Thoughts on cultural fits, employee empowerment, and productivity
Recently, my workplace implemented a policy to restrict the number of days an employee can work from home. The excuses they have given for this have ranged from “Employees are abusing this freedom.” to “We have paid a lot of money to set up this office, so it's only reasonable that they utilize these facilities to the maximum.”
For a technology company that is spread across different timezones, and wants its employees to collaborate across these barriers, we have a huge number of meetings that happen in the early mornings or late evenings. In such scenarios, the option of having remote work is great, especially because one can plan their day around those meetings in a good way. I for one, start my day at my usual time, but take a short nap in the afternoon so that I feel fresh for the meetings, and can take my best mindset to them and come out of those discussions with good outcomes. For others, it may be a case of starting their day a little later than they usually do, so that they can use the mornings to take care of personal stuff which they'd otherwise do in the evening.
By taking away the “right” to be remote as many times as needed, the HR is saying that “We are in charge, we decide how and where you'll work, and we expect you to toe the line.” The company aims to be at the top of employee retention, employee empowerment etc. I feel like this policy isn't a step in the right direction to achieve that aspiration. There is also the gradual shift to monitoring the number of hours an employee is inside the office. This is also wrong for several reasons.
Having been involved in a company that grew from 8 members to 100, I feel like I am in some position to talk about what can make a team or company successful. The first and foremost is keeping the employees happy. And happiness isn't just gyms, free hot beverages, gaming rooms, or bean bags. It's putting the power in their hands. The smaller teams should be democratic and have a say in deciding what works for them and how. If they want to go watch movies together during the day and stay up at night to work on something, let them do it. If they feel hyper focused when working from benches in the parks next to their homes, let them do it. If they want to be in the office for 10 hours together, even use their lunch hours to discuss work, let them do it, but for goodness' sake, put that power in their hands and don't make policies about things you don't understand.
There are going to be arguments that managing companies that are so big is difficult, let me break it down step by step.
Every team can't be allowed to operate in the way they wish. It'd lead to an unfair system : Read that last paragraph one more time. The teams decide how they want to do things. If they find a system working for another team and feel like they would benefit from that system, let them adopt it.
Employees will start doing as they wish and there would be conflicts within the team itself : The role of hiring cultural fits is very important. If you hire for numbers and don't care about the soft skills (which is not just the ability to write great emails and talk fluently), you have pushed yourselves to a corner in that aspect. When you form a new team, identify individuals who gel together and let them decide the type of team members they want. And I beg you, please don't force them into hiring candidates just because you aren't able to meet your recruitment targets for that month. All you are doing with that is adding friction into a system where it isn't needed. While on that, just stop bragging about the number of employees you have. That isn't a hallmark of greatness. How productive and happy those employees are, is.
The facilities that we have created for the employees will be wasted : Who said anything about the employees deciding to never show up in the office forever? You are going to put those beanbags and standing desks to attract the “hip” crowd anyway, and the less the employees use these facilities, the longer they'll stay new. Also, stop pretending like you are spending all this money from your pocket. We also see how flexible and accommodating your counterparts at the company headquarters are with these policies, even though they have offices that are state of the art and boasts facilities that you all can't even dream about.
We can't keep track of employee productivity if they aren't in the office : There is a concept of delivery, definition of done etc in software. When those criteria are met within the agreed upon timelines, you sure as hell know that the employee or the team has been productive. You shouldn't measure this in terms of how many hours the laptop was idle, how many hours the employee spent walking to the rest room, how many hours the employee played foosball etc. Hours in front of a computer is not equal to productive hours. Period.