Blog / #insight

Digital agencies, work culture and rock bands

Young technology companies have realised that building a great work culture resembles playing in a band.

Despite the current economical situation – or perhaps because of it – the startup boom shows no signs of fading. It could be argued that tech companies are at the very heart of the hype. The stories of young tech entrepreneurs starting from their garage or student flats and ending up building empires are the modern version of “from rags to riches” legends. Even so much so that they’ve begun to sound a bit corny at times.

In 2014, Bono from U2 proclaimed that startups were the modern equivalent of rock bands. Regardless of what one thinks about Bono’s rock ‘n’ roll credibility, the man may have a point. Doing your own thing instead of having a boring day job, fame, fortune, fans, personality cults and performing to sold-out venues are all part of the startup utopia.

But there’s a more down-to-earth way of making the comparison, too. Both rock culture and startup culture value things like independence and going against the norm. Thus it is perhaps no wonder that it is the software companies, digital agencies and game companies who are at the forefront of what one is tempted to call the new age of work culture.

Doing your own thing instead of having a boring day job, fame, fortune, fans, personality cults and performing to sold-out venues are all part of the startup utopia.

In the world of these companies, the idea of the proletariat working for the man with monthly wage as their only motivation does not hold true at all. For many, these jobs are chosen simply because it is gratifying to do wonderful creative stuff with brilliant people. What’s more, the employees are recruited not only based on their set of skills but also by their interest of playing, figuratively speaking, the songs of this particular company.

Quiz time! Is this a photo of a) stadium concert or b) a startup event? Image: Jaakko Kahilaniemi
Quiz time! Is this a photo of a) stadium concert or b) a startup event? Image: Jaakko Kahilaniemi

 

Feeling motivated and full of purpose has a profound effect on the quality of work one does. The best rock albums are not created when the musicians feel like composing has become a chore and the only reason to go on is the fact that the boring weeks will eventually turn into weekends. On paper, this sounds painfully obvious. Still, when it comes to work, this kind of sense of purpose is still a luxury. Fortunately, this is not necessarily how it must be.

In this regard, young tech companies are somewhat special: the relationship between the employer and employees is often built on working for common goals and not some strict hierarchy. Companies like these are often formed by a group of friends – and have likely begun as free time projects. Thus, it makes sense that joining this kind of a gang bears such a close resemblance to being asked to play in a band. For sure, everyone is their own boss, but that does not mean that the group cannot have clearly defined roles in terms of fields of expretise and decision-making in different areas of work. However, in many tech companies even this is flexible. Most notably Valve, now one of the biggest players in the video game industry, has famously declared in their manual for new employees that their organisation is completely “flat”; i.e. everyone can do whatever they want and join/start any projects they feel are potentially interesting or fruitful. The approach seems to be working.

The digital agency employees face the times of trouble together, too.
The digital agency employees face the times of trouble together, too.

 

Of course all his has a lot to do with successful image marketing as well. Working at tech companies is not always just pure awesomeness, wonderful group dynamics and high-fives. That said, a strong work culture that everyone truly believes in does help quite a bit when faced with difficult times as well. This is also what rock bands do; they believe in their stuff even though there is no guarantee that they will ever play the Wembley Stadium.

The best workplaces often have these traits in common: freedom, common trust, responsibility and the feeling that everyone’s efforts actually have meaning and purpose. To reach this kind of work culture, the employers must learn to market themselves effectively not only to their clients, but to the potential employees as well. The work culture of a company should attract the best talent – otherwise the future rock stars of the industry will most likely choose to play in someone else’s band.