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!

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 🙂

Bring more talent to Edinburgh!

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Edinburgh is a beautiful city. It’s a place that strikes the balance between nature and urban activity, friendliness and business. We are lucky enough to have a combination of heritage centres, world class universities, record breaking arts festivals and substantial business support all spread out round Scotland’s leading tourist attraction. I have travelled round the world (literally), visited many countries, and I always look forward to coming home.

Business, whilst often hidden in town house buildings or behind historical facades, is booming and also varied. Edinburgh is home to HQs of worldwide banks (RBS, Standard Life), engineering hubs for huge games companies (like Rockstar), home to Scotland’s only two Unicorns (FanDuel and Skyscanner) and boasts the UK’s largest technology incubator (CodeBase).

Whether you’re a graduate, job-seeker or seasoned professional looking for the next challenge there are technology opportunities galore. You don’t have to attend too many job fairs or recruitment events to see that companies are keen to snap up more skilled people than there are currently available. In fact there is a well documented skills shortage, particularly in the technology sector – something that ScotlandIS, CodeClan and others are working hard to fix.

Another factor here is the great startup communities that exist around Edinburgh and central Scotland. A huge number of businesses are being successful in starting up and staying in business by beating the odds. Not only are these companies adding to the requirement for staff but they are also often started by ex-employees of larger companies that would have otherwise filled a gap in another company. Whilst this adds to the significant challenge of finding enough people to staff these growing companies it’s fantastic that there are opportunities to pursue whatever career path you choose. It also shows that there’s plenty of opportunity to bring your own idea to life and keep that Scottish inventive spirit alive.

So where else can we go to encourage more people to join us in Edinburgh and be part of this eclectic mix of business, technology, culture and fun? That’s exactly the question that the StartEDIN collective have set out to solve. Scotland has a history of not promoting itself widely and this group believe it’s time to change that. They want to let everyone know what opportunities are available in Edinburgh and the lifestyle improvements you could just get at the same time!

In such a beautiful city with a vibrant, growing tech sector don’t we owe it to those unaware to let them know of all the opportunities here?

(image by Kim Traynor)