In college, my business internship was for a global HVAC manufacturer - a huge company. I made several friends in my department of 9 who I no longer speak to. My first job out of college was for a market research company with about 350 employees. (Looking back, it doesn't seem like there were that many of us, but I just Googled the company, and that's what Google says.) I still have several good friends from that job. Now I work for a company of three people. Total. At the rate the company sizes are decreaseing, it seems that my only option in the future would be to open my own company where I am my only employee.
Working for a small company has been one of the best experiences of my life and one of the worst experiences of my life. The perks are obviously more flexibility, no office politics whatsoever (one of my least favorite parts of working at my last job,) and a chance to play a variety of different roles within the company. The downside, is, well, it's me and my boss for the majority of the day. I don't really have the option to not feel social. If we have an argument, it's not like we can avoid each other for a week while things cool down. And when he's traveling...well, it's just me.
I'm pretty sure I thought of all of those things (except for the being alone while my boss travels) before I took the job. What I didn't foresee was the dynamic that would develop between my boss and I. It's...unique.
When my boss met my parents (um, yeah. See? Different.) he explained it like this, "It's almost like Emily's my best friend. I spend more time with her than I do anyone else, even my wife." And it is like that. Like we're almost friends. I mean, he probably knows more about the details of my every day life than anyone else. Even the boy*. And the same thing goes the other way as well. I can tell my boss's wife things about his daily life that I'm sure he wouldn't think to mention when he goes home at night. Things about his patterns of behavior that maybe she doesn't have time to notice only because of the sheer volume of time that he and I spend together. If I have a problem, I'll discuss it with my boss to get his perspective, and he does the same with me. I'm pretty sure we know everything about each other's lives. It's not easy to keep secrets from someone sitting 10 feet away from you for 40 hours a week.
But we're not really friends. We don't hang out outside of the workplace. It's difficult to describe. The company culture is like a family, but there's still the clear distinction between employer and employee. And this feeling of "family" also extends to our customers and suppliers....even though we still have business relationships with them.
Each year when we send out company Christmas cards, we try to think of something unique and fun to send to our customers (each of whom we know personally.) Our Christmas cards each year are so fun that our customers are already asking after this year's batch. The first year I was employed, we sent a cartoon caricature of the three of us (that I had to color individually with colored pencils... all 500 of them. We won't be doing that again.) The second year, we sent a picture of downtown Indianapolis. (Boss didn't like that one so much. Too impersonal.) The third year (after they had gotten me firmly entrenched in the world of pit bull rescue) we sent a picture of the three of us with our dogs. The fourth year, we sent headshots of each of us as Christmas ornaments on a tree (don't ask.) This year? We're sending a collage of baby pictures. No joke. I can't post my boss's and his wife's pictures....but I can sure as heck show you mine. I guess I'm not a baby in this picture...I'm about a year and a half old, and this was taken at the Indianapolis Zoo. I just think it's hilarious. Beyond my birthmark and the color of my hair, I can't really see much of myself in the tiny person in that picture.
When I called my mother and asked her to send me baby pictures, and she found out what they were for, she said, "Wait, for your company Christmas cards?" Um, yeah. Her silent question hung in the air. Meh, it may be weird, but I just chalk it up to our corporate culture. I like this better than the usual office politics.
So go support your local "mom and pop" store. That's what this experience has taught me. The personal relationships seem....healthier...somehow. Both for the employees of the company and the customers. Don't believe me? Take a sec and get to know the owner of the next locally owned business you go to. That will make you feel better about spending the extra $0.50. After all, it would be a shame if all small business were eventually run off by corporate giants. I mean, do you see WalMart sending out Christmas cards with adorable Italian/Peruvian babies on them?
*I tried, but I'm a creature of habit. I'll revisit that soon.