You know what’s common among the “How I Work”s of  Jason Fried or Matt Mullenweg or anyone who’s building ‘cool’ software today?

Take Fried, for instance:

Of the 16 people at the company, eight of us live here in Chicago. Employees come to the office if and when they feel like it, or else they work from home. I don’t believe in the 40-hour workweek, so we cut all that BS about being somewhere for a certain number of hours. I have no idea how many hours my employees work — I just know they get the work done.

Or Mullenweg:

…my preference is to work from home. We’re very much a virtual company where everyone primarily works from home (or their coffee shop of choice). The half dozen of us in the Bay Area will go in on Thursdays to have a little company, but six days out of the week the space is usually empty.

But chances are you spend two hours commuting to and two hours from work. Or have to punch in and punch out. Or have to spend a minimum of 8 or 8 1/2 hours at work. Or have a limited number of holidays. Or have to take permission to work from home. Or all of these one-size-fits-all policies.

And but still, but yet, Management would concede that the folks at 37signals and Automattic are, by any measure, more productive than their employees.  And also that there’s a positive causal relationship between autonomy and productivity. So why aren’t more companies… why do policies at your average co overwhelmingly SQUELCH autonomy?

Management is uncomfortable with issues of autonomy [1], but they will tell you (sotto voce) they don’t trust their employees to be productive without a nurturing environment, oh forget it, without external control and supervision [2].  That’s tragic. Whyever hire people you can’t trust, watched over by supervisor watched over by supersupervisor watched over by all the way up to top management?

Because if every employee was someone you could trust, was as good as the best employee, there’d be no problem.  So why not hire everyone who’s as good? Because, <impatient shake of head>, because you can’t afford to pay everybody what you pay your best employees.

And then, doggedly you ask, but then would you need as many people? Wouldn’t you have fewer people, better people, autonomous people, sensible productive happy people, if you hired just the really good ones? And Management responds, reflex-like, <check!>, and where am I going to find these people?


What Management has is a problem of time. Finding these people, these really good people, wooing them, getting them excited, selling the role to them and selling them on the role is intense, time-consuming work.

And but running co is a daily operation. That moment when co becomes too big for Founders (the very who metamorphose into Management) to run effectively, that moment is the moment when Founders need to spend time, emotion, effort finding and netting those good people and it is also the moment when they can least spare that time, emotion, effort.

So it goes. From Founders to first-rung Management to middle Management to all the way down, supervisoring and supersupervisoring. So then what do you do?

What indeed?

[1] or with any issue involving people except for the stuff the people produce for the co.

[2] Except for their best. And they can’t make exceptions for those they can trust because that’d make the rest resentful.

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4 Responses to Workplace

  1. Anis Gandhi says:

     Great point, some factors may vary with companies, but overall, yeah it’s true.

    • Rahul Gaitonde says:

      And true with every company beyond the very smallest. Terrible – considering they’re the only type that wanted to hire us at K. Swoop in one day, swoop out with a handful of black suits :)

  2. Shrey Banga says:

     Well said. What wouldn’t I give to be allowed to work from home, at 2 in the night because that’s when I’m the most efficient.
    Perhaps taking the middle path of creating a workplace where people want to go to, even when the choice is up to them, is the best bet.

    • Rahul Gaitonde says:

      “workplace where people want to go” is often constrained by factors external to the workplace itself. If I live in a suburb of Bombay and my workplace is in the central mill (now business) district, nothing will make me choose coming to work over working from home. Soul-sucking travel.

      But there’s a second problem. If these people you’ve hired are not the absolute best that you can find (and they hire in the same manner) it’s sort of pointless investing in a workplace you’d then want them to come to. 

      I guess it’s easier throwing money at a problem (later) than investing time in it (earlier).

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