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The Hippy, Software Company: Best Workplace Ever?

Would you like to work in a company where you can take a break when you want and you can bring your pet? There's a team but no screaming boss and an office restaurant and not just a cafeteria?

I am afraid of bearded people

Little Thing of the Month: Work Atmosphere

Who would expect to see such hipster posters in an office of a so-thought nerdy IT company? At Sipgate, it’s cool.

“Foosball is not stupid, of course. It’s great! It’s just that our foosball table is distracting people from what really matters. Visitors often get excited about it. To them the foosball table embodies everything that’s “fresh and hip” at our company as opposed to everything that’s old and stiff at theirs. Don’t be distracted by eye-catching stuff: the table is just decoration. Look out for our deeper values: Trust, personal responsibility and respect are the game changers,” explains 24 Work Hacks, the first book published by Sipgate (stylised as sipgate), a mobile operator company in Düsseldorf, Germany.

Some might say a foosball table in a software company is futile.

Sipgate cares about little things that are often overlooked, for example, humans that make machines. One might raise an eyebrow to why software and telephones are not their foremost priority being a telecom company. Sipgate changed the game from the usual crappy, old offices to build a working atmosphere that attracts visitors from all around the world today.

After visiting sipgate, I had so many questions in mind. How do they get work done amidst all these distractions right in their office?

Majorly all their work strategies have a psychological reason on why they are more successful than usual office methods.

At sipgate, no one works overtime. This rule came as a result of an experiment by Henry Ford who experimented with work durations in a week and found that 40 hours is the sweet spot. One does not get more results in the long run by working for a greater number of hours.

Unfortunately, when people become complacent, sipgate is not an easy company to run. They believe in a no hierarchy rule. Here no one needs permission to get their annual leaves approved but he or she makes sure to check back with his or her team. Sipgate is not a place for dishonest people.

But we tend to forget sipgate is a tech company after all. Technology is an integrally embedded tool in their company and has made it possible to execute their agile tactics without dilemma. For example, the wild time clock at the company not only prevents employees from working overtime but also makes sure that they don’t work under time. And, they also know when not to complicate things with technology.

The company does not maintain a library catalog. “Get the books without a fuss” is their way to learn fast in the fast-paced business. They do have a bookkeeper who orders books when requested in the internal social network. However, this bothers many who think of scenarios such as books getting stolen all the time.

“There should be at least some kind of association of who has what, or else books can be stolen or damaged," said Filipe Dias, a student of Science Communication and Bionics." Some books are very pricey,”

But one of the founders of sipgate, Tim Mois believes if he cannot trust his employees to return books faithfully, how can he trust them to do more serious jobs in the company? Personal responsibility and respect are game changers for this telephone company.

Another pleasing idea introduced by the corporation is welcoming kids as guests. The author Richard Sheridan of the book Joy, Inc.: How We Built a Workplace People Love describes the positive effect of babies on the office vibe in his software company, an otherwise mundane office. Parents at sipgate are free to decide when and for how long the kids stay in one of the office rooms now turned into a playroom.

Such freedom of choices can encourage working moms and dads a lot who from time to time face an issue of skipping a day at work because of their children. As many colleagues go through similar challenges during parenthood, parents at sipgate came up with an interesting concept called “Mini Club”. Several parents have to leave their children to a babysitter in vacations because kindergartens are closed during this time. The company hires kindergarten teachers for these times and conducts excursions to the zoo, TV tower or other places of interest to kids.

Booking a shuttle bus and zoo tickets for a day for a bunch of kids does not burn a hole in pockets. But it makes employees’ life incredibly worry free. This is also a major opportunity to boost their female workforce, unlike other IT companies. It is impressive to see a corporate firm think outside of the box to help make their staffs’ working life smooth and easy. “I would be glad to work in a company where I feel I am at home,” shares Ajayakumar Sandya Kiran, a student of Mechanical Engineering.

Complications arise when a company's time and money are wasted. How do they run a company like Sipgate?

Sipgate uses every other Friday as Open Friday i.e., twice or thrice a month. On this day, everyone at the company is free to introduce something they feel is most valuable for the company at the Open Space conference. Such sessions are easy to organize and everyone is available on these days. The tricky part is the efficiency of time. Presently, the Open Friday sessions last from 10 am to 4 pm where participation is voluntary. Except if employees don’t take it seriously, it can also become a working holiday and an entire day could go to waste.

Pairing up for each task is one of sipgate styles. In this method, teams consistently pair up for lots of tasks and roles across programming, developing, customer support, accounting and so on. For instance, two developers share a computer that helps them to check and prevent any superfluous codes. If a teammate falls ill, the other person can often continue without a glitch. The company believes working in pairs has enabled them to perform faster than usual. But is it the most economically viable solution?

“Sipgate hires two people on same tasks. Though it is very efficient in tasks like Extreme Programming, I’m concerned about how the company will act during recession or cost-cutting,” said Thomas Knuewer, founder of digital consultancy Kpunktnull. Pairing up for every task can drain the company’s resources colossally, yet it may or may not produce twice the results. Money is often limited in small and medium-sized companies and hiring two people for the same task is not reasonably affordable.

It is indeed a great place to work but running a business like sipgate can be challenging. Yet it is sipgate’s small values that are easy to implement at any firm or even in a small discussion anywhere else. When it comes to facilitating discussions and healthy relationships amongst employees, sipgate is the boss.

At sipgate, Scrum Masters accelerate discussions and conduct retrospective sessions. Everyone is supposed to follow guiding actions that can be effective in times of heated arguments or other conflicts. ‘Ruhe bitte’ (‘Silence please’), ‘Meldung’ (‘report’), ‘Komm zum Punkt’ (‘Get to the point’) are some of them.

How do you tackle a situation where several individuals want to speak in a large group? You raise hands. But often the scene is many people raise hands at the same time and then some are left out to speak. In order to organize this, every member at sipgate raises hands in an order. The first person to raise hand points one finger, the second person points two, the third person spontaneously points three and so on.

This is according to me one of the simplest tricks that can be introduced in any sort of group discussion in any business.

A mobile operator company making use of art in its office is not a usual sight. It is rare to see photo frames of staff members at headquarters except for the one for CEOs or founders. Be it hanging sketches of every worker, no hierarchy system, having a foosball table, few kids running, eating together or holding concerts- sipgate offers a zillion ways to choose, implement and learn from. This, in turn, regulates a cordial ecosystem that is needed or wanted in any office.

Sipgate has given its employees wings to fly. I don’t see it as a danger or a risk. It is a potential that must be tapped. However, it may not be possible to introduce that style in every business setting. Many start-ups vary from each other and must be uniquely addressed. Rules and regulations are vital. Honesty is the key. Scrum Masters are a reality check.

Read blogs by sipgate here

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