I was really intrigued by this story, as I work best when I am not restricted by which hours/where, but by having a rolling list of tasks that need to be completed, and knowing that I need to complete them all (a Mark Forster kind of approach), and I find ‘presenteeism’ to be quite stifling in what I need to do – I get very creative around 10pm, so if I have to be in the office 9-5 every day it would be hard. I do need to be specific places, and I do get holiday hours, but I always find that crazy when I have put in a lot more time than I’m paid for, then taking a few hours here & there! C’est la vie!! Thankfully I do work with people who value autonomy, and trust me to know the outcomes that are required – and they get a lot out of me that way!!

“For instance, ever more companies are realising that autonomy isn’t the opposite of accountability – it’s the pathway to it. “Rules and policies and regulations and stipulations are innovation killers. People do their best work when they’re unencumbered,” says Steve Swasey, Netflix’s vice-president for corporate communication. “If you’re spending a lot of time accounting for the time you’re spending, that’s time you’re not innovating.”

The same goes for expenses. Employees typically don’t need to get approval to spend money on entertainment, travel, or gifts. Instead, the guidance is simpler: act in Netflix’s best interest. It sounds delightfully adult. And it is – in every regard. People who don’t produce are shown the door. “Adequate performance,” the company says, “gets a generous severance package.”

The idea is that freedom and responsibility, long considered fundamentally incompatible, actually go together quite well.

What’s more, the Netflix holiday policy reveals the limits of relying on time in managing the modern workforce. In an era when people were turning screws on an assembly line or processing paper in an office, the connection between input and output was tight. The more time you spent on a task, the more you produced.

But in much white-collar work today, where one good idea can be orders of magnitude more valuable than a dozen mediocre ones, the link between the time you spend and the results you produce is murkier. Results are what matter. How you got there, or how long it took, is less relevant.

Finally, the Netflix technique demonstrates how the starting premises of workplace arrangements can shape behaviour.

In his new book, Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age, New York University scholar, Clay Shirky, argues that when we design systems that assume bad faith from the participants, and whose main purpose is to defend against that nasty behaviour, we often foster the very behaviour we’re trying to deter. People will push and push the limits of the formal rules, search for every available loophole, and look for ways to game the system when the defenders aren’t watching. By contrast, a structure of rules that assumes good faith can actually encourage that behaviour.

So if you think people in your organisation are predisposed to rip you off, maybe the solution isn’t to build a tighter, more punitive set of rules. Maybe the answer is to hire new people.

To paraphrase one Netflix executive, the company doesn’t have a clothing policy either. But – so far at least – nobody has shown up to work naked.”

Read full story in the Telegraph – and of course we can see how unusual this policy is because it’s made the news!

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