After 2 years of pandemic, we have seen an acceleration of the transformation of work practices within companies. Future and present of work are merging, and many questions remain to be answered about what a new normal is and how to embrace it as companies.
I wanted to share here my perspective of the topic and how we approach it at Alan to open the discussion to a larger group.
How to address the growing need of employees for a flexible work environment
Starting from people
Going back to the basics, Peter Drucker defined a “corporation” as “a community built on trust and respect for the workers - not just a profit machine".
Therefore, when discussing those topics, I always like to start from people. I believe that a company is the multiplication of its people. At Alan, we are a pretty young company, celebrating our 6th anniversary this week, but we already are 460+ Alaners located in 76 cities and 9 countries.
We all operate in a very competitive environment where being static means becoming obsolete. It is what we call the “Red Queen” effect. Consequently, one of the main challenges to survive lies in attracting the best talents globally.
In order to attract those talents, we believe you have to give them:
A meaningful mission
The power to make decisions and have an impact
The tools to make those decisions and the transparency of information to make the best decisions possible
A context of mutual trust that allows flexibility on self-organization and better work/life harmony
How do we define flexibility? It is an environment that allows you to organize your time off as you wish, focus on impact, work from anywhere, and continuously learn and grow.
However, it is crucial to note that a flexible environment does not prevent interactions, quite the opposite. Only the working method is different.
Why does it matter?
Well, first, being flexible allows us to hire the best missionaries by breaking free from geographical boundaries. Then, it attracts people who are more trusted, thus more confident and more autonomous, which creates a virtuous circle.
Finally, it enables a switch from a “fordist” model where the same constraints are forced on everyone to a model where everyone’s difference becomes the key to efficiency and teamwork.
Our recipe for success
Of course, there are some risks with giving more flexibility, because we give more opportunities to cheat the system.
However, we feel that we have identified some recipes for success in a flexible work environment. Obviously, they are only ours; there are many different ways to approach it, and it might depend from one industry to another, but here is the way we approach it:
We have a radically transparent way of functioning that promotes honesty and strong work ethic from everyone in the team. We believe it is the key to having a successful flexible environment.
It creates accountability and avoids people taking advantage of the system.
The radical transparency principle can be found in many different forms at Alan: we make all information accessible, all decisions are written, meetings are the last resort, we publicly share problems we run into etc. as detailed below.
By mixing asynchronicity with trust, we stopped tracking our teams’ working hours a long time ago and ended the myth of presenteeism. At Alan, everyone is free to adapt their schedule to their own life constraints and we focus on impact and equity value created.
At Alan, we strive to develop good decision-making muscles everywhere in our company by giving__ context__: we want to become a high-context company.
Why? By making information public we can reduce the threshold to contribution, make collaboration easier and empower Alaners to make the right decisions.
How does it work concretely? We share documents internally, broadly and systematically;
all employees have open access to all company critical information,
all decisions are written,
all our dashboards and metrics are accessible to the team
and we take a lot of time explaining why we have those goals.
As an example, in our weekly update, we share all new developments from the week before (highlights, lowlights, successes, failures) and we challenge each other on the decisions that were made.
In addition to all this content, each Alaner has access to training on how to make decisions. We pride ourselves on how few, not how many, decisions senior Alaners make.
When you are given a lot of autonomy, you need to learn how to manage goals and the progress towards those goals.
At Alan, each Alaner (myself included!) publishes their goals every week, whether they have achieved them or not and everyone has access to them.
In addition to those weekly goals, every Alaner regularly over-communicates on the progress they are making towards those goals to be as transparent as possible.
Regular review process
We also have a review process that allows us to assess performance. The goal is to help each Alaner grow and develop themselves, and to assess their impact and performance fairly through peers, themselves, and their coach. We focus on personal behaviors, demonstrated technical skills and expertise, and scope of ownership.
We do it twice a year; during the last review cycle, 1,290 reviews were completed by Alaners, who spent 2,600 hours on the process, adding up to almost 100k€ of man-hours. We realize it is a costly process but we do it anyway because we believe it is crucial for our Alaners to grow and develop themselves.
Recruitment criteria aligned with your culture
We also have very clear recruitment criteria that reinforce the culture of the company, to only attract people who want to play this game of trust.
To do so, we include in all our recruitment processes a behavioral interview focused on behavioral traits and cultural fit, helping us evaluate the candidate’s future performance and ability to adapt to our culture (ownership, growth mindset, effective communication etc.)
In those interviews, we look for patterns in the candidate’s behavior that would give us clues they would reproduce them successfully in our environment. They ensure that our hiring standards remain strong and do not deteriorate over time.
High engagement and day-to-day support
It is crucial to keep a high engagement within the team, build regular moments where people connect, especially in an environment where people work remotely, and where a lot of newcomers were onboarded remotely.
Therefore, every new Alaner follows a highly personalized onboarding process that guides newcomers on a daily basis throughout our culture and helps them settle at Alan. They also get from day one:
an internal coach, with whom they can talk regularly about self-development: Alaners don’t get hierarchical or directive management but coaching, feedback sessions, and very regular evaluations to allow the personal and professional development of our employees.
a role buddy, a colleague with the same type of role as the new hire who helps them understand how it is done at Alan,
and a culture buddy, a colleague who will talk to them about how culture is translated into everyday actions.
At Alan, teams and sub-teams organize dinners, offsites, visits and informal events to help create a thriving environment in which work doesn’t feel transactional but purposeful instead.
We give the tools and training to our Alaners to learn how to manage notifications and log off at the right time and when necessary.
Impact of new technologies on new working models
I believe the company of the future might look very different from what we’ve known so far and we have to analyze it and understand it.
The questions I often find asking myself are: what if we could collectively make decisions and govern organizations with a new way to lead? What if we could solve problems and increase productivity at scales never imagined because we use software to apply rules?
This is the potential power and promise of DAOs — Decentralized Autonomous Organizations.
I’m not saying DAOs will solve all problems or are a viable solution, they are a very interesting case study.
DAOs are an internet-native new way to organize people; they have the principles of collaboration and collective decision-making at their core.
They can be defined as a network of stakeholders cooperating around common aspirations, without having to ask anyone for permission.
They are transparent and decentralized, their governance is based on community, and all members are owners of the organization; they agree over a set of foundational principles including defining a common goal and how to cooperate towards it, rather than through a top-down hierarchical leadership structure.
Applications of DAOs
The range of applications is infinite:
some act like trusts and manage collectively owned property,
some act like investment firms and pool resources to make investments,
some act like associations and oversee the operation of decentralized financial services
and some act like social clubs.
Are DAOs the future of work? We don’t know yet and we should be nuanced. What is interesting is what we can learn from the increasing popularity of DAOs as organizational structures.
I find those models fascinating and I’m happy to discuss them further on Twitter. You can also find a few links at the end of this article if you would like to read further on the topic.
What is needed to have the workforce of the future ready for this transformation
We need a new education model to prepare the workforce for the new era of cooperation, decentralization and shared knowledge that is coming in the 21st century.
We need to shift from a “vertical education” to education systems that promote “advanced cognitive skills” on top of hard skills: self-esteem, trust, growth mindset, creativity, motivation and ability to solve problems collectively.
There is a lot of empirical evidence (data from experiments from France, the US, Nordic countries) that show that new teaching methods can achieve this goal such as group work, more personalized teachings and evaluation, constructive feedback.
As companies, we all look for those skills. It is our job to help our education system push for this combination of hard and cognitive skills. The journey ahead is very exciting.
I believe we are living at an exciting time: we have an amazing opportunity to change the status quo and transform the way we work together to give more power to the team.
What is the new standard then? It is a company that manages to combine innovation, excellence and speed of decision, that gives (itself) a mission and meaning, that shows kindness and empathy towards its employees and that cares about their well-being. And, above all, this must not be limited to words, and must be seen and experienced on a daily basis.
It is the new present of work.
Isn't radical transparency a trap, and on the contrary a means of controlling employees?
The risk of having a controlling environment could arise if there was no symmetry in the company. For example if some leaders were not accountable for their work. On the contrary, we are committed to having the example set by those with the greatest responsibility; and everyone can challenge and question myself or our business leads on their work every week, publicly. We are aware that this way of working is demanding, and we believe that it is collectively virtuous.
What is the distinction between public and private life/what respect for privacy?
What is public within the company concerns exclusively operational decisions. The public limit is clearly set: personal data is protected and decisions that primarily concern a person in his or her relationship with the company, career development, professional mobility, etc. are subjects that are dealt with privately and then made public depending on the usefulness of doing so.
If you enjoyed this blogpost, please find below some articles to deep dive on the topics mentioned:
My book, Healthy Business, on how to reconcile hyper-growth and well-being at work
The Generalist detailed dive into DAOs
(DAOs) Canon by a16z listing dozens of articles on the topic
Trust, cooperation and autonomy: for a 21st century school, CAE, 2018.
What Teachers for the 21st Century, Synthesis Report, 2020.
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