Culture club: How companies bring cool to the workplace

By , ITworld |  IT Management, corporate culture, Culture

While some people might think that that level of freedom will inevitably be abused, people in engaged workplaces often end up working harder because of it. That seems to be the case at IBM, which got rid of formal vacation time a few year's back and lets employees organize their time on and off themselves. And Anderson notes that, after his late lunch, "I'll probably be here until 8 or 9 p.m. to finish up the work I would have been doing during that time -- but that's because I want to get my work done, not because I'm toiling away trying to meet a daily quota for time spent at my desk. Besides, I really enjoy what I'm doing."

Of course, trusting employees goes beyond just not keeping precise track of the amount of time they spend at their desk. You also have to trust that they have something important to contribute, trust that their ideas are worth consideration. As Carlin Wiegner, CEO and co- founder of CubeTree, puts it, "Everyone needs to have a voice." While companies aren't necessarily run like a democracy, he says that "crazy- good ideas can come from anywhere," and favorably cites Google's policy of giving employees time to work on projects they think are interesting. He suggests that employees use Twitter and other social networking sites to put ideas out there that could benefit the company.

Of course not every idea is going to be a winner, even from the smartest employees; but people are less likely to go out on a limb if they feel that any slip-up will torpedo their career. Theo Schlossnagle, CEO and founder of Web design firm OmniTI, says that at his company, "we struggle from the business level all the way down to technology architecture decisions to ensure that human failures have minimal business impact on our clients or ourselves. This provides a foundation to sustain a culture where employees can make decisions outside the shadow of fear that typically comes with failure ... Having a culture where employees can make an occasional bad judgment without fear of losing their job adds tremendous value to our company by developing experienced staff with significant domain knowledge."

It's the little things

Of course, a corporate culture isn't always defined by anything as high-falutin' and abstract as "trust" or "permission to fail." There are more concrete things that are important as well. It can be good, for instance, to assemble a team that has similiar professional orientations. GridApp's Anderson said that "I've worked in offices before where I was the only person who had ever heard of open source software"; he feels like he meshes much better with his current team, which includes committers to Perl and Linux projects.

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