The year is 1 A.C. (After Covid). The world is entirely occupied by Sars-CoV-2… Well, work has changed incredibly during the pandemic. Home Office used to be a “goodie”, now it’s the key tool to stay productive while fighting the pandemic. Many bosses used to suspect that “home office” is a vacation in a different dress, lots of research has proved them wrong throughout the past months. Labor markets have been tensed for several years now and hiring top talent has been a challenge. We see corporates doing prime-time TV ads to attract job applicants. Today talented people are in demand. And they are aware of it. I’d like to share with you some thoughts and observations on how we can set up our workplace for today’s world.
Best-in-class environment for best-in-class work
Is home office here to stay or a fluke trend? Our data suggests people want both, an office where they engage with other team members in person and the benefit of not having to commute and being able to work in pajamas if they feel like it. To put it in word what people want: flexibility. And this needs a strong foundation. I still observe people in other companies or in public service getting a laptop with a broken battery that is as fast as my old Gameboy and no corporate cell phone. This absolutely amazes me. A good laptop, with a state-of-the-art webcam, a decent cell phone and maybe some noise-canceling headset won’t cost that much, maybe 1-2% of your annual HR cost. Don’t get me wrong: I think that’s not that cheap. But it will make a hell of a difference to your people. Nothing is more frustrating when you can’t get things done because your device is slow or does updates in the middle of the day. When you commute, you will appreciate a device for which you don’t need a fork-lifter. When you account for an increase in productivity, particularly if the next snowfall cuts off your workforce for two days, plus an increase in satisfaction, it’s probably worth it. And in case you happen to enter a pandemic, you’re well equipped to react quickly and shift to home office. Something that also your team will value.
A well-equipped workplace does not only mean laptops and headsets. It also means the appropriate software tools, such as conferencing tools that don’t cut you off after 30 minutes, cloud storage that is accessible from cell phone, laptop and tablet and all documents signed with e-signatures. A paperless office is not only flexible and efficient, but also saves trees. In my view: excellent work can only be done with excellent equipment.
Build the job around your team
In the past, corporations made people fit into their organization. Today, people will want you to fit the organization into their life. And if you don’t, you won’t get the best people. It’s as simple as that. And honestly: I do understand that.
We go through different stages in life. We graduate from school, get our first job and have a career, marry, have kids and maybe move out to the countryside. Our ideal work environment is different at each stage. At Perfood, we start with trying to hire the best people. We try to accommodate for the needs of all stages in life. People who just had a child will highly value not having to commute and flexible working hours. Others who are in their 20s may enjoy a modern office in a central location. Today’s tools, such as co-working spaces in central locations or cheap video conferencing and collaboration software, allow us to adapt work environments flexibly. There is a slight caveat, when you’re from Germany, though, because the German labor laws actually restrain you from building the best work environment. However, in most cases you can do a lot by organizing things a bit better and leaving some preconceptions behind.
And one remark on the side. If you are a woman, in your late twenties or thirties, smart, driven, nice and looking for a job in which you can make a difference to a company and the world, shoot me an email with your cv. At Perfood you find a job environment that is career- and family-friendly. 😊 The email is: [email protected]
Don’t BS people. Be honest with achievements and challenges. Your people are the ones who need to fix things when they go wrong, so don’t oversell powered by fantasy. Be honest and transparent.
Sound decisions should be backed by rigorous analysis. Rigorous analysis requires data as complete as possible. This is why we believe in transparency. Obviously, we also have data that only very few people can access, and this is all data related to individual users. As the CEO of the company, I don’t have access to such data. And yes, sometimes we do not communicate every detail, such as the formulas of our algorithms or when we are in patent-applications processes. But we believe that such a level of detail is neither necessary nor interesting to most people. The point is to be as well-equipped as you can be for assuming ownership and making informed decisions at all company levels. Transparency also shows that you trust your people, which we do at Perfood. That is why we intend to be as transparent as possible. Aggregate KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), our strategy and development roadmap are communicated to the entire company. We talk about the hurdles we face and encourage everyone to contribute. We feel comfortable having a discussion with our team about it when things don’t go as expected. As the great German entrepreneur Alfred Krupp said: “If you work, you make mistakes. If you work more, you make more mistakes. Only those who sit back and do nothing, don’t make any mistakes.”
Employee turnover, employee satisfaction, time-to-hire or even time-to-fire. I am genuinely puzzled that VCs have never asked me for HR KPIs. This is especially odd to me, as most VCs claim to “invest in teams” and it’s probably not only the founding team but also the rest of the company that determines its fate. Our technology at Perfood is complex and requires input from disciplines like medicine, data science, engineering, product, and marketing. We try to hire the best people, keep them satisfied and productive and retain them forever. When we make a hiring mistake, we intend to fix it as quickly as possible. We do this to protect our team and product. We constantly work on improving hiring, onboarding, and team satisfaction. That is why we gather data on all these stages that we factor in our decision making. You would never not track the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns so why would you do that with your employee satisfaction, onboarding and retention?
Germany, my beloved home country, has a regulated system of employee councils. It is intended that employers, give their staff a voice in corporate decisions. This institutionalized voice is flawed. To my own experience, it rarely helps to increase employee satisfaction but rather drives corporate politicking. But just as in democracies, you can have representatives and elements of direct democracy. Maybe it is because of this institutionalized “voice of employees” that management barely collects tools on employee sentiment on workplace satisfaction or alignment with corporate strategy. Today it is very easy to collect data on these kinds of topics. At Perfood we use a survey tool to ask regularly about employee satisfaction, whether all-hands meetings were useful in promoting understanding of strategy and specific topics, such as the introduction of new tools. This data helps us to understand whether we should put more effort into educating our team on strategic decisions or even makes us rethink some decisions. All our surveys are anonymous, but in case we see a response that we would like to discuss, we kindly ask to approach us in our company Teams-channel. And it’s not the worst thing to be able to let others convince you and change your mind. We believe that this is a great way on making decisions robust. Worst case, as a founder you need to explain your thinking more in depth, which probably isn’t a bad idea either way. Best case you make better decisions and get better outcomes. Side effect: everybody feels aligned. Win-win!
Be nice and show respect
Before founding Perfood, I worked in several other organizations, some small, some large. I observed that it might be difficult to institutionalize “being nice”, but that it is possible. With Perfood, our founding team wanted to create a workplace that we love. Building great stuff with great people in a positive, supportive environment. Here a couple of things that we found helpful.
- As a founder, be nice and supportive. And don’t screw people over. Unfortunately, zillions of stories exist, where founders screw over employees about false promises on employee stock options, the state of the company and future promotions. Don’t do that. Be fair and honest. You are not going to build the company yourself and you need a Rockstar team. Smart people will figure out that they have been screwed over and leave.
- In high-pressure situations, take a step back and focus on facts. Don’t get emotional and blame people but focus on a solution. Particularly, in a startup, you will have challenging situations every week. If you get emotional about it and pass the pressure you feel on to the rest of your team, you will likely not make it for long.
- Don’t allow fights. Yes, we argue. But there is a difference between a positive, controversial argument and a fight. Specifically, when others talk about others behind their back, we don’t appreciate it. We hire adults, not little kids.
- Don’t allow and more importantly, don’t facilitate corporate politics. If you allow people work the management to optimize their personal outcomes, you will likely end up with an inferior outcome for the team.
- Realize that people are wired very differently. Diversity starts with respecting that people come from different backgrounds, learned other things than you and have their own goals in life. Respect that. Whereas employers used to portrait the “ideal” of an employee, I believe that these times are over. A workplace that accommodates diversity will be preferred.
We observe often that many people lack skills in modern work organization. Oddly enough, this affects even people that are in their first half of their careers. The world has gotten incredibly dynamic in terms of technological progress, but also changing regulations and market dynamics. New products and services come and go in warp speed and often it’s first movers who have an edge in the attention economy. The classic system of 10-13 years of school, maybe 3-5 years of higher education and then never reading a textbook again will probably not work for most of us anymore. To cope with today’s dynamics, each of us must continuously invest in education. Some thoughts on this:
- And many of us do already invest in education. We read books, listen to podcasts, watch masterclasses online or even do online courses. Employers should not view continuous education in terms of structured programs, but also factor in less formal education options. At Perfood, we have provided access to Spotify premium, so that a team member can listen to relevant podcasts while commuting.
- Make or buy? In a complex and dynamic world, formal training will likely not be enough to have a productive team. And in my opinion, it is getting more difficult to just hire someone new to do a job. I prefer that existing team members evolve into new roles and grow with the company. Help them do so.
- Facilitate a culture of continuous education with support and demand. People who make an effort to learn, will also demand that from their colleagues. As an employer, you can help people to work on their continuous education by giving them dedicated time or financial resources.
I acknowledge that Perfood is a Series A-stage startup and many things may be difficult to implement in larger organizations. I also don’t claim that everyone should do it like this, but I still would love to give you some thoughts on our experience and hope it’ll be of help.