Don’t Just Be a Startup, Feel Like One

3 min read · 7 years ago


Just because your company is a startup doesn’t necessarily mean it feels like one.  If you don’t have a “startup culture,” well, then, as far as recruiting millennial talent or sparking innovative new products goes, you might as well be any old Dilbert-style office, stifling productive collaboration and squashing effective communication.

Successful startups are known for fast-paced processes, can-do attitudes, and boundary-pushing teams. It’s why even long-established and large corporations try to act like startups. But how can any business be more like a spunky startup?

According to turnstone, the office furniture company that is a brand of Steelcase, workspaces with “the much sought after startup culture” are driven by four key themes. Turnstone, which recently posted a series of articles about startup culture on its blog, drew its conclusions after a months-long study in which its researchers visited the workplaces of entrepreneurial small businesses around the country.  

You might expect a seller of office-furniture to make a case for design. But turnstone acknowledges the current backlash against open floorplans and office benching systems that so many businesses installed in the past decade to promote knowledge sharing and transparency. “Workers have recently expressed issues with the lack of privacy and personalization that these settings offer,” the company concedes.

Instead, turnstone says that what successful startups have in common are passion, personality, agility, and authenticity. What exactly do they mean? Passion, the company says, is that “guiding north star that catalyzes founders and entrepreneurs to pursue their dreams and ideas for the world.” Personality is about injecting your unique view of the world into everything you do. Authenticity is “the freedom to truly be yourself without compromise.” And agility means “no bureaucracy, no red tape, no committees,” and a flexible work environment, according to turnstone.

In a blog post, the company offers tips derived from its research for creating a startup culture with those four features:

* Weave your passion into your surroundings by displaying your mission statement and work-related motivational quotes on walls. Highlight customer wins, testimonials and photos of your efforts to communicate your dedication.

* Be more agile and nimble by offering your team a palette of places and postures to choose the settings that best help them to focus.

* To inject authenticity, “celebrate each person and the diversity they bring to the team by inviting people to bring in photos, trip souvenirs, and other personal items to add to the workplace… Try creating a wall designed to hold and display personal photos of your team and send the message that plants and other objects from home will always have a place at work, too.”

* To promote personality, turnstone recommends enabling workers to feel comfortable in their space. “It’s the first step to being engaged and productive, two things that spur forward movement for the company.”

As a furniture company, of course, turnstone also sees a role for designers in nurturing great work cultures: “when their workspace authentically reflects their personality and passion, [entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs] are better able to focus on innovation.” And in a survey of 515 small businesses, it found that 80 percent of them agree that “physical space plays a direct role in fostering vibrant culture.”

So, at a recent contract furnishings tradeshow, it unveiled enhancements to its Bivi benching system to let employees customize their workstations, get more privacy, and work while standing, sitting, or lounging (a posture that 32 percent of Generation Y workers like to maintain, according to turnstone). The changes, turnstone says, will help “activate a startup culture to accelerate business results.”

Follow Adrienne Burke @adajane