawback here is that as mentioned earlier, you might not as easily separate work from life. Work is set up in such a way that you put in longer hours since you don’t really feel like you are “at work.” If you don’t feel like you are “at work,” you don’t have the need to check out from work.

Traditional Workplace: Salary and Benefits
Startup: “Passion” vs. Pay

If you work for a large organization, you have the stability of knowing that you are working towards a healthy retirement fund. Your salary will rise in accordance to the length of time you have been at the organization. The larger and more established the company, the more you are assured of benefits including a strong health insurance package, paid leave, funded professional development courses, etc. In a bootstrapping startup, you give up a higher salary in exchange for “passion,” being part of a vision, having more of a say in a small team, etc. Bear in mind that all the things an employee might take for granted in a large company are not necessarily a given in a startup. Women especially, if they are working in a fledgling startup, might feel incredibly stressed out at the thought of the amount of work they would be giving up on in the event of a long maternity leave. Since staff is small, someone else isn’t necessarily there to make up the work. Also, how much can a bootstrapping startup pay a staff member on leave?

Traditional Workplace: Defined Role
Startup: Growth Defines Your Roles

In an established corporation, there will be more focused roles. If you are a business analyst, you analyze and produce reports. If you’re a HR attorney, you write contracts. Having a narrower role can have many benefits like honing your skills in a particular area. In a startup, you wear many hats. You might be hired in the capacity of a software programmer, but you might also design marketing flyers, return emails, be in charge of crafting an internship program, make the coffee, etc. Startups are organizations flexibly set up to grow and meet a certain goal–this means that your role will be defined by that objective. Most likely, it will be your roles, in the plural. This can be very exciting depending on the kind of personality you have, or you could feel spread thin and as though you were underachieving in your main role.

Traditional Workplace: Cog in the Machine
Startup: You Feel a Part of the Company

In a large corporation, it might feel like there is a more or less linear progression from starting at the very bottom to moving up to a C-level position. But when you’re young and ambitious and starting at the bottom, do not expect to have a say. These corporations have been established for a long time, they are a well-oiled machine and even if there are organizational improvements to be made, it is not as likely that you will have too immediate or active a voice in shaping those improvements as a newbie. In a startup, everything is in flux, they’re mining talent to the max in order to reach a goal. The benefit of this set-up is that you will feel like you have a say in the evolution of the company. This can be incredibly energizing; despite those long hours, you feel a sense of satisfaction knowing that your work and your point of view can shape the evolution of the startup.

Depending on the kind of personality you have and your personal goals and ambitions, one environment might suit you better than the other. Work takes up such a large portion of our lives, why not choose work that you enjoy, in an environment that fits you?

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