This is part of a blog series of Improvement Interactive’s journeys in enterprise application development. Improvement Interactive develops large, complex systems for a variety of clients. Today’s installment highlights how we manage and build a strong culture with a team that is 100% distributed.
Improvement Interactive has operated with a 100% distributed team for over 15 years now. It is foolish to say that it is an easy thing to manage, however, through trial and error we have learned how to make this work and enjoy the benefits. How we manage our team’s schedules is vastly different from most companies.
We actually don’t really manage it at all. We give our employees general guidelines that we ask that they follow, but apart from that we don’t get involved in managing our employee’s schedules. For the most part, it is in their hands to choose what days and what times they work.
When it comes to day to day schedules, we do not hold true to the standard 8 to 5 schedule. We tell all of our employees that they can work the hours that seem reasonable to them. We only ask that a couple of standards be held.
We do ask that our full-time employees work 40 hours per week. This standard is probably not surprising. However, how the employee schedules their 40 hours is flexible. A popular schedule among our employees is to work 9 hour days and then work a 4 hour day on Friday.
Also, due to the flexibility that we give, people can schedule around important daily events such as picking the kids up from school or allowing for 2-hour lunch breaks if desired.
We use Microsoft’s Skype for Business for our internal communication tool. Via the tool, we ask that all of our team members post the hours that they generally work using Eastern Standard Time (EST). That way if a team member needs to know when someone will be available during the average day, they can just look at their Skype profile. Example: My hours that I post are Mon — Thurs 9am — 7pm & Fri 10am — 2pm EST.
Like a lot of organizations, we split up our entire staff into smaller teams that work on specific projects. We then request them to be generally available during peak work hours for the rest of the team. For example, if most people on a particular team work sometime within the hours of 10am to 2pm EST, then we ask that new additions to the team be generally available during those hours. This works really well, and, in fact, we have one employee that works 10am to 2pm MST, and then works 10pm to 2am MST. He chose this schedule in order to fulfill his obligations to the rest of the team (work during peak work hours) but then is able to become very productive during those late night, quiet hours. This allows him to go to spend more time with his family and attend family events while fulfilling his work duties at a time when his peak productivity is highest.
The intention of these guidelines is to ensure that teams have the ability to organize spur of the moment meetings if needed, or so that team members know when they can expect others to be available.
Since employees can schedule their own work day, it is not uncommon for our staff to run errands during the day. Of course, we still ask that they put in their 40 hours for the week, and we ask that these errands be during non-peak work hours. For example, if the team work 10am to 2pm EST, then scheduling a doctor’s appointment after 2pm is preferred. Of course, if it is not possible to schedule the errands during off times, then it is still allowed. We just ask that employees don’t abuse their privileges, which is generally accepted because we have a strong culture of trust within the organization.
Most teams have scheduled 15-minute scrum meetings on a regular basis. These meetings are shorter in nature and tackle three main issues. What have we accomplished, what needs to be accomplished, and what issues are getting in the way of our future work?
These meetings are scheduled during peak working hours. Also, these meeting times have to have a little more thought put into them because of varying time zones.
Our daily schedules are not the only thing that doesn’t fit organizational norms. We also have unique vacation and paid time off policies.
Most employees earn up to 24 paid days off that can be used at any time.* Each pay period (employees get paid twice a month) our employees earn 1 paid day off. These paid time off days cannot exceed 24 days. If the employee accrues all 24 days and does not want to take time off then they can be paid for those days.
If an employee wants to take a day off, then they simply mark the community calendar that they are off. No need to time off approved by a manager. The only time that a manager’s approval is necessary is if the amount of days taken will equal or exceed 10 calendar days.
We choose to not have any standard holidays in which the entire company takes off. The primary reason is because our employees live in several different countries and not all holidays are recognized from country to country. For example, while many of the US based employees will take off the 4th of July, our employees that live in Canada do not have to take this day.
These policies and guidelines work really well for our team and our culture. It works well for us because we hire good people and have built trust across the organization. We’re proud to have created this amount of autonomy in our organization and happy to share how remote working can be achieved with great results.
* One exception to the 24 paid days off is for our employees living in Karnataka, India. We had to adapt our policy to meet state gov’t requirements. In the end, however, these employees receive similar paid leave benefits.
The core Improvement Interactive team has worked together for 20 years. We have a proven track record of delivering enterprise software solutions to our customers. Improvement Interactive combines software development and process improvement to provide solutions to your business. Improvement Interactive stays with you for the long-haul, helping you to manage change and achieve success. We integrate scalable, secure technology into your processes and existing IT environment.
One client manages more than 14,000 units and more than $20 billion in transactions annually with an Improvement Interactive built system. For another, we built a worldwide training management system with funds collection spanning 40 countries and six continents.
Improvement Interactive is about business. We use technology to improve your processes.
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