Are You Working Your Executives Too Hard?


Guy Clapperton, Contributor

August 14, 2014

When looking into start-ups showing a lot of promise, MongoDB is a name that should be up there with the best. A popular open-source database, it’s valued at over $1bn and is expected to go for an IPO. Well, why wouldn’t you?

Oh, and the CEO, Max Schireson, has walked. He’s stepped back to being vice chairman because he wants some quality time with his family. Extrapolate that to include quality time in your life whether you have a family or not and a lot of executives will sympathise. They just can’t afford to ditch their jobs. There’s a brief interview with him on BusinessInsider here. Essentially he believes people should work smarter and not harder, and is critical by implication of the idea that this applies only to women. (He is not anti-women by any means, asking simply that men should have a work/life balance as well).

Practical tips

The difficulty with this idea of ‘working smarter’, though, is that it can mean different things to a lot of different people. As co-author of a book on the subject (see the link at the end if you’re interested) here are a few pointers, some inspired by Schireson’s excellent blog in which he gives his reasons for stepping back.

  • Smarter working should be inclusive. The laws in various countries allow for people with families applying for flexible working to accommodate childcare commitments. OK, now turn this on its head and ask why you can’t extend the same courtesy to people without kids, or whose offspring have left home? Schireson’s blog notes that although his wife gets asked how she fits her job around having three children (she’s a doctor and professor) – as a CEO, he rarely got asked the same thing. Is there a little incipient sexism or other discrimination in your workplace? Get rid of it.
  • Technology can help. Smarter working at its best is about management supported by technology, but Schireson reports having to fly 300,000 miles in one year. Face to face meetings are essential but can your company offer some video conferencing alternatives? Remember, though, that the quality of these conferences is essential – the camera that came with the laptop probably won’t be high-res and its microphone and speakers won’t offer a really immersive conversation. Remember also to train your employees to use their voices effectively; a generation brought up on texting lacks some communication skills outside the electronic world, according to this research from the National Center for Policy Analysis (it’s contentious of course and feel free to disagree).
  • If your colleagues do decide to work from home, remember their workplace still needs an audit and they need advice and support. Is their chair adequate, how about their IT infrastructure? The strength of a domestic Internet connection may be fine for a little email and the odd movie but does your business need something a little more robust? Look also at the security they have. I was at a conference for the UK’s Civil Service (Government employees) only a few weeks ago and although they were keen to work smart, some of the sensitive data they handled couldn’t be seen to leave the office with only current technology to protect it – it may happen in future but not for the moment.
  • If your business decides the smart place to work is actually in the office, consider whether flexible hours will be appropriate in instances where you can measure people by outcomes rather than hours. That way if someone knows they’re not great in the morning, maybe they could work 10-6 rather than 9-5? The co-author of my book finds that he works best on Sunday mornings, so that’s when he clears his in-box and prepares for the week. He then starts off fresher on Monday than most people but, crucially, he takes Thursday afternoons off because he knows he has a dip in energy around that time. His employer is fine with that because the results justify the hours.
  • If you do have an office-based workforce, bear in mind that people need different sorts of spaces for different tasks. A quiet place for concentration, maybe on figures or a PowerPoint presentation, will be different from the desk at which the colleague is seen as available for collaboration the whole time; places for brief meetings of a few minutes might look different from spaces where people need to discuss something for a few hours or host a seminar. Where possible, plan for all of these things – people will be at their best and most productive when their surroundings support their task.

All of this will help make a workforce productive and although I can’t speak for MongoDB and Schireson in particular, my co-author’s company (Plantronics) has noted massively increased employee retention since implementing flexible working as this infographic confirms. Smarter working appears not only to please the staff, it benefits a business’ bottom line; the fact that so many organisations start by thinking about it as a childcare issue is truly stunning.

Guy Clapperton is co-author of The Smarter Working Manifesto

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