How tech start-ups have redefined the idea of company culture

Type the search query "team building" into Google and you’ll get a long list of companies that host corporate events, along with generic stock photos of people in suits celebrating success together. Perhaps in a bygone era where businesses based in gleaming towers full of men in suits and women in pencil skirts, such formal team building styles were the effective norm.

In recent years however, the meteoric rise of technology and its ensuing 'start-up culture' has challenged the traditional corporate norm. With tech unicorns such as Uber beating out at least 70 per cent of the Fortune 500, it’s becoming easier to believe that companies where teams are more friends than colleagues and where CEOs give speeches at huge conferences wearing grey hoodies may just represent 'The Future of Work'. Considering said grey-hoodie-wearing-CEO has a personal net worth of $74 billion USD as of 2018 and his company is worth $500 billion, 'start-up culture' may just be getting something right.

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Tech start-ups across the planet, while dreaming of becoming the next unicorn, are at the same time redefining what it means to work. From office slides to nap pods, Nerf guns during office hours, and all manners of discussion on Slack channels, tech start-ups are reinventing the notion of team building.

Tushar Agarwal, co-founder and CEO of Hubble, the largest online platform for office space in London, says that their own start-up culture has helped them hired some of the most talented people in the world and given them an environment to do their best work. We caught up with him to find out more about the new playful approach to corporate team building.

So Tushar, tell us about your office culture.

Our office culture is built around the values of our business: empowerment, experience and empathy. We want to empower our team to do their best work without micro-management and strict hierarchies and make sure they have a great experience in the office. We hope that our own office can help each member of our team understand what makes a good or bad office. As we deal with small and medium sized businesses like ourselves every day, we believe this helps us empathise with our customers and help build a product and service which enables them to love where they work.

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Tushar Agarwal (right)

Do you think having a 'tech start-up culture' has helped Hubble grow and how is the idea of play important in this culture?

For us, 'tech start-up culture' means an open-minded work environment, where people’s ideas can be turned into reality quicker than in a corporate environment. Tech is the enabler for doing that. We believe that this culture has helped us hire some of the smartest and creative people in the world and given them an environment where they can work with purpose, autonomy, and mastery.

Whilst this culture is starting to become synonymous with office perks such as sleeping pods, table tennis, pool tables, beer taps etc. and our office does have those things, we believe they are the means to an end of fostering a culture of togetherness, getting to know our colleagues on a personal level and building an amazing company. We do these things because we hope that our team will become friends first, colleagues second. Those companies that just throw office perks at their staff without building a meaningful work environment are fighting a losing battle.

Read: A week in the life of a Director of Happiness

Considering you operate in a traditionally conservative industry, have you found it difficult to balance what is typically expected of commercial property companies vs. the casual vibe of tech start-ups?

This comes back down to empathy with your customer. Traditionally conservative property companies have historically dealt with Fortune 500 companies and office landlords that have been around for hundreds of years. Most of these clients are traditionally conservative and require that approach.

However, as tech has enabled the explosion of SMEs and this generation’s workforce start to blur the lines between formal work environments and informal home environments, businesses have become more casual with their approach. Suits have been replaced with t-shirts and jeans, desktop computers replaced with laptops, which means that work has become mobile and the average worker works from at least five different locations (away from their desk) every week.

As we are also a new business with a new generation workforce, we have the same approach to work as our customers. Also, the traditionally conservative Fortune 500 companies are now having to adapt as they struggle hire and retain a millennial workforce that does not want to work in a traditionally conservative environment - this domino effect has now started to reach traditional office landlords too.

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If Hubble were to operate in a more corporate manner, do you think productivity and output would be affected?

If we were to go to desktop computers, suits and ties and so on then I certainly think that productivity and output would be affected as we would struggle to retain a motivated staff. More so, we would be worse at our job as our work environment would be at odds with that of most of our customers, so we would struggle to empathise with them as we do now.

However, it’s important to create the distinction between ‘corporate’ and ‘casual’. Corporate doesn’t mean you are super productive and casual doesn't mean you are a slob. Businesses operating in casual work environments (Apple, Facebook, Google etc.) are the biggest companies in the world, where people work extremely hard, creative world-changing products and huge amounts of value. Most corporate work environments are following suit, with the CEO of Blackstone, one of the biggest investment managers in the world, adopting a casual workplace with beer taps and IBM asking WeWork to manage a whole building for them in New York.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details.

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