A typical day at a startup like Killer Infographics can get pretty hectic. By their very nature, startups demand employees that are proactive and adaptable, willing to pick up just about any task as it comes along.
So we stay busy, and the result is that, yeah, sometimes people get stressed. And this has the potential to create an environment where concerns don’t get addressed, or employees don’t have the time or the forum to share ideas that could make everything run a little smoother.
But making a space for innovation is important. We believe that all our designers, promoters, and researchers have good ideas — and we know that encouraging them to share those ideas makes for a healthier, happier work environment.
Because we genuinely believe in the value of employee input, we run things pretty democratically around here. That’s why, when we were ready to relocate, we all got a say in picking the new office.
This is how it worked: Our last office on Ballard Avenue had become too small, too cramped. We were working on plastic folding tables in tight formation. Items on our desks would frequently cross borders to neighboring desks. We’d inadvertently kick each other when shifting positions. Something had to give.
So we took a few field trips: Everyone saw our new office options either in person or in photos and videos. Then we voted on our favorites.
When it came time to furnish and decorate the new space, we were happy to pitch in. We navigated the consumer maze that is Ikea. We worked weekends to paint and finish red desktops, and to do all the assembly for which Ikea products are famous. Designers chose their favorite infographics, and now 3- to 8-foot-tall full-color prints brighten every wall. This became our office, in a more personal sense than most employees at most companies can claim.
And why not own it, since it’s one of the coolest offices around? We’ve got a foosball table and a couple of kegerators in our break room, and once a month we have a team lunch that serves as a great bonding and team-building experience. Plus, hey, free food!
Beyond a monthly team-building sesh, we also take every opportunity to unwind and hit the town as a team. Whether it be our annual Karaoke party, a local beer fest (yes, we trade infographic design for tickets), or a night out at a Geekwire networking event, we always find an excuse to connect outside of the office and we all get a say in what the next party will be (because if we didn’t, Amy would make sure it’s always Karaoke time)!
All this has gone a long way toward building a real sense of employee ownership. But creating a forum for feedback is just as important.
Luckily, that forum came to us. Another startup, a company called TINYpulse, approached us interested in creating a motion graphic. When we learned what TINYpulse does, we were intrigued. TINYpulse is an HR management tool for companies like ours — not big enough to have an HR department but big enough that taking care of our employees requires time and commitment.
In that respect, TINYpulse does the hard work for us. Once a week every employee receives an automated email with three prompts. The first is a TINYpulse-generated question that varies from week to week. The second offers a chance for employees to send a “Cheers” to a coworker (or several coworkers) for a job well done — a great reminder, because we all forget to say “thank you” sometimes. Third comes the suggestion box: an opportunity for employees to share their ideas or concerns, anonymously if they so choose.
Every week on Fridays, we pause whatever we’re doing and sift through the suggestion box as a group. It helps us address concerns faster, whether that means making a change or giving Amy and Nick the opportunity to explain why we do things one way and not another. Even better, it’s brought a lot of great ideas to light. In any case, it opens up a dialogue, which is essential for any successful community.
Happier employees are more creative, more productive, and more likely to stick around for a while. We need all of those ingredients to keep a graphic design startup going strong.