Hang around our offices long enough and you’ll hear someone say “cleaning is a spiritual act.” You’ll try to figure out if they’re kidding, but you will likely give up. If you press them hard enough they might admit that they were mopping floors until 4am and they are running on fumes. You may ask yourself why a senior business executive or a highly sought after software engineer was out cleaning offices.
At Managed by Q, everybody cleans.
It All Starts With A Clean
When we started the company, most people were surprised that Saman and I had decided to focus our professional efforts on what looked like a boutique commercial cleaning company. Not the least surprised of these people was my mother, who had witnessed decades of my inability to clean. Honestly, I surprised myself.
I spent the first 8 months of the business cleaning close to every other night — usually out of necessity and sometimes for love of the game. Then, it was about guaranteeing a perfect experience for our vital early customers.
Now, it’s about scaling a company with grit and integrity, and staying close to the very act that has made the business a success so far: cleaning.
A Level Playing Field
One thing that may not be entirely intuitive, is that over time, I’ve come to love cleaning offices. My team would proudly admit the same. At Q, and in any technology company, we spend our days laboring over intractable problems, and it becomes hard to know when we have truly succeeded. In many cases there are no right answers, and the best answer will only reveal itself in time.
Cleaning is different. While there are tools and techniques to be applied to cleaning, it is often a binary task — you either did a good job, or you didn’t.
Because the playing field is relatively level, the end product becomes a manifestation of our values as individuals and our values at Q. It doesn’t matter where you went to school or how many endorsements you have on LinkedIn — when you’re scrubbing a toilet, it’s between you and the porcelain. Skills are important, but grit can’t be taught. Hence, we all clean.
Not to mention, cleaning also separates the people who want to work at a #startup, from the people who really give a shit. This is why every final interview I conduct concludes with the question “how do you feel about cleaning an office?”
The Beating Heart
Q Operators, the cleaners, assistants, helpers and handymen that power people operations at Q are the beating heart of our company in every way. We once acquired a big customer because a Q Handyman in uniform helped them out at Ikea on the weekend.
Despite the fact that we build amazing software and delightful applications, we can only thrive as long as Q Operators do an incredible job, while demonstrating our core values of transparency, integrity and optimism. The same core values that ship high quality code produce 5 star cleans.
By keeping ourselves always close to the beating heart of our business, we make decisions that make the company better. Innovation is often driven by interactions that happen when we clean. To name a few, we’ve developed lighter summer uniforms, built more empathetic scheduling by understanding where Operators live and what they are good at, and developed scripts to turn our deep cleans into more of an engaging team sport than a chore.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, everybody cleans because it is the purest expression of our leadership ethic as a company. At Q, we practice servant leadership, where the leader exists for the benefit of the company, and not vice versa. Part of my job is to make everyone successful, even if that means delivering an emergency case of toilet paper to the Lower East Side at midnight, on a bike, in the rain (see: last week).
This seems obvious, but most companies simply don’t do it. By encouraging people across the company to get out in the field on a regular basis, we send a clear message to the organization — we are all in this together, and we will only succeed as a team.
We all have important roles to play in building a transformational business, but no task is beneath anyone in the company, and certainly not our leadership.
It isn’t a vanity trip to oversee an office cleaning in progress. It isn’t getting your hands dirty once to say that you did it. It is a fundamental belief that we can only succeed as a company if we embrace and understand the challenges faced by our teammates in the field, who are often invisible if they do their job well.
According to Clarke’s third law “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” We tend to agree, and the magic we create at Q wouldn’t be possible without an insane amount of hard work from some of the best people I’ve ever met: our Operators.
So, are you ready to come clean?
We’re growing insanely fast in New York and Chicago with new markets on the way. If this sounds like a future you can get behind, shoot me an e-mail to email@example.com.
photo cred: Dan Teran, Trista Kempa, Emma Schwartz, Jose Lara