The current pandemic, in a few (long) months, has already had an incredible impact on many people’s daily work. How we communicate, structure our day, and motivate ourselves are changing in ways we might not have imagined happening in 2020.
While some of these changes affect me too, I was already having an interesting time balancing two very different work environments. You see, I’m a Second Lieutenant in the German Armed Forces and a content creator at Logward, a logistics venture.
While I won’t go so far as to say that one or the other is better, I can share that no matter which “hat” I wear, I learn from the good, the bad, and the similarities and differences between the military and a more “startup” workplace.
The Military: Are there advantages to a more hierarchical approach?
Given that I am pursuing my bachelors at Helmut Schmidt University, University of the German Armed Forces, I am not in the military "full-time". However, I have experienced enough to understand some of the important aspects.
Far from thinking the military is outdated or restrictive, I find certain characteristics helpful:
The military offers clear structures, which makes assigning responsibility and accountability simple. There is rarely doubt about who has to do what.
Many situations within the military require fast decision-making, which means they are taken quickly with no long back and forth or discussions without an end.
The military, as a stable and important public institution, provides safe employment. Not in the literal sense of avoiding physical harm, this is unfortunately a risk we take, but in the sense that one does not have to worry about their financial health.
The job requires us to be in good physical and mental shape through exercise, sports, and healthcare. The military has vested interest in making sure we’re healthy.
As a broad and diverse institution, the military offers advanced training opportunities, including academic degrees like mine or basic language courses.
Now of course there are some aspects that make the military a little less appealing:
Whether you are living in the barracks, or even deployed, you don’t spend as much time with your loved ones as you’d like.
Speaking of living in the barracks, say goodbye to you privacy. Sharing your room, meals, or the shower with someone else is not for everyone.
I don’t want to lose too many words on this one, but obviously being in the military is a potentially dangerous job when it comes to conflict.
Rank, or hierarchy, is valued over the idea. At least this is the case in many instances.
There is, like in any large (German) organization, a healthy bureaucracy.
The tech company: Is it really all wearing hoodies and relaxing in a horizontal structure?
As a young company, Logward is small and growing. Today we’re around 40 employees, and we all know and interact with each other. Our environment (or “vibe”) has a lot in common with many more famous tech companies and ventures, with cool co-working spaces, free fruit (and beer), casual clothing, and an open culture. While any given day I’m working on something different, there are a few trends I’ve noticed.
How being flexible changes the employee/team-member experience:
The “hands-on” proactive mentality means one gets to do a variety of tasks, which can be both stressful, and fun. It provides a great learning curve, ensures one stays creative, and at the very least avoids boredom!
As opposed to the military, one has almost total freedom as to how to tackle a task or problem as long as the outcome is positive. Of course colleagues will provide instructions or pointers, but it’s mostly up to you to provide the ideas and the effort.
While the bureaucracy in larger businesses (or the military) are a sort of necessary development, in a workplace like Logward, you cango directly to the point with the decision maker (if it’s not you directly). This means you see immediate results from your work. If you have a creative idea or an improvement in mind, you can make it happen, and fast!
Failure as a learning tool. Because innovation requires creativity and trial and error, companies like ours don’t punish failure as long as someone gave their best effort. Of course there are moments where risks shouldn’t be taken, in general, you feel free to try something new and step outside your comfort zone.
Ideas over hierarchy. In Logward and other agile companies, you earn respect by being good in what you do or bringing good ideas, not by the sign on your shoulder. Even as a lowly content creator, I am not afraid to speak my mind, even in-front of the whole company.
It's not me who is drinking a beer. At a Startup event with Jonas and Tommy last year.
Still, don’t let me fool you. In spite of the good things an environment like Logward’s provides, it’s not for everyone, or for me, depending on the day:
Startups require a high degree of self-motivation and proactivity. If you are not the type to work independently and try to answer your own questions, but instead prefer to have a list of clear tasks and an ever present supervisor, a place like Logward can feel frustrating. This is not a judgement, but simply a preference.
Sometimes in order to problem-solve, fail and learn, you have to put in a lot of hours. Especially for companies like ours that are trying to tackle big problems with a smaller team, one learns to value caffeine and beats.
Since sometimes there aren’t clear workflows or responsibilities established, things can get chaotic. From time to time, you don’t know who is the best person to ask for help, or who is in charge of what. We try to make up for this by having a proactive culture, ready to accept responsibility rather than avoid it, and always ready to help each other.
Internal communication is a big challenge when there are less formal structures and regular meetings/channels. Logward does try to establish a “rhythm” of regular communication but sometimes one is left wondering what is happening or who is doing what.
As is always the case with an innovative product, there is the risk of operational instability. Especially in the early stages, when it’s unclear what the future will bring and how the organization will change.
As the saying goes, the grass is always greener on the other side...
Most days I feel fortunate to get to see both sides at the same time. I’m constantly learning and adapting, and pushing myself to improve. Both environments help me to achieve this, whether experiencing the efficiency and coordination of the military, or being inspired by the creativity at Logward. Neither of these environments are for everybody, but somehow they’re both for me.
Logward is a Hamburg & Bangalore based logistics company.
We build software, move containers, and change mindsets.
If you have any questions or just want to say hi, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can visit us at www.logward.com.