A woman packing her desk items into a box beside a laptop. She’s moving to a big company from a small one.
Image: VGstockstudio/Shutterstock

How to move from a small office to a big company

18 Sep 2018

A new job is tough enough but making the transition from a small company to a big one can be far more difficult than you might expect.

Getting a new job can be extremely exciting but it can also be quite intimidating. You might be worried about how you’ll fit in, if your colleagues will like you or how well you’ll be able to pick things up. Change is always scary, and any new job will bring change.

However, it’s one thing to move from one office dynamic to another that is relatively similar. It’s quite another experience to move from a small company to a big company, and the adjustment for a new employee can be quite a difficult one if they’re not prepared for it.

I spoke to Chieu Cao, the co-founder of Perkbox, a cloud-based employee perks and engagement platform. He said the first thing new employees will notice when they move from a small firm to a big company is the structured onboarding systems. “Big companies are experts at managing new employees and have the resources to do this,” he said.

Cao’s own experience working with small and big companies is varied. Before co-founding Perkbox, he worked for several large corporations, including Yahoo, Microsoft and Amazon. However, having grown up in an environment with parents who were small-business owners, Cao always knew he wanted to start his own business at some point.

For anyone moving to a big company who is used to a smaller office, his first piece of advice is to embrace the move.

“It’s also worth remembering that both good and bad cultures are found at both small and big companies, not just one or the other.” He added that larger companies often have a reputation for having a bad culture when, in reality, they tend to have more learning and development resources. “Ultimately, how I see it is that everyone seeks happiness in their career and it’s only by working in both types of organisations that you can see which is the best fit for you,” he said.

How is a big company different?

Aside from the formal onboarding structure, Cao said small companies typically aren’t as structured when it comes to the day-to-day running of the business. “However, they compensate for this by having a lot of energy and buzz,” he said. “This excitement of the unknown will really appeal to some employees. However, it isn’t for everyone; others prefer the structured environment of a larger company.”

Cao said another difference is that big companies can appear impersonal due to their sheer size, but this is not the case. “In large businesses, employees soon learn to see their department as their own small company sitting within the larger organisation.”

What if I’m struggling to settle?

Even with all the preparation and knowledge a new employee could be armed with, it can still be a difficult experience settling into a big company when you’ve been accustomed to a smaller office.

For employees who don’t feel like they’re settling in, Cao’s advice is to ask for help. “The problem may not be the work, it could be that they’re struggling to adapt to the company’s culture,” he said. “Nobody should be afraid of scheduling a one-to-one meeting with their manager to discuss these things or ask their peers questions as they try to adjust to their new workplace.”

Cao added that this is why probation periods are so important. “They’re not just another employer-centric tool. They actually provide time for both parties to get to know each other and see if they’re a good fit.”

Of course, the onus isn’t just on the employee to make sure they’re settling into their new job. Employers should be aware of how difficult the transition to a big company can be for someone who is used to much smaller workplaces. Cao pointed out that employers should remember that employees who come from smaller companies are more likely to be motivated by innovation and entrepreneurial drive.

“My number-one thing, however, is creating a strong culture,” he said. “When you’re hiring so many new people constantly, maintaining the culture, motivation and performance becomes hard. But you don’t want to have to lose out on the key things that have made you special from the start.”

Of course, the culture of a 10-person team can never be truly the same as the culture of 100, but he warned that even if a company grows from a small one to a bigger firm, the values and overall mission shouldn’t change. “With Perkbox growing to nearly 250 employees in just three years, this has definitely created some challenges along the way. Things like communication have become more of a challenge internally, which is why we have implemented tools like Slack to help us on our journey,” he said.

“One of our values is, ‘it’s not a job, it’s a family’, because we want our employees to feel like they are part of the Perkbox family and are supported. That was the case when we first started and is the case still today.”

Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny Darmody became the editor of Silicon Republic in 2023, having worked as the deputy editor since February 2020. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

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