Einhorn, one of the world’s first vegan condom companies, certainly does things a little differently.
The Berlin sex tech startup is almost as famous for being fair and sustainable (‘fairstainable’), as they are for their playful approach. You only have to read their tongue-in-cheek account of raising ‘€0.0 million led by nobody’ to see that they don’t play by the rules.
As Head of Fairstainability & New Work, Elisa is responsible for constructing a new work culture with self-organizing teams, transparent and democratic salaries, and plenty of holidays.
In this interview, she shares the ups and downs of creating and adopting these new work concepts within their unique organization.
1. Could you start by telling us a little about what fairstainability and new work mean at einhorn?
Fairstainability means that we try to do everything in a fairstainable manner (without harming people and the planet). We reinvest 50% of our profits into fairstainability projects. At the moment we are focusing on our supply chain and how to have a positive impact there.
New Work basically means the same at a company level. We try to put our employees and their motivations at the centre of how we work. We found out that a classical hierarchy is not the answer.
So we are building our own organizational form with flat hierarchies. Essentially, everyone decides what to do and how to do things, there are no KPIs, employees take as many vacation days as they like, and there’s a transparent and democratic salary system.
2. How did you go about researching and implementing transparent salaries?
I researched what “new work pioneers” are doing in this field and discovered that there still isn’t a “new work solution” for salaries. So we did a lot of workshops with the team and discussed what their hopes are when it comes to salaries, as well as their fears.
We found out that transparency is key and that a salary is considered fair if a person in a similar position earns a similar salary. We also found out that for us in particular, fair does not mean that everyone should earn the same.
3. How do your self-organizing teams function? And how do you plan to scale this?
This sounds like a super organized process, but we don’t work with processes so much. For us, it is a lot about culture and communication. So everyone can decide which team he or she wants to join or if they want to establish a new project or team.
Within the team, it is up to them to decide how they want to organize themselves. So there are some teams that are rather a loose bundle of people that come together whenever they feel it is necessary. There are other teams that are more or less running with holacracy, and there are other teams that elect a team lead.
We don’t plan so far in the future. We will see if this works once we grow, if not we will have to find new answers.
My biggest aim when it comes to our new work culture is that I want to build a learning organisation that is able to constantly adapt to new circumstances.
Then, if someone feels that the current organisational form is not functioning well, he or she can take steps to change it.
4. einhorn unites employees with a focus on the greater good. How could other (non-social) companies offer more meaningful work?
I think (and hope) that most companies have a purpose other than just profit maximisation. What they want to achieve (e.g. providing the best service for xyz…) can also unite the employees.
It does not necessarily have to be “saving the world”, although this helps.
Also, letting people self-organize helps to make work more meaningful, as giving people ownership of their own tasks fosters greater commitment.
And last but not least, a respectful environment where everyone is treated equally is basically a pre-condition for meaningful work.
5. What’s your vision for the Future of Work?
That people are central to how we organize our work. It might sound a little hippie but I think New Work has the potential to create a more human economy based on respect and not assholism 🙂.