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Highs and lows of working in small teams

Company Culture: What's it like Working in a Small Business?

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When you think of the world of work, it's easy to let your mind jump straight to jobs in big name brands that you've heard of already. But did you know that last year, a whopping 99% of all businesses in the UK were defined as SME’s (Small/Medium Enterprises) -which means companies that employ anywhere between 1 and 249 people. The reality is that most of the population will spend at least some of their working life in a smaller business. And the differences between going to work each day at a big corporate organisation and a small startup are really massive. It might be that you're much better suited to one environment over the other! So what's it actually like working in a smaller company? Two WhiteHat apprentices offered to share their experiences to help you find out more...

Lilly-Mae at a round table event

Name: Lilly-Mae

Company: WhiteHat

Company size (no. of employees): 72 employees

What does your company do (ideally in one sentence / short paragraph)?

Our mission at WhiteHat is to accelerate incredible careers and develop a diverse group of future leaders. We’re a tech startup founded to ensure young people have access to the best career focused apprenticeships on offer.

Carolina at the Go Media offices

Name: Carolina

Company: GoMedia

Company size (no. of employees): 30

What does your company do (ideally in one sentence / short paragraph)?

GoMedia is the world's leading infotainment provider, supplying a management system that delivers entertainment packages (films, TV series, magazines, games, etc.) and real-time travel information to passengers on trains and coaches.

Question 1: So what's the best thing about working in a small company?

Carolina: One of the best parts of working within a SME is that I get to know everyone within the team really well and it’s easier to bond with everyone in each small department.

I also really enjoy the close contact I get with senior management, I have the opportunity to see how they work everyday and how they grow and run a successful business. Some days are very interesting! I have the opportunity to learn and see how each department works such as the operations team, senior, finance and tech teams. It’s given me the chance to see how lots of different teams function.

Even though I have my own main responsibilities and tasks within reporting, my job can vary day-to-day. For example, I’ve planned and executed our team events, whether that be the summer or Christmas party or any other company outings, as well as being responsible for a range of different office management tasks to keep the office in check.

Lilly-Mae: Everyone knows that apprenticeships are the best way to fast track your personal and professional development. The best thing about working in a small/medium business is that it’s the best way to learn, network and get inspired by great and experienced individuals regardless of their position in the organisation.

Once, I was given the opportunity to explain my role and my experience as an apprentice to an MP visiting the WhiteHat office; as we have a small office space, I have the opportunity to have conversations with different visitors and I love meeting new people. I also took part in a round table event hosted by WhiteHat for our clients where I explained why being an apprentice in a small/medium company is beneficial for the development of businesses. From my experience working in a small/medium business, I can say that the work I have produced and the projects I have either lead or taken part in have contributed to the growth of WhiteHat. I believe that the chance to showcase your potential and get recognised in a small/medium organisation is greater than a larger organisation.

Lilly-Mae at an event with a fellow WhiteHat apprentice

Question 2: Are there any challenges to working in a small environment?

Lilly-Mae: I would say, the biggest challenge about being an apprentice in a small/medium business is that it is a very fast moving environment, and so as a result you will be faced with a lot of work (and sometimes with tasks you have no experience with and tight deadlines). However, this is manageable! Being very organised, proactive and eager to learn in a small/medium business are the best skills for this type of environment.

Carolina: The main challenge I found throughout my apprenticeship was that I would take on many tasks around the office. I’d help lots of different people and teams on an adhoc basis to the point where I would sometimes lose track of what needed to be done - it can be a challenge trying to keep organised.

Question 3: If you could have known one thing before you started your role what would that be?

Carolina: If I had known one thing before I started, it would have been to get to grips with Excel. I have learnt a lot during my apprenticeship, but I’d have been off to a flying start if I’d have known more complex Excel functions!

Lilly-Mae: If I knew one thing before I started my apprenticeship, it would be how to manage expectations in the professional environment. Coming from a retail background, my previous role was very specific and simple in terms of what was expected from me. I knew I had to sell products to meet my individual target. However, working in an office environment, the work-force rely on each other and teamwork is extremely important for the organisation to excel. However, managing expectations is so important as there is only so much you can do in one day and you want to prioritise your tasks efficiently.

Question 4: Why would you recommend working in a smaller company?

Lilly-Mae: I would recommend doing an apprenticeship with a small/medium business as you can learn and develop directly from more inspiring and senior individuals. You also get a unique opportunity to watch and be apart of a business growing.

Carolina: I would recommend doing an apprenticeship within an SME if you would like to dip your feet into different departments and gain knowledge and skills on a more one to one basis. I believe there is a lot more opportunity to benefit from this within a smaller business.

Question 5: And finally, what skills do you think you need to succeed in a smaller working environment?

Carolina: The main skills you need to succeed within a small business are teamwork, good communication skills, proactivity and flexibility.

Lilly-Mae: The top five skills you need to work within a small/medium business would be:

  1. Willingness to learn
  2. Persistence
  3. Strong organisational skills
  4. Proactivity
  5. Focusing on results

If this kind of working environment sounds like it might suit you, why not check out the SMEs in our current live apprenticeship roles here - your future employer could be waiting!

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