The wrong company can seriously damage your health

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One of my favourite topics is startups – discussions about the benefits of young companies and how innovative workspaces can be a boon to productivity and healthy work life balance. It would be remiss of me, however, to imply that it is always great. There is a lot of hard work involved of course but it is also possible to have negative workplaces amongst all this innovation.

This post is about the importance of identifying a bad workplace, poor cultural fit and how it can impact negatively on your health – mental and physical. And why it is important to identify early and do something about it.

What is bad?

Well beyond the obvious understanding of a bad workplace (abusive staff, tyrannical boss, inappropriate language, sexism etc) there are plenty of things that can lead to a negative environment:

  • Blame culture – when something goes wrong does the team work together to solve the issue or does it focus on who caused the problem (publicly or not) and require them to fix it?
  • Unclear objectives – does everyone on the team know what is expected of them or why they are working on their task? Omission of a clear plan can lead to a drop in morale.
  • Lack of communication – sharing plans, collaborating in decision making and listening to your teams will help everyone to feel supported and understand their role.
  • Dishonesty – it can be assumed that for the most part people you work with are honest, some companies even find the need to list it in their values. But what about the difficult truths or glossing over things that should be addressed? Openness requires real honesty and that can be difficult.
  • Long hours – whilst probably required at some point in most jobs is this used sparingly? Is the decision to put in extra time one of the group or is it mandated?
  • Values failure – in a company that is clear about its values does everyone live by them? Are there times when they are pushed to one side? During times of pressure you often see what a team is really made of.

Of course there are many more potential reasons for a workplace to affect you negatively and they may not be obvious. Some times the thing that brings a company or team down is not obvious at all…

Hiding in plain sight

Sometimes the cause of a bad environment might be hard to spot. It could be that despite best intentions something is not as intended.

In a values based organisation how are these communicated? Does everyone know the company values by the way that people talk, work and collaborate – or is it something that everyone is reminded of in publications, marketing or (even worse) is it painted on the walls? If everyone truly valued the same things then such constant reminders should not be required.

If teams work well during normal operation what happens if an item of work does not go to plan? If an engineering team’s release is being held up by an item of work what is the typical behaviour? The team working together to get it back on track – or individuals being left to figure it out for themselves?

Individual vs company wide

It may even be that everyone is happy but you just don’t fit in. Perhaps the values don’t align or maybe your sense of humour is incompatible. Do you feel comfortable with your workmates and business leaders? A long interview process should allow for a high chance that the match of a candidate to the team is solid but no process is perfect. It may be that you just don’t feel a good fit. If you get to the end of any probation period (usually 3 – 6 months within the company) and you are not happy then this is probably a good sign that the company is not for you.

Making your exit

If you wake up on Monday morning (or even worse, Sunday night) dreading going back to work for the week that might be a sign that it’s not working out. If you think your lunch break should be longer, if you find yourself having no discussions in the office or if you find that chats always turn into arguments or leave you annoyed then it’s probably time.

As soon as you realise that the fit is not there it’s time to start planning your exit. Staying longer may seem like the noble thing to do but you will only get more annoyed at the job, likely bring down your co-workers and possibly damage your health as well. Most people working in startups or technology companies have options, there is huge demand for your skill set – look at alternative companies and maybe go on a few interviews. Also consider sharing your concerns with your boss – if they understand and agree that it’s not working out then they may even help you find the right role elsewhere.

Believe me you don’t want to realise too late that you should have made the move and that it’s deteriorated your health. It’s no fun having to take 6 months out of the fast moving tech world because you don’t have the strength or energy to greet the world. It’s also no fun being in the doctor/nurse’s office twice a week getting vitamin boosters to put your blood levels back in balance! Life is too important and the right balance should mean keeping good health!

Happy New Year to all my readers and may you have an exciting, healthy 2018 :).

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Tackle the big problems

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At the ScotlandISDeveloper Conference and Business Forum this year we were treated to a fantastic after dinner close by Sir Frank Dick. As well as amusing and thought provoking anecdotes he had a lot of motivational points that rallied the room to be confident and make the change we want to see in the world.

As I think about my next Business potentially being global this particular point sticks in my mind:

No point of going into the world arena if you don’t intend to win

So go out there and solve the big problems – don’t wait for someone else!

One final achievement for Kotikan

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It’s been over a year since we sold Kotikan to FanDuel – it was an emotional journey to move on from what we had spent so many years building. And working in a team with so many great people too. I’m glad that most of my colleagues are still working at FanDuel – they even won another Webby Award this year!

But life moves on. Even after leaving FanDuel myself I couldn’t quite get my thoughts in order enough to write too much about it – and looking at my blog the only entry over that time was about the decision to leave, nothing about what we had created or what it was like to be part of the selling process. I guess it was either too recent in my mind or too separate from what I was moving on to that the opportunity to write passed me by.

Then one day Gav Dutch tells me that Kotikan has been short listed for “Sale of the Year” at the Deals & Dealmakers Awards 2016 – wow! I was blown away. It’s incredible to think that our humble company, built by many folk doing it for the first time and all of us learning as we went, has been short listed alongside business names from a completely different world. Wish us luck on the night – partly because it would be great to win but also because I’m not sure I’ll keep up in conversation!

Why do companies revert to hierarchy?

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A question that I’ve asked myself many times over the last couple of years has resurfaced in light of the recent GitHub restructuring. Why do companies resort to hierarchy? So many set out with the grand ambition of keeping a flat structure – and many manage for a long time. People are happy, they are respected, communication is good and everyone can contribute to the future of the company in meaningful ways.

But with almost predictable inevitability it is at some point decided that structure is required to make the company more efficient. Whether it’s at 50, 100 or 500 people (which is a surprising spread of company sizes), visibility decreases and communication falters in a way that seems to say “we need structure” – but why; and is it even true?

So many traditional business experts seem to consider the way that start-ups organise themselves to be cute or naive and, whilst potentially fun, doomed to failure. Is there only 1 sensible way to structure a business? Or is there something significant we should be learning from the new generation of young companies desperate to prove that it can be done another way?

From my own experiences I know that it’s easier to go with the status quo. But I can’t figure out the reason why the flat structure becomes too much hard work. If there is a clear understanding of responsibilities and an efficient communication channel why can we not have a company made of many small teams that are themselves still operating as a start-up would?

Maybe it’s just a pipe dream but I’d be interested in finding out if anyone has made it work, or understands why it fails…

2016, a whole different year

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I think this year is going to be an exciting one for me – first and foremost it’s going to mean finding a whole new bunch of fantastic people to work with. I’ve made the difficult decision to move on from FanDuel and I will be leaving behind the amazing people I’ve spent the last 5 years getting to know.

Since we sold Kotikan to FanDuel last year they’ve been very welcoming of the whole team and we have seen great collaboration with the various internal platform teams. This means cool new things for the mobile apps that we were already working on and the possibility of exciting new features that just were not possible as an external agency.

But having decided to move on where will I be? All over the place! I’ll be spending some of my time working with technology start-ups – offering advice or support in creating, growing or developing their software delivery teams. Initially I’m looking to work with Codebase and Bright Red Triangle based companies, but I’d be happy to chat to teams from other backgrounds too. I’m also going to be spending some time working on Open Source Software (such as the IDE I’ve been working on) – there are so many great things being pushed forward and I want to be part of the future of free software and the communities taking it out to industry and consumers.

Thanks so much to everyone who’s been involved in my journey at Loc8Solutions / Kotikan / FanDuel – I hope to work with you all again soon 🙂

Attaining work life balance

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Technology and start-ups are both renowed for being able to take over your life. Therefore it’s probably unsurprising that after 8 years in tech startups I’ve completely lost the concept of a balance between life and work. One thing that I began to realise is that “work” is not just that which your boss expects of you, the targets that have been set or what your company pays you for, it’s also everything that you have become obliged to maintain – that online game you wrote, some websites you host or an open source project you released but then stopped using.

Take a look at your life. How many days, evenings or even hours are you truly able to put your feet up and relax? Play a game with your family? Go for a walk or cycle in the great outdoors? Do you see your friends enough and when was the last time you just chatted to your parents?

I reflected recently and decided there was nowhere near enough time put aside for these things. It probably contributed to worse than average health too. So in an effort to bring things back into balance I’m heading into 2016 with the plan to spend more time with friends and family, seeing the countryside and generally relaxing. To that end I’m wrapping up 2015 by moving house, heading out of the city and into the countryside. Sure weekdays may still be busy and I still need to prune the list of projects I have on the go, but if I can spend the whole weekend in a different context I think it could really make a difference!

Image thanks to tech.co