In his TED talk, Basecamp founder Jason Fried says managers and meetings kill productivity, which is why he advocates getting work done outside the office. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer agrees that people are more productive working outside the office, but argues that people are more collaborative and innovative when they’re together. Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh says more face time in the office can help build company culture in a positive way. Buffer’s team is completely distributed, but travels together three times per year.
The debate never ends: Should you enable your team to work from wherever they like?
For many organizations, there’s the issue of trust. An investigation by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office showed that half of the 8,300 patent examiners telecommute, and some of them repeatedly lied about their work hours and were unfairly compensated for bonuses. Yet, as Jake Novak writes at CNBC, the way federal government employees work and technology employees work are extremely different.
So clearly, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question: Should you let your employees choose where they want to work?
At Flipp, we believe that when we give our team members freedom and responsibility they perform better. This means our team members have flex hours and can work from wherever they want, whenever they need to. Giving our team autonomy to choose how, where, and when they work makes them more effective. Leaders and managers provide high level guidance of what needs to be accomplished. Teams and team members decide on how and where they want to do that.
We still encourage our employees to get together and spend time in person, to Hsieh’s point about culture and Mayer’s point about collaboration. Even when our teammates work out of the office, we use technology to maintain relationships using productivity tools such as Slack, For certain meetings where team members are brainstorming, problem solving, or creating key strategies, it is most effective for people to be in a face-to-face meeting. Our culture thrives on debating and problem solving and this is most effective when done in person.
However, we don’t think it’s necessary for them to do spend time together in person every single day. If they need to focus on output and efficiency, it’s better for them to work outside the office. We think it’s most important for them to decide, and for us to trust them and be flexible.
Ultimately, it’s not always about working from home specifically. It’s about not having to be in the office. We trust our people to be mobile, and we’re interested in employing a true mobile workforce (i.e., people can work from wherever they want — in their homes, at Starbucks, etc.). We also trust that they know the best times and places for them to produce great work.
We’ve also improved our office based on this thesis. Most employers would not encourage employees to sleep during 9AM – 5PM, but we provide open work hours and a nap room in the office.
Our bet has worked out well for us so far. Our team grows rapidly, and our teammates are both happy and productive. To our delight, there haven’t been any cases where team members don’t deliver as agreed upon.
Obviously if there isn’t any opportunity for people to get together and build relationships face-to-face, it’s difficult to build a healthy organization. But if we force our entire team to do that every single day, we rob them of their freedom to pick and choose where, when, and how they want to work. They won’t be happy, and their quality of work will suffer for it. Everybody loses.
As we scale the team from 250 to 500 people, we want to still provide the flexibility for our team to work where and when they feel most productive and effective. We’ll also balance that with the need to build relationships and trust between members. Undoubtedly, sharing experiences in person — face-to-face — will always be the best way to build those relationships.
Trust your team members to work from wherever they like, and hold them accountable to the results you mutually agree to. They will be happier, they will feel the freedom, and their work will be better for it.