For a long time, the main way to attract and keep talent in the tech industry (especially in the major tech hubs) boiled down to perks: free yoga, ping pong tables, full-service smoothie bars, happy hours — you name it.
But maybe thanks to the increased presence and acceptance of distributed teams and remote work, that’s now changed.
Today, most employees, myself included, see “perks” as meaningless — just bait to keep them at the office longer.
Instead, in the past few years, I’ve noticed employees at fast-paced, growing companies wanting something different: freedom. That may be the freedom to work from home a day or two each week or the freedom to break up their work day in order to pick up their kids from school.
Give your team some freedom, and you will likely see more creativity and an overall happier and more productive workplace. Take it away, and get ready for them to start looking for other, more sustainable places to work.
Freedom not only makes employees happier — it also makes them more productive.
People don’t want to be confined to a desk, and not everyone is productive at 8 a.m. or can work in a noisy open floor plan office setting.
Plus, we know that if we try to impose that on our team members, we’re more likely to piss them off and burn them out — especially if they’re an older, more senior, productive team member and don’t need to be coddled.
Finally, we know, too, that people work better when they don’t feel shackled to a desk, or forced to abide by a schedule that doesn’t account for how they, personally, operate most effectively.
And that’s why giving your employees more freedom — the ability to work from home if they need to, for example — not only makes them happier, but it really does make them more productive.
This is something I’ve experienced firsthand as an engineer and witnessed firsthand as the co-founder of Dairy Free Games.
As an engineer, I knew that I was most productive late at night when there were no distractions. I also knew that I got more work done from home. I lived in San Francisco, so the long commute to Palo Alto ate up a lot of my day. My CEO, understanding both my preference for working at night and for working from home, allowed me to do both essentially as much as I needed to.
But then, about eight months into the job, he changed everything and instituted a policy called “Face Team,” where everyone on the team was required to be at the office five days a week. My productivity plummeted, both because of the commute and due to the fact that, working at the office — being pulled into meetings all day — I just wasn’t able to focus. I ended up having to stay awake late each night when I got home to make up for everything Ididn’t get done during the day.
Needless to say, I left.
Maybe that’s one reason why, as a founder, I’ve never cared about “face time.” At DFG, my co-founder, Dennis, and I only cared about whether or not our team was hitting the goals outlined on their roadmaps and completing the work that was expected of them. We weren’t about babysitting because we knew the only thing that really mattered was the roadmap and sticking to it, and we wanted our team to be able to complete it as effectively as possible.
By giving your team members freedom, it shows them that you trust them.
In addition to encouraging happiness and productivity, giving your team freedom shows them something else that’s very important: that you trust them.
For high-level and high-performing team members, especially, that’s critical; it’s what they need in order to feel at home in and integral to your company and to take creative risks.
But it’s important for your company, too. Without knowing that you can trust your key people to drive progress in their respective verticals, it will be impossible for you to grow and scale.
Here’s what cultivating this trust looks like.
- Giving your employees freedom to determine their own schedules, as long as they respect that freedom by getting their work done.
- Giving employees meaningful ways to cultivate a healthy work-life balance.
- More generally, not treating a 30–40-year-old senior team member like a kid fresh out of college. (This means not micro-managing them.) It makes them feel like you respect them.
Of course, trust must be earned, and it certainly can’t exist if it’s abused. Accountability, then, is key. Your people must uphold their end of the bargain by doing their jobs well.
Luckily, there are steps you can take to better set your team members up to do that.
1) Have an extremely goal-centric culture.
Team members should have a clear understanding of what is expected of them.
Keep in mind, though: this can’t be about “hours worked.”
Rather, your metrics should be defined according to milestones achieved, tasks completed, deadlines met, and progress tangibly made. And your expectations — along with your company culture at large — should be centered around your team meeting their respective targets and goals. If those expectations are clear and both you and your team understand both sides of the bargain, that eliminates the potential for confusion.
Whether someone is effective or successful should not be a vague judgment call determined by whether or not they’re sitting in a chair all day.
2) Be extremely well-prepared and detailed when it comes to roadmap planning.
To hold your team accountable to goal-oriented metrics, though, you on your end must be extremely organized and articulate. Team members shouldn’t be going a day without a clear task to accomplish, and you should feel equipped at all times to measure — quickly — whether a team member is meeting your expectations or not.
That means having a clear roadmap for every person, complete with what things they’re expected to do, ship, or send to you on any given day.
Being so prepared on the management side of things is what setting up your team members for success actually looks like.
At the end of the day, what all this evidences is the reality that traditional conceptions of office life are outdated. It’s time for founders to embrace a new model for retaining their team members and helping them grow.
Freedom, trust, and CEO-preparedness, ultimately, need to reside at the center of it.