If you read my post, life | on past experiences and making a splash you will know that in January I began a new job at Splash Effect as Community Manager. Splash Effect is a small, startup digital agency and I have found that going from a somewhat typical 9-5 job (I say somewhat, because working for a boarding school is far from a normal experience) to a role with relatively flexible hours and remote work has been quite the transition. I have learned quite a lot in the last 2.5 months but I am also still trying to figure out a routine that works for me. In this post I share some of the challenges I have faced, the benefits I have noticed, and some tips for anyone who has found themselves in a similar working dynamic.

1. Managing Expectations

Firstly, I need to express how exciting working for a startup is. There is an incredible energy that fills the room when the whole team gets together that is fuelled by vision, possibility and passion. But it is worth noting that this energy is only sustainable when coupled with hard work. When you are passionate about what you are working on and when your team shares a vision it makes it a lot easier to put in the extra time, but when you find yourself forgoing social time and your weekend to work, it’s time to take a step back and manage expectations – both what your startup expects of you and, most importantly, what you expect of yourself.

As much as the founders of the startup you work for do expect a lot of you and of your work, usually their expectations begin and end with whether you are able to get your work done and have done so well. Sometimes that can be challenging and, yes, sometimes you will work longer hours than typical. But this cannot and should not be a regular occurrence.

To avoid this you need to become really good at knowing what you should expect of yourself on a normal day. I have struggled and am still struggling with this, but I have found that creating a to-do list of what needs to be accomplished every day definitely helps. You can do this by either using the classic pen and paper or an app such as Asana – personally I use a combination of both as I still find that physically writing down my tasks helps me better internalize what I need to get done. One thing I have found is that I will always set out to do more than I can manage in a day. This is either because I have simply underestimated the time needed for my tasks or it can happen because much of my job is client focused and is, therefore, quite reactive. I have not yet mastered this skill and I don’t think I will for quite some time, but I am beginning to understand that no matter how ambitious I might be, I will not finish everything today. And nor should I.

The above advice (if you can call it that – I’m definitely not a expert!) can be applicable to any role at any type of organization. But it is especially important to remember as a part of a startup. It is easy to let yourself live and breath the goals of your the startup you work for – it’s part of the culture – and therefore you will let yourself work more than you should because you actually really enjoy what you’re doing and achieving these goals would mean good things for the company and, therefore, mean good things for you. However, Rome wasn’t built in a day. So take your time and enjoy the ride.

2. Setting Hours

Related to managing daily expectations of yourself is managing your time throughout your work day. When you are not expected in the office on a daily basis and when your colleagues work strange hours due to other commitments it makes setting your own hours quite challenging. This is also especially hard when you are managing social media. After all, the internet never sleeps.

Of course, there are some awesome benefits to not working typical hours. You could sleep in, roll out of bed and be at the “office” in seconds! You could go to the gym in the middle of the day and actually get a treadmill! You could flex your hours so you can head off early on a Friday to make it up to the cottage for the weekend! I mean, the possibilities are endless!

But with all of this flexibility comes great responsibility. Yes, all of the above is possible, but when you don’t have set hours you need to ensure you are still working enough to actually get work done. Not too much, as discussed above, but enough. For me it is a bit easier to set my hours as my clients work 9-5 days, so I still make myself available during those hours. However, I have found that when working at home it’s easier to start earlier and finish later – much later – than I need to when putting in a full day’s work. The key is trying to balance these extra hours with activities for yourself. So I take some time out to go for a run, to make a nice lunch or to walk to a cafe for a change of scenery.

Flexible hours combined with the workload of a startup is another challenge. Sometimes putting in hours on the weekend will just happen. And part of that reality is that sometimes you will be happy spend your weekend working and other times it will feel like a burden. I have felt both ways about weekend work and I have come up with a couple solutions:

If your work is feeling like a burden or getting in the way of a social or personal activity that is important to you, don’t do it. This is not possible all the time, but generally it is a good principle to follow. If you are unhappy when doing your work then your work will make you unhappy. If you’re feeling like that, take a step back and make an effort to do something else you love.
If you need to work on the weekend, make an activity out of it. Don’t work from your office office or even your home office; set up at your favourite cafe or, better yet, head to a new area of town you don’t frequent and cafe-hop. That way you get to be outside and exploring your city, all while putting in some productive work without “wasting” your weekend.
Making your hours work with the expectations of your startup is certainly challenging. But overall this flexibility gives you the opportunity to work in a way that works for you. Just don’t let yourself feel burdened by your work – the more you let that feeling creep in the more it will consume you. Make sure you are setting hours for you, because that’s just as important.

3. The People

Based entirely on my experience at Splash Effect, the people you will work with at a startup are awesome. If you’re lucky you will be working with a group of talented individuals with a clear vision for their company and a very human understanding of their colleagues. There is a palpable feeling of mutual respect that you will experience as part of a startup – for each other’s talent, individual goals, and lives outside work – and that is what will drive you to do your best work. The people and the culture they provide is one of the primary benefits of working for a startup. It’s not impossible to replicate in a traditional work setting, but it’s definitely something I have noticed since joining Splash.

One challenge of remote work that is worth mentioning here is the absence of this team presence every day. At Splash we meet online every day using a communication app called Slack, and this is definitely great to keep in touch, but there is definitely a benefit to having the team together in person, whether to brainstorm, socialize, or even just work across the desk from each other. It definitely puts you in a different headspace when you are working alongside your colleagues and while I do believe that I work just as well from home or a cafe, I do think that it is very important to ensure you have face time with your team regularly. But at the same time you need to be able to work well without daily face time.

This brief round-up is certainly not the end of the benefits and challenges of working for a startup and I am sure I will come across many more in my time with Splash Effect. But each one will be a new learning experience and I am excited to take them on.

Do you work for a startup? What are some of the challenges you have faced? And what are the benefits you have noticed? Let me know in the comments.

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