There is no downtime in Aaron Levie’s world. The 27-year-old co-founded Box, an online file storage company for businesses, as a 20-year-old student at the University of Southern California. He’s stayed in constant motion since he began building websites at age 13. His company’s core values describe an organization where there’s no room for wasted time or space.
Levie recently shared “The Way I Work” with Inc. Magazine. While his lifestyle makes it easy to categorize him as a crazed workaholic, we can learn a few lessons about increasing workplace productivity from how he runs Box.
1. Work cohesively across departments.
Levie spends most of his work day in meetings, about half of a dozen per day. He has so many because he operates on an open calendar system, allowing any employee to add a meeting to his schedule. This results in frequent meetings with sales, marketing, product design, engineering, recruiting, finance and customers. Levie talks with his 15 recruiters multiple times per day and personally interviews most candidates. When not in meetings, he is running around Box’s three-story office building.
No one has a private office. Instead, all 44 rooms are conference rooms with glass doors and walls painted with IdeaPaint to encourage the public sharing of ideas. The building’s open floor plan makes it easy for employees to speak with each other and across departments. Levie spends more time communicating across departments than with investors or the board so that the company can push his main goals of innovation and disruption. “I want to disrupt the marketplace and to disrupt the old model…Also, I want to avoid being disrupted,” Levie said.
2. Turn your weaknesses into competitive advantages.
Levie is young for a CEO, but he doesn’t let his age hold him back. He keeps a positive outlook by recognizing, “I may be young, but the good news is I am getting older.” Box employs only about 600 people but successfully competes against companies with thousands of employees. Levie uses his company’s smaller size as a motivating force to work more efficiently. He looks at what Box has already accomplished and uses that as a gauge for future endeavors. He wants his employees “to realize that they can do something 10 times bigger, 10 times better, 10 times faster” and even named a conference “10X” to help keep this core value forefront in employees’ minds. Box has already more than doubled sales each year and is now on track to meet future goals of international expansion and shifting from direct sales to working with partners.
3. Focus on your accomplishments and goals.
Part of a busy lifestyle is acknowledging that “there’s no such thing as being caught up.” Instead, Levie moves from one goal to the next. He encourages his employees to take risks and move past bureaucracy or slow decision making. He describes his company as an execution-oriented culture. The faster they fail, the faster they can correct mistakes. This perspective on efficiency emphasizes speed in reaching long term results over tedious planning. As he races about the office every day, he wants to make sure employees are always getting something done.
Using speed as a motivator also means keeping up with the competition. Levie devotes five hours a day to strategizing and analyzing the metrics and news of the day. “I have to know what has happened in the world before I can possibly complete my day,” he said. Succeeding in business means predicting the future, so Levie stays informed so that his company’s vision and goals align with what’s going on in the world and with other technology companies.
Levie said that one of his company’s core values is to make mom proud. While his other company values of always expanding, getting work done and failing quickly might not always make his mother the happiest, he is on a restless pursuit of success. Levie confessed, “I don’t have time for nonwork stuff.”
How do you balance speed with success?