Zahid Irfan

@zahidirfan

Bringing human back into HR

How I built a company where culture meant cultured

Backstory

My experience as the founder of a startup, web development services company was predated with 10+ years in academia and industry. In those years I experienced a lot of things which never felt great. Let me give an example inspite of working for a company over time and usually at night I was always expected to be either be present the next day at the usual ‘start time’. At one point in time I came back from an official trip carried out over the weekend (500 km from my residence). I reached back home at 4:30–5:00am and when I could not get up and reach at usual office hours I got a call and was asked to reach office. Similarly very dedicated teachers that I saw were given show cause notices for either not checking the examinations papers in time or not delivering quizzes in time. Please note the teachers were not assigned any Teaching Assistant or Grader given the class sizes were 50+ for each section ( each teacher teaching at least 3 sections per semester).

Culture

The above are just a sample (maybe a bit more similar) of when a company forces sincere employees to look for moving over to other opportunities. So when I got the opportunity to create a company culture I wanted it to be according to my vision based on my experiences. I won’t bore with the details but here are the salient features of some of the policies.

  1. No attendance policy.
  2. Every team member was allowed to come at any time and leave at any time. It was left to the discretion of the individual to ensure the work is completed no questions asked.
  3. Every member was able to take as much vacations as needed. The salary was never deducted. The was again left on the discretion of the employee.
  4. Every member was allowed to take lunch breaks or game breaks whenever they feel like. There was no set rules from the management about the timings or duration.

Some of these policies were changed especially number one later and there was an attendance register but it was never used for anything useful.

Results & Impact

While these policies were criticised by almost everybody at one point or another, but I was amazed at how the employees themselves critcised them and forced me to put an attendance register. Similarly the leave policy was always scrutinised by the management team as well as the employees. The curious case of the employees who wanted to know the total number of leaves but also the breakup like medical, casual and annual leaves. Maybe it was because of the rigid rules elsewhere that forced the employees to ask these questions.

I think the above rules were able to cultivate the following impact.

Positives

  1. Employees never felt being in a cage and hence were for the most part happy to come to the office
  2. It created a sense of ownership and self management which resulted in less tense environment
  3. The employees were willing to put in more time voluntarily to complete the tasks since they knew they could complete them anytime they want.
  4. General quality of work did not suffer since the team members knew what they had to deliver and how to test it.
  5. The freedom enhanced the overall morale
  6. Employee turnover was very much low.

Negatives

  1. It took the teams a lot of time to come to terms of when they want to schedule a meeting especially scrums. This still was positive in a way that the teams managed to come up with a unanimous schedule as compared to a forced schedule.
  2. Most of the employees were not very sure (rightly so because of their previous trainings as well as observing other companies) whether the company really stood by these rules. The often led to uncertainity and anxiety.

Finally the task of an human resource department is to help the employees become better human instead of robots working under instructions.

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