It’s not just “work” that can be flexible, but it’s counterpart…vacation (or “holiday” in the UK). Certainly, the workplace has instituted a number of innovations for how people take their time off – carry over, in lieu, etc. But some companies with the Dynamic Work ethos have gone the full extreme of flexibility…unlimited holiday.
The NBC piece “Some Companies Give Workers Unlimited Vacation” describes…
“Although companies may worry that employees would abuse the policy, Bruce Elliott, manager of compensation and benefits for SHRM, said that most workers fear taking too much time off could damage their reputation. "What we see in some cases is a portion of the population taking less time," he said. More often than not, Elliott said, workers take about the same amount of time off as those with traditional paid-time-off benefits. Companies also claim a financial win. Days off are not accrued, and if an employee leaves, a company doesn't have to pay them out for unused days.”
The scenario seems like a John List experiment in behavioural economics. But companies don’t need to depend on inherent altruism nor variants of Prisoner’s Dilemma to determine how their staff will respond. Ultimately, such schemes depend on a context of measured accountability. Then, as Dan Price, founder and CEO of credit card processing company Gravity Payments in Seattle, notes. "The idea is that you are now judging employees on their work and results." As I would always say, I don’t care if you do your month’s work on day 1 and then spend the rest of it in Barbados. As long as the work gets done (which also has to account for dependencies stake holding colleagues have on your expertise and contributions in their time frames).
Here in the UK, the industry trailblazer Richard Branson is one of the leaders in this initiative…
“We should focus on what people get done, not on how many hours or days worked. Just as we don't have a nine-to-five policy, we don't need a vacation policy."
The concept underscores that effective workplace contribution is not about the activity or presence. It’s about the outcomes and results.
Everything new is old again.
Yahoo has cemented itself as the now tired veteran of the Digital Age. Perhaps a sign of how far the digital age has come when the early pioneers start to look and behave schlerotically behind the times.
What does Yahoo not know that everyone else does? The new CEO Marissa Mayer claims to be taking a step back in its flexible work practices for the sake of solidarity – “We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.”
She has a point. Jamming people together in time and place does manufacture a sort of contrived cohesion. I reminds me of the old trick to get two fighting cats to be at peace…lock them in the bathroom for a few days until then are at peace with each other. Unfortunately, Mayer’s reset is nothing more than a surrender to the lowest form of togetherness. Sort of like puns being the lowest form of humour.
This bold-faced retreat to the sub-basement of corporate cohesion made me reflect on the hierarchy of unity in the organisation world. I do think that some bonds are tighter than others. I would propose the following hierarchy starting at the highest and working down…
1. Purpose – THE WHY: The ‘mission’, the ‘why’. This is what unifies dispersed cells of radical organisations who have never met each other and don’t work together. This is a common theme in the most successful organisations like Apple and Nordstrom. Hugh MacLeod and Mark Earls have explored this concept with great insight and creative eloquence.
2. Obectives – THE WHAT: Even if you don’t have a higher strategic purpose, you can still have a more pragmatic ‘purpose’ typically defined by SMART objectives.
3. Process – THE HOW: At least if you are synchronised in a symphony of aligned process, then you will have a crude form of uniformity. Perhaps brittle and vulnerable, but at least functional to a certain degree.
4. Presence – THE WHERE/WHEN: Sticking two human beings next to each other is the lowest form of integration that exists. Sort of like sticking an Apple and a PC next to each other so you can work on both ‘together’. Yes, it is form of togetherness, but the efficiencies and impact that forced proximity (note: voluntary proximity is a powerful thing) creates is fragile and wafer thin. It is the foundation to such bureaucratic poison as tedious meetings, expensive air travel and relocations, and mind-numbing commutes.
I was drawn to Tim Harford’s book ’Adapt’ by its theme and subtitle “Why Success Always Starts With Failure” which lies at the heart of my other online exploration. The author, Harford examines a range of failure dynamics and how to manage them. You can never really avoid them so the best prescription to acknowledge and embrace them and then cope with, if not exploit, the consequences.
One of the case studies he examines is the retail chain Timpsons. The progressive leadership by John Timpson has resulted in a number of organisational innovations as you might expect with a company that embraces risk taking, but the one that caught my eye in the context of Dynamic Work is ‘peer monitoring’. The walls that Dynamic Work breaks down are not just geographical and chronological, but also potentially organizational. Peer Monitoring is a powerful concept provides an alternative to conventional Command and Control hierarchies. People are becoming more familiar with the fundamental concept as it is a common one in the digital world of online communities…
“Peer monitoring is closely associated with the virtual world: it’s the fundamental building block of Google’s search algorithm (giving weight to how popular a site is with other sites), phenomena like eBay (which relies on buyers and sellers rating each other’s reliability) and Wikipedia (in which anyone can edit anyone’s else articles), and the open-source software movement which has delivered such successes as Firefox and Apache. But as Timpson shows, it’s applicable far behind the cutting edge of crowd-sourced technology…I witnessed [another] striking example of peer monitoring on my visit to the Hinkley B nuclear power station…Just as [our group of senior executives] were about to leave the meeting room, a portly middle-aged lady in a hard hat walked in pushing a trolley laden with sandwiches. She took one look at us and politely but firmly admonished our host that we’d left our shoes in a place where they constituted a tripping hazard, and asked us to move them…The instant correction of a problem, no matter how small and no matter what the hierarchical relationship might be between the head of safety and the tea lady.”
Whatever Timpson are doing it works for me as I am a regular and delighted customer at my local branch in Marlow