By Derek Reimherr
If you missed the series intro, go back and take a look. I lay out my motivation for this series and why I even feel qualified to write about this topic.
A quick recap: I’m 26 years old and I’ve had 30 managers, 22 different jobs and worked in 15 different industries. And I’ve learned a lot about work from all those different experiences. With that background, let’s talk about work environments.
I think companies/offices generally fall into these 6 categories:
- Hourly Mentality
- The Traditional Office
- GET SH!T DONE
- Growing Pains
- The Contractor’s Dream
- Progressive Workplace
Generally speaking, I’m focusing on the feel of the office and the way people approach work. My goal is not to pass judgment but offer commentary. If you feel I’ve missed niches or subcategories, please let me know! Let’s dive in.
Everyone has worked in this type of job before. These are typically hourly workplaces. Zooming out, there are several more defining characteristics of these workplaces:
- Focused on the short-term, very little emphasis on higher-level strategy.
- You’ll hear the “Not my job” sentiment or something along those lines. “Someone else will take care of that.”
- Often stuck in reactive panic mode dealing with “fires” as they pop up.
In this work environment, people show up, do their 8 hours (or shift), and go home. Employees don’t care about the company at large - they want a paycheck. They're great when you’re looking for a part-time job, internship, or starting out. This isn’t the place you want to build a career.
The Traditional Office or "Out of Touch"
Ah, the office of our parents and grandparents. It’s famous business professional attire, lack of benefits and/or perks, and very few, if any, casual days. These offices are typically technology regressive or resistant to change.
Maybe everything is printed or you’re still using Office 2003. Perhaps no one has heard of Dropbox, Box, or Google Drive. You're probably not seeing many perks unless it’s a big company. #CorporateLife
Workplaces like this struggle with hiring younger demographics. Candidates and new employees question a lot about these workplaces.
Why can’t we wear jeans?
Why there are only 8 PTO days per year?
Where’s the sense of team camaraderie?
As such, you’re likely to see “lifers” in these offices - people who have been there for many years. And because of that, you’ll often hear the sentiment, “Well, we’ve always done it this way. Why change now?”
GET SH!T DONE
You might be laughing at me for the all caps, but I promise it has a purpose. These offices transcend categorization by demographics, perks, or vibe. These teams focus on the end product, customer, or sales. A better descriptor is intense. It could be a result of unorganized project managers, unrealistic deadlines, or an unhealthy internal competition. Or everyone is hyper-focused on delivering good work and not much else.
Consider this: a startup with a beer cart, ping pong table, standing desks, and unlimited PTO seems cool. But if you only talk about work with your co-workers or if you’re often working on the weekend, you might be in a GSD office. This might be ideal if you don’t much care for your workplace relationships and want to do great work. Beyond that, many people may experience burnout here.
I imagine these as larger or more established companies with culture problems. The company is seeing a changing of the guard: Baby Boomers are retiring and millennials/Gen Xers make up most teams. Senior leadership looked at themselves and said, “We need to change.”
So management shook things up. New perks, revised management styles, and flexible work options were created. All good things. Sure, some employees are pushing back, feeling “left behind” or disgruntled. But, if you can stick it out, this could be a great place to work. In the meantime, there will be a lot of tension in the air.
The Contractor’s Dream
Nowadays, many teams operate in autonomous work groups or as individual contributors. These companies are may use contractors or part-timers as a sizable part of the team. Or they could be a flexible work-from-home or even entirely remote company. Or both.
Here, you can work multiple jobs or have side hustles. Less corporate hierarchy means you’re not dealing with layers of management. Say goodbye to micromanaging. You can come in, knock out your work, and move on. Some will feel disconnected working here, but others will love the freedom.
(Full disclosure: This is the kind of place I work at now.)
The majority of the Gen X and Millennials are looking for this kind of job. This workplace values corporate responsibility, transparency, work/life balance, among other these. Co-workers openly discuss traditionally taboo topics: race issues, cultural backgrounds, sexual orientation (LGBTQIA+), and political views. These companies create employee engagement programs with team building, happy hours, and retreats. And yes, they’re usually agencies, startups, and tech companies.
For many workers, it’s too much. Not everyone wants to discuss their personal life at work. Many people don’t want to work in an open or remote office. Some don’t want to be friends with their co-workers. That’s okay and there will always be other options. But for a lot of people, this is the dream.
To be fair, most offices operate on a spectrum, overlapping several different categories. But I think workplaces generally lean in one direction over the others.
Here's a story to illustrate why this is important. A little over a year ago, I was working at a Global Fortune 10 company. The pay and benefits were great. The advancement opportunity was there. But the environment was in the "Growing Pains" stage at best and the "Out of Touch" at worst. Managers were technologically challenged - I was often asked to convert Word docs to PDF and print for my boss. The office wasted so many resources (human capital, paper, time, etc). Every day, I came home from work unhappy and complaining. It drove Maggie CRAZY. Even though I had to take a pay cut, I knew I had to get out of there for the sake of my personal and marital health.
It’s vital for all of us to take a step back and identify the environment we’re in. If we like it, why? If we hate it, why? Your satisfaction and fulfillment at work bleeds over into the rest of your life. Consider this: if you're unhappy from 9-5, do you spend more on the weekends to balance out? Or does your significant other regularly bemoan your poor attitude? Understanding where you currently are can help shape where you want to go or whether you should stay put.
Do you think I’m wrong? Did I totally miss the mark? Let me know. Next up, we’re talking about management and leadership.