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Working for vs working with

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There are two ways to work. You can work for someone, or you can work with someone. Neither is better than the other, but they both have their own nuances.

When you’re working for someone, there’s a distance between you and the person or entity that you’re working for. As long as you show up and get the work done, there’s not much else required for the act of working to be considered a success.

When you’re working with someone, the dynamic is different. It’s harder to show up, do the work, and call it good. There’s often a degree to which you’re involved in larger decisions, whether or not you’re aware of it.

Take a company like Amazon, for example. At such scale, pretty much every point of work becomes an act of working for, even if you think otherwise. One way to measure this might be how easily you can be replaced by another worker. In almost all positions at such a large organization, there’s enough fragmentation that anyone could be replaced by another person who can perform the same work. This includes everyone from a marketing executive to a person packing boxes. It may be the case that you’re working “with” a team to achieve a goal at a large organization, but in the end, you’re working with the team which is working for the larger organization.

Most small companies, which I’d say are 50 people or less, tend towards the side of individuals working “with” others and not really “for” anyone besides the customers. The smaller you go, the more likely it is that you’re working with and not for. It’s not always the case, though. You could certainly work at a small place and understand that it’s strictly a “working for” relationship. Sometimes they need to have a project completed and need to hire someone to do it.

Take the example of Nota. If that link no longer goes anywhere, you can replace it with any other small company which has a few people running it from day one. Nota is a note taking application created and run by two people. The small team behind it is working “with” each other to build and market the note taking app. Going back to our measurement of working with-ness, what happens if one of these two people leave? That person is nearly impossible to replace. In our case study, it appears that they have known and worked with each other for a long time before creating Nota, and the idea was born out of solving nuanced problems that both of them faced. It’s easy enough to hire another developer to work at Amazon. It’s not feasible to hire a replacement friend whose workflow problems have influenced and guided the creation of a new product with you.

To reiterate, one style of working is not better than the other. They each have their place, and you might prefer one over another, but it’s good to be aware of where you are on the continuum.