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I work in a company that is more business than technology orientated and are only recently adding a more significant technology component.

Their current culture reflects the business and marketing side of business and is very different from the software industry culture that I have experienced recently.

How can I encourage our small group to develop a culture that is more similar to that in software development? Specifically I mean things like:

  • flexible hours
  • possibility for remote work
  • respect for "working in the zone"
  • more casual environment and interactions with colleagues

It seems like many of the more traditional ways of valuing employees contrast against a more techy environment. How can I introduce this to management in an attempt to encourage a more typical tech culture?

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"... things like hours, remote work, programming in the zone ..." - man have you every seen a company where those values are really respected? Tell me where and I will move in. –  Nerevar Jun 16 '12 at 7:36
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@IndorilNerevar Actually, those are core values in my company, and every one of the developers who works for me would agree -- it's rare, but it's out there. :) –  jcmeloni Jun 16 '12 at 13:35
    
I think this probably depends a lot on the age of the company, older companies don't seem to be nearly as flexible in terms of corporate culture like this –  Rarity Jun 16 '12 at 18:23
    
@IndorilNerevar - Absolutely, they are out there, my place is pretty close and one of the progenitors of the Stack Exchange system became a popular blogger, in part by espousing such values. –  Mark Booth Jun 18 '12 at 12:38
1  
Indoril, I've worked in such places too - they do exist. In my experience they represent about 20% of the jobs. So search well! –  Michael Durrant Jun 19 '12 at 11:37

6 Answers 6

up vote 9 down vote accepted

It does depend a lot on the requirements of your team.

I have seen HR teams work with a similar culture and it worked out fine. People couldn't expect service from them outside of core hours, but in fact it turned out you just got a better coverage (someone available from 8 til 6:30).

If you're dealing with the outside world, there is generally an expectation that you can contact a company in normal office hours and someone will be there who can help. But as long as you make sure enough people have responsibility to be in during those hours, some flexibility is still workable.

Technology may be an issue. Some people simply cannot do their jobs from home, but many could that still don't.

Now, let's assume that you can technically do this. How would you sell it to management?

I would go with an approach of "You want the best people in the industry working here, right? [everyone thinks they do, even if they don't act accordingly] How better to do that than adopt a flexibility that doesn't exist elsewhere? How valuable is the ability to say 'I need to have a new fridge delivered tomorrow, can I work from home?' How valuable is the option to come in early and leave early, every now and then?"

Edit: Having reread your question, I think you're talking about a tech team in a non-tech company. In that case, the approach is slightly adjusted to "Why would the best people, who have options, come here rather than going to a technical company with a tech culture and a flexibility that our people don't enjoy? You would have to offer significantly above market rate to entice them."

In a travel company I recently worked for, I kept repeating the phrase "You're not competing with other travel companies for developers, you're competing with other tech companies," until it stuck.

Also, get the HR records, figure out how many sick days could have been saved by someone saying "Look, I've got an upset stomach, I can't be in an office today, but I can do the same job effectively at home."

Finally, working in the zone is a slightly diverse point from the rest. I would suggest that any thought-worker should be able to expect their manager to create a situation that limits interruptions. If they can't then their manager needs to understand they're not going to be as productive as they could be (which, honestly, is always an option, as long as it's understood).

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Well, first I think you need to evaluate if the responsibilities of your department vis a vis interacting with the rest of the company can actually support some of the more traditional software development perks you name. If you're in a non-technical company, it would be irresponsible to focus solely on the traditional software dev perks at the expense of the business.

If your department is small and isolated from the rest of the company, then it will be a lot easier to try and introduce these cultural changes. However, if your whole company is small, everyone works together and your (i.e. software dev team) customers are primarily internal folks, then I'd say you have a much more difficult road to travel and should only reach for those achievable and reasonable perks.

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Do you know why the company doesn't already have flexible hours, work from home and other ideas you want? If you don't know the specific concerns management has, I'd consider asking to find out what are the reasons why they don't already do this stuff. That would help frame why these may be something good to do and how to set up a pilot to try this and see what happens. A key point here isn't that you have the answers and that some experimentation will be regular review and adjustments that is kind of the heart of Agile, IMHO.

A couple of book recommendations if you want other sources to consider:

Drive by Dan Pink discusses ideas such as Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose that is likely qualities you are wanting to see in your workplace.

Gettings Results the Agile Way would be another book recommendation on this though in this case it is from a technical person well versed in Agile philosophies.

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I read a book that addresses some aspects of this:

http://www.amazon.com/Leaders-Guide-Radical-Management-Reinventing/dp/0470548681

The premise of the book is that there are some companies out there that have many of the cultural aspects you're looking for, and most (but not all!) of them are software development companies.

Another thing you can try is instead of focusing on the things that non-tech people are not used to and don't see valuable (like flexible hours), focus on things they might find valuable (such as having regular demos). That might help you get more slack when they see that the things they care about are happening.

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I have seen two or three rather stark examples of how developer culture clashes with ‘non-developer’ mindsets. You have more problems than just the idea of flexible hours and ‘work at home’. What’s interesting is that some of the worst actors are ‘right down the hall’ in equipment sales and tech support.

First, your company should probably roll out a subsidiary with a distinct location and distinct set of policies. In effect, this ‘developer shop’ has one customer: the rest of the organization.

Sales and support roles tend to be bound by the business-hours clock. One doesn’t sell a new server configuration at 7:00 PM on Saturdays. While tech support might be on-call, they are normally expected to answer the phone when users are at their desks. Tech support has a 15 minute mindset - can we get there and get this fixed before people finish their coffee break?

Organizational policies flow from this. Thus people are expected to be at their desk at 8:00 AM and they’re dismissed at 5:00. Marketing groups are either responding to emails, making presentations, or otherwise engaging in business to business ‘handshaking’ when customers are at their respective stations. Thus there is little flexibility on time, and working at home is in certain respects an impossibility.

What one inserts into this is a creative actor who is supposed to deliver an eCommerce solution in, say, anywhere from 3 to 18 months. Where they are at 8:00 AM is pretty much immaterial. Some work should be done at night when people dependent on the data are home when it’s time to make database and deployment changes. You could probably write major chunks of the system from a laptop while basking on a beach. However, any employee doing this is going to generate a lot of resentment in people that are ‘chained to their desk’ - which often includes at least the senior managers, if not the owner.

The ‘separate company’, in this context, has the policy for the flexible workday, however, to be employed by it one has to prove they have developer chops, or can otherwise demonstrate that they aren’t clock bound in their role. People that set up marketing campaigns might also benefit from this, with the obvious exceptions being when they’re due to be at a show or a client’s office. You get into this group if you meet certain formally described criteria: technically skills, analytical skills, writing skills, and long term project assignments.

If you’re current bosses don’t see the value in it, back up your position with historical success stories, and mention it every few weeks to the managers. They probably won’t pay any attention, but they might seriously consider implementation if they’re literally ‘starving’.

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If you're going for making a change in your workplace, go through the channels as to how a Software Development Life Cycle tends to evolve throughout a project.
Make a suggestion to the HR team about this and see if they can facilitate flexible work timings, work from home provisions. There were a lot of suggestions for flexible hours in my current organization to the HR team, which finally came through after a few months.
As to the respect for "working in the zone" is something that can't easily be imposed on just by changing a few rules. Set up an example with like-minded people and follow the practice. Eventually, the hard work will pay off. I've tried doing so, but it has not quite helped me, but I can see that it hasn't been completely futile.
Casual interactions are something hard to come by in business oriented organizations, but they can put up a strong driving force for improvement. Talk about this to senior members of the company who can guide help project the scenario into their teams and eventually yours.

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Hey Sylar, and welcome to The Workplace! The best answers here provide references or personal experience that explain why and how this is the answer to the question. If possible, could you please edit your answer to include a bit more detail? Thanks in advance! –  jmac Nov 11 '13 at 2:57

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