Week 42: The next stage of our company

Last week was all about the importance of self-reflection, including a 10h meeting. This week we present the results!

Hey there and welcome to our recap of week 42 in the life of diesdas.digital, a Berlin-based studio working on digital things. Last week’s post was all about posing difficult questions and self-reflection, while this week is about giving the corresponding answers (42, duh!).

Ready? Let’s go. 🎙

Somebody stole the HDMI cable from the meeting room, so we had to do a presentation on a laptop.

So, what’s new? In this post we will share a few specific decisions that came out of our introspective meeting. Without further ado…

1) 38 is the new 40

Work weeks usually consist of five days of work, with eight hours each, adding up to 40h per week. This is how most companies (at least in Europe) operate without questioning these numbers. Same for us, so far.

Why 40h though and who determined this to be the golden number? The concept of working a fixed time each day obviously makes sense for factories and assembly-line-type of work, but is it a good fit for creative work? I am unconvinced to say the least and during my time working in different companies I noticed three strong patterns:

  1. Nobody works 8h per day, ever. Sustaining cognitive work over such a long time is impossible, so you end up taking breaks, sometimes hours long, procrastinating. Or to use a different word: recharging.
  2. Creative work usually fills the available time. You can spend two days or two weeks on a task and it’s still likely you will be able to get it done. Creative work expands to fill any given timeframe.
  3. Productivity (and therefore output) is not a constant, it heavily fluctuates. Sometimes I get two amazing hours of productive coding and achieve as much as in the next two days.

This leads me to conclude that there is not a strong correlation between time spent and actual results when it comes to cognitive activities. Now I am not arguing to only work two hours per day, but I would find it fascinating to give 6h per day a try and see whether we might be more productive. Or maybe that would turn out to be immensely stressful because the 8h rhythm is too deeply ingrained in the daily routine. Or clients wouldn’t stop calling after 4pm. Case being: Such an experiment might lead to all kinds of unexpected consequences, but at least Lorenz and I would be eager to validate these assumptions.

One step at a time though … to start this eventual transition we will be reducing Fridays to 6h days and head into weekends early. This change seems relatively low-risk, while still making a visible difference. We shall see how it goes.

Designers. Why do they have so much fun?

2) Time-tracking

The term “time tracking” usually leads to people running away in terror. Admittedly it is one of the more annoying parts of working in a service-based business. So far we hadn’t done tracking of time at all, operating on the slightly idealistic assumption that some projects would run over budget, while others might be done unexpectedly quickly and it would all equal itself out. If by the end of the month we have more money in the bank than we spend, everything’s great, right?

Well.

The reality is: Writing proposals is hard. We try not to sell time (but rather value), but in the end, price tags have to be backed up by some kind of logic and this logic mostly ends up being based on time spent.

Here’s a simplified example:

Per our estimation we roughly need a week of concept, a week of design and two weeks of development on this, so that’s 20 work days, multiplied by our day rate of 800€ = 16.000€.

To better understand the accuracy of these predictions over time it is valuable information for us which projects were profitable … which is why we will introduce logging hours as of next week. Hopefully we can learn from the results and improve our project proposals in the future.

We will do time tracking a bit differently though.

Most companies hold people accountable for exactly 8h every day on projects or internal tasks. As we established before, nobody really works 8h a day, so employees end up cheating and throw hours on projects to reach 8h each day. I’ve definitely been guilty of that. This behavior obviously skews with the resulting numbers, meaning: you have no idea if the times you assigned to certain tasks on projects were actually reasonable, because you cannot trust your employees to log their hours realistically.

This is why we want to accept the fact that 8h of sitting in the office does not imply 8h of real work and we don’t care how much each person enters in total each day. We trust our people to do the best they can, so we ask everyone to enter realistic numbers each day. If that means only two hours end up on a project by the end of the day, that’s cool with us. Sometimes that’s all you can achieve on one day. Or sometimes those hours were exceptionally productive. Again: Time spent does not tell you much about output. This means that within our time tracking system it will be suspicious if somebody actually reaches 8h/day. 😅

Furthermore we do not track internal tasks. We don’t want to create a culture in which hours spent on internal tasks are somehow bad or discouraged. Tracking how much time is spent on internal activities is not relevant to the goal we have right now: which is to know the budgetary status of our billable projects.

So profesh.

Still here? Phew, these were two intense topics. Let’s move on to something a bit lighter. Or … well… maybe not.

3) Transparent salaries

In most companies employees are actively discouraged from discussing their salary with coworkers, but end up doing it anyways, over drinks, during lunch, behind people’s backs. It creates a poisonous atmosphere in which people guess what others are making, involving many potentially wrong assumptions. We want to skip all of this nonsense and be transparent about the salaries that we get among the founders and also everyone who works with us regularly.

This is a personal topic though, so we won’t put all numbers into an Excel sheet for everyone to see, but rather leave it up to the individual people whether they feel comfortable talking about what they make. If one person in the company does not want to disclose this information, we won’t do it for them or force them to; there is a right to privacy. But if two people decide to talk about numbers, they are free to do so; we don’t intend on stopping them.

This creates the side effect that we must be able to explain why we pay certain salaries, which forces us to come up with a system.

We are aware that this measure might very well have the opposite effect and lead to people comparing themselves to others even more, which is usually the sure path to being miserable. But we also believe that an open-minded culture based on honesty and transparency is ultimately beneficial, so we don’t want any taboo topics. Again, we’ll see how it goes.

At Modulor, checking out office furniture.

4) Time to learn new things

We know that learning new skills is absolutely vital to our business. After all clients book us because they expect us to help them with knowledge they don’t possess themselves. As a first step we are introducing one day per month to learn new things, guaranteed for everyone, while actively encouraging each other to make the best of this time, individually or in groups. One day per month doesn’t sound like much, but it’s meant as a baseline … if something incredibly cool happens during this first day, then taking a second day for further improvements must be possible, obviously.

We do this because even a bit of time might be sufficient to plant seeds or gain confidence with a new tool or technology, which we can then utilize and grow within paid projects. This one day per month is meant to take away some initial hurdles and put us on a path that makes sure we never become these guys.

Sometimes it feels as if there are only bad options when making a decision. This was one of these moments.

5) “Show & tell” instead of daily stand-ups

We used to do daily stand-ups with everyone in the morning, asking each person what they’d be working on that particular day, what they achieved the day before and if there’s anything blocking them from doing the best work. This worked in the beginning when we were few people, but stand-ups are very prone to get hijacked by discussions that don’t concern everybody, leading to bored faces and the general feeling of wasted time. So we’ll replace them with a different format.

A challenge we are facing right now is how to keep everyone in the loop about what the others are working on. So we will introduce a super quick “show & tell” round at the beginning of each day, in which we move from desk to desk and each person quickly shows something they are currently working on. The purpose is not to give extensive feedback or comment much, but rather to create more awareness of what’s going on in the company. Stand-ups can then happen within project teams, but not with everybody anymore.

We hope this change will lead to more discussions across projects, e.g. “hey, you showed that design this morning, wouldn’t it be nice to make it bolder by doing xyz”. Again, this format is an experiment and we’re curious to see its effects.

A new, empty desk? What’s that about? Just read on. 👀

Alright, and that’s it for the bigger decisions. There are obviously numerous other little tweaks and changes we agreed upon, but the ones listed above were the most important to share. We’re excited to have set course for what feels like the next stage of our company, now involving employees, freelancers, our own office and a growing team. In the future we will have these introspective meetings more regularly and also open them up for everybody, to get more perspectives and to ultimately make even better decisions.

Never getting tired of cramped elevator photos.

What else is new?

Since this post has been going on for a long time already, let’s do some quick bullets:

  • Next week we will welcome Santiago to the team, as a part-time freelancer, helping us with Node, React and building a single page application! We’re super excited to have him on board. Next to doing web development he is also running one of Berlin’s best open mic comedy shows, called Night Sweats. You should check it out!
  • We’re finally signing the contract for our office next week. It’ll be located in Berlin/Kreuzberg, more specifically Oranienstraße. A lot of work is still required before moving in, but we’re very much looking forward to February. It’s a 250sqm industrial loft, sporting a huge meeting room and even a (shared) terrace. To sum that up: it still feels unreal and too good to be true. We’ll rent out some seats, so if you feel like sitting with us, including the potential for collaboration on projects, do give us a shout!
Shout out to Daniel and Tobias from prolog! Thanks for stopping by this week!

And that’s it for this week!

Thanks for tuning in again. If you liked this post, we’d appreciate a click/tap on that heart below, or maybe you want to subscribe to this publication and be notified about new entries. Following us on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or Snapchat would be grand as well. 😇

Whatever you do, have a nice weekend and see you next week, when we’re all back at our desks! 🤖

Take care! 💚
Your friends at diesdas.digital

Way too many photos this week.