Chris Richards

marketing | branding | tech | startups


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Want to build office camaraderie? Try moving.

How a change of space invigorated a small agency.

Without change, things get stale. We all know that. Some people get tired of commuting on the same bus. Others get tired of eating the same breakfast every day, bound by habit or restraints they’ve imposed on themselves. In business, those tiny frustrations that come from feelings of ‘staleness’ can compound easily, impacting a company’s workflow. This becomes especially true if employees begin to feel jaded or take the frustration as a given.

So, when my small agency had the opportunity to move into a new office recently due to growth, it was easy to see a revived sense of excitement about not only the work, but the company operations from day-to-day. As moving day approached, employees all seemed to rally behind the idea of change. Everyone was engaged; the excitement was tangible.

Now a couple weeks into the move, having settled into the new space, I can clearly see that this physical change has brought the company together more than any incentive program, perk, or outing in the past. Personally, I’ve felt invigorated by the move, and I sense the same feeling in my coworkers. Throughout the process, I’ve realized that this new perspective for our growing agency has built camaraderie for a number of reasons:

1. Moving is physical. Really physical.

This might seem obvious, but in case you haven’t packed up one office, loaded it in various cars, and unloaded it on the 4th floor of a new building, you might not remember just how physically intense moving really can be.

Many companies, including ours, offer employee wellness days involving exercise, yoga, or the like. While those types of activities certainly achieve their goals of getting employees active, their physical settings (gym, park, beach, etc.) are somewhat expected. But, arriving at work in an oxford button-down and khakis, and leaving a little sweaty, having disassembled three desks, is not expected. For me, it was the physical element of packing and moving, mixed with the normal (keyboard-heavy) digital agency work that felt so interesting. I found myself smirking internally as I sorted boxes while in dress shoes, watching coworkers build chairs wearing heels.

We got really physical one day, going all Office Space on our crappy printer. It was the perfect way to release the stress that was brewing with the big move, and the growth of the agency. Seeing our CEO walk out of the office with our horrible old printer over her head, smashing it to the concrete, felt like watching the physical rebirth of the company and a new culture. Smashing the old, negative things, we were all ready for a fresh start — physically and mentally.

And, no matter how physically tiring the move may have been, it felt good to experience the physical fruits of our labor coming together. Seeing a new office emerge from an empty space isn’t something many employees in larger businesses typically get to experience.

2. Multitasking forces focus.

I know multitasking can get a bad rap in the digital world, but something about having to squeeze in packing, loading, and moving responsibilities with the day-to-day responsibilities every small agency faces made our team work harder and more efficiently. With the pressure of having to balance the duties of moving (assembling new desks to sit at), employees seemed to focus on the client tasks at hand with extreme focus in order to make time to both settle-in the new space and satisfy clients.

In a scenario like this, there’s really no excuse for “down-time” as there is always something to be done, something to be moved, or a new piece of furniture to be assembled. The focused feeling nurtured here is something we should carry with us beyond the move-in period. It’s a valuable feeling to capture.

3. Moving brings out the “real” in people.

Amid loading iMacs into the back seat of my car, it dawned on me that this wasn’t “typical” work behavior for a small branding agency. Do lead designers typically lug their 27″ machines across town in the back seat of a sedan? Do copywriters often take apart tables or wire phone lines? No. But all this atypical behavior actually brought out a refreshing “realness” in people. It reminded me a lot of moving in to college — while it’s stressful and physically demanding, the act of changing one’s surroundings brings out the essence of people.

At one point in the move, while pasting up a wall-length Whitey Board, as four of us struggled with installing the sticker-like covering, I felt as if I was taking part in a “team-building” challenge at summer camp. You know that one where you can’t let go of your partner, but you have to untangle? Everyone was real, everyone was focused on achieving the goal, and everyone was needed. It just felt like true teamwork. It’s a feeling I hope carries into the rest of our work as an agency.

Finally, the shared experience of going through this together as a company over many weeks has had a greater impact than any one individual perk could have had on the employees. By engaging everyone in the physical move, offering the freedom to “refresh” their perspective in a new space, and creating a chance to approach work from a new space, this move has done wonders for the health of the company.

I know it’s not possible for everyone to just up-and-leave their current spot. But, I’d recommend considering the impact that such a wide-reaching call to arms could have on one’s employees and business. Especially in our increasingly digital industry, removed from the real world, it can feel refreshing to take a day, grab some cardboard boxes, unravel a roll of packing tape, and cram some computers in a trunk.

Oh, and sharing a few beers after a job (move) well done? That’s always good for camaraderie too.

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Philadelphia Startup Weekend: Final Thoughts

After expressing some major excitement before my first Startup Weekend event, I wanted to finally return to the events of the weekend-long activity and share some final thoughts.

Philly Startup Weekend 4.0 Stickers

Philadelphia Startup Weekend was on version 4.0 for my first experience with it, and it showed. The event organizers were definitely veterans and had the thing organized excellently, both before and during the event. That being said, logistically, it was great!

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Pennsylvania Really Is Starting-Up

 

The other day, I wrote about what I noticed was a big, undeniable emergence and support of startups across Pennsylvania. I mentioned Philadelphia and Pittsburgh’s seemingly vibrant and growing ecosystems, and offered some anecdotal evidence based on my experience working with startups in both cities.

Startup Nation via Atlantic

Today, my argument was reinforced even more by a great article I came across in The Atlantic. Titled “Pivoting a City: Can Startups Help More Than Themselves?” the author jokes at how you can gauge a city’s startup culture by searching Yelp for “hipster coffee.” That, he says, is where you find the young entrepreneurs cranking away on their Macbook Airs, essentially contributing to the city’s startup culture. The city he was referencing was Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh is a great place to investigate the possibilities of a start-up led urban resurgence because of all the cities between the coast and Chicago, it’s the one that’s farthest along the path towards techdom. It’s got a world-leading research institution that focuses on artificial intelligence. Because the steel mills collapsed so quickly and so thoroughly, its leaders were forced to put together a long-term plan for the city’s future.

You should read the article, because it puts this all more eloquently than I can. But, the point is other people are confirming what I’ve been feeling in recent months, and I’m happy to see it all unfolding in front of me!

Google Pittsburgh

Even Google has a huge, beautiful presence in PGH.

But, even with all the great technological development, the city (like most) struggles with balancing and incorporating the “rest” of the population that are not so fortunately endowed with tech, marketing, or business skills.

Is it possible or even reasonable, though, to attempt to “connect Google with the ghetto?” Can startups and entrepreneurship really be held responsible for bringing that to a city or region? I’d love to see an organization aim to address that issue, opening the “startup culture” and “hipster coffee” culture to the rest of the population, or at least using it to help them. After all, there are plenty of “real people problems” that could use addressing.

In the end, we don’t need another social network. Luckily, I think Pittsburgh startups are on track to address real people problems.

 


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Startup Pennsylvania

Between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, I’m convinced Pennsylvania startups will soon become as common as those in New York or San Francisco. Maybe I’m just becoming more involved and knowledgeable of the environment around me now in Philly, but I can’t help but feel that there’s something happening.

Today, my thoughts were driven home after seeing an incredibly well made and awe-inspiring video from First Round Capital. With recent news that the VC funding giant would be moving to Center City Philadelphia, the whole ecosystem around Philly seems encouraged and ready to build.

Maybe it’s just seeing that video, maybe it’s the fact that Philadelphia Startup Weekend is just around the corner, or maybe it’s the fact that I’m excited to be working on Casepops product launch in Pittsburgh, but whatever it is that’s got me excited, I can say that something big is actually happening in PA. And I’m curious to see where it’ll go!

If you don’t believe me, check out Represent PA, an awesome and interactive map made by Jordan Coeyman. You can barely read the words Pittsburgh or Philadelphia underneath all the startups, venture capital, and consulting organizations in the cities!

represent pa the startup map of pennsylvania

In a state that so many call home for their undergrad and graduate years, I think it’s high time that young professionals turn around, and help bring back the innovation to where it was bred. Why do New York and Silicon Valley have to be the only “places to be,” when there are so many other eager entrepreneurs and bright ideas floating around everywhere else? I have similar feelings about Baltimore too, which so happens to be experiencing a similar “startup revolution” with a few select companies and investment firms.

Why shouldn’t Philly, Pittsburgh, or Baltimore become new hubs of innovation? Josh Kopelman of First Round Capital seems to feel similarly:

I’ve seen capital get portable…today, capital is more geography agnostic.  With e-mail, instant messenger, skype, videoconferencing – and cloud-based reporting platforms that encourage transparency – distance doesn’t matter as much.  And like First Round Capital, more VCs are investing outside of their core geography.

Maybe I’m completely wrong, and this “startup bubble” is just a fad or something that will pass soon. In places like Silicon Valley, I agree, yes, the culture may be saturated with companies fighting to become “the next big thing.” But, in Pennsylvania, there seems to be a common sense of fellowship fostered in the mutual recognition that it’s not the “place to be.” Yet, at least.