четверг, 14 октября 2010 г.

How an office impacts success

Article by SKOLKOVO MBA student Anton Saraykin
You can find an original article www.forbes.ru

We are leaving a conference room with green walls and violet pouffes for a hall where I almost stumble over a huge white dog wagging in a friendly way. After a rusty printing-press towering over a heap of coloured stuffed toys I’m not surprised with tomatoes sticking out of flowerpots. “Our chef grows them for salad”, mentioned Steve Winter, Director of Google office in Cambridge, without stopping. “I wonder how they manage to remain the most successful internet company in the world among such a chaos.”

Beside studies in classrooms that I described in the previous post, in the USA SKOLKOVO students work on probation at local companies – from a biotech corporation to an internet start-up dealing in used gadgets. My team consisting of five students asked for Cambridge Innovation Centre (CIC), a co-working space for start-ups. We develop and realize a marketing strategy of international expansion for CIC. In other words, we help attract to the office those entrepreneurs from abroad striving to enter the US market. CIC’s offices are lent by about 300 small start-ups, with average age being three years. Till recently one of the lessees was Google’s Cambridge office until it moved to a detached building where I made for to find ideas for CIC.

Electric guitar for an office

“How long can they play?”, I asked Steve as watching four programmers who arranged a ping pong tournament at the office right in the middle of a workday. Steve just smiles back and I understand that my question is inappropriate. There is a heap of electric guitars, training apparatuses and basketballs in the “playroom”, and there are several of them in the Google building, there is a drumkit in the corner and a tent put up for some purpose. “We carried instruments here from the studio, because rehearsals of our rock band disturbed a neighboring company behind the wall”, Steve explains.

In such environment I don’t have heart to ask about dress code. In fact, for a month and a half in Cambridge I saw people in ties maximum two or three times, it being us, SKOLKOVO students, one of those times as asked by the School’s administration at an official reception of the Dean of MIT Sloan.

Drawing on walls

Another fashion at Cambridge offices is drawing on the walls. “We used a special paint to paint the inside of our offices, so that people could draw on a wall like on a board”, Bill Aylett, Director of MIT Entrepreneurs Club, says while proudly demonstrating a room full of notes from the floor to the ceiling. CIC does not forbid drawing on the walls either, while Google allows you to leave notes wherever you want, even on kitchen furniture. The notes are not limited to creative ideas for a collective brain storm. They can be any triffle like “Only jerks leave dishes unwashed” above a sink or a tic-tac-toe game on a fridge.

“We want you to be happy at work”, says Steve from Google and adds at once “But it doesn’t mean that you come here to play. First of all, you should show great results of work”. Google just created conditions to allow a person to spend more time at the office keeping a balance between work and home, Dugan Sherwood at CIC explains. Moreover, in order to pass admission tests and be selected to join Google, one should be a very talented specialist who is able to successfully realize his idea. Creativity alone is not enough. “We don’t value naked ideas much, what is more important is the way they are implemented”, Steve explains.

There are all conditions for implementation of ideas here. An example is a 20% rule: any employee at Google can devote one fifth of his work time to exterior projects, which are not related to their basic duties. If you like, you can unite with other colleagues and work over new projects at a company where you are your own masters. “The employees always have a right to a mistake, to take a reasonable risk and break stereotypes is welcome here”, Steve says. Therefore, innovations here are not just a new corporate motto, but the essence of activities. Otherwise it is impossible to retain leadership in such a competitive and rapidly developing internet business.

Asian extreme

Such approach does not work everywhere. For instance, in China, where I happened to work, a lot of companies feature strict hierarchy. Initiatives from the bottom are not welcome. The key principle is to strictly obey directions of the management and not to stick a neck out. Even if you are aware that such directions will lead a company to losses in the future. Don’t like it? Millions of other people can replace you.

Such model is required by some Chinese manufacturers to reach certain results in a short period of time and at minimum costs, with eyes shut to quality, as common in China.

For instance, one can produce a million of cheap copies of iPad spending little money and two or three months, with drawings stolen from the developer (and accuse Apple of stealing technology, as a manufacturer of counterfeit iPads from Shenzhen did). The appearance of Chinese pads is similar of course to the popular gadget. Some people will even want to buy them in spite of their poor quality. But they can hardly invent a real iPad or build a successful and long-lasting business on parasitism.

To find a balance

“We have a ping pong table”, replied Tim Row, one of the founders of CIC, when I suggested as a joke making a playing ground at the office like at Google. “In fact, owners of serious start-ups don’t require it, it’s more a sort of disturbance”, Tim believes. Perhaps, I thought, when Sergey Brin and Larry Page had written a code for a future Google search engine, they had not had table tennis, Sergey hadn’t gone roller-skating around the office and Larry hadn’t played there with a dog. All of that came later, when they turned into owners of the internet empire and started converting it into a corporation where millions of people from all over the world dream to work now.

An office culture is an important component in business, because it is an office where you spend almost half of your life (and even more if we exclude sleep), you invite your customers and partners there. The office reflects a character of an entrepreneur, his values, attitude to employees and to life in general. Up to the rejection of premises as such, because modern technologies make it possible to conduct business at distance.

What kind of office do YOU have? What are you proud of there and what do you dislike? How much important is an office for a business success?

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