The Courage of a Dot-Less Workplace.
A virtual office is exactly what a creativity-driven business like Pixite needs. The majority of our team operates remotely, many working from home and/or telecommuting. This kind of remote work environment might seem worrisome to those more comfortable with the traditional office setup where employees are a few literal steps away at all times. But it’s a brave, new, technology-driven world in which we find ourselves, and Pixite embraces this change.
We understand that the core of extraordinary and flourishing creativity, throughout the ages, has been a wholly internal agent, a metaphorical chemical that productively reacts when highly personal conditions are met. For some, it’s the condition of solitude, even voluntary isolation. For others, it’s a need to clear away nuisance distractions and have access to uninterrupted focus. For others, still, to surround themselves with the stimuli of movement, activity, and noise.
“If you’re to create something powerful and important, you must at the very least be driven by an equally powerful inner force.” ~ Ryan Holiday
Little to be found in the ancient and revered scrolls of “effective work environments” actually works for those of us who think, design, and create for a living. Yet, as the physical-office construct disintegrates, fears have surfaced that employees who are out of sight mean jobs that are out of mind. It’s a huge, complicated misconception at best, and, at worst, acts as a repressive force against the forward motion otherwise so critical to the success of a business. We can already see that just a few years of acquiescing to these fears, (through what some have dubbed the “green dot” phenomenon of omniscience and immediate, often unending availability,) has contributed to a new permutation of the Office Culture that not only fails to respect employee agency, but actually demands higher degrees of responsiveness and availability than the physical office ever did. It certainly demands higher degrees than are reasonable for healthy, productive humans.
The questions du jour: How will we know if our remote employees are actually working during office hours? How do we stop them from (we assume) goofing off?
These are antiquated questions being co-opted for a modern, if imagined, business-world dilemma, and are entirely the wrong questions to be asking. Yet, at the time, the industry continues to respond with an arsenal of Big Brother tools intended to create more deadline-driven practices, cultivate a sense of “hustle”, aim for more granular project tracking with more reporting mechanisms and finer conditions of progress, call for more recommended meetings of more types with more people (the “meetings about meetings”), and so on. In some cases, businesses have even introduced new invasions of privacy like internet-usage tracking or draconian rules that require employees to have a “green dot” indicating their availability, according to company policies (hence, the birth of the term.) All this in the name of increasing engagement and inclusion, at least ostensibly. In practice, however, this kind of heavy-handed monitoring and on-the-rails approach tends to backfire. Behold, a sort of “green dot rebellion” movement that is taking place at a grass-roots level and gathering notable momentum already.
The “green dot” requirement—that is, the expectation that remote employees not only be available to degrees that aren’t realistic but also to constantly ping or report that expected availability at all times to everyone they work with—is the antithesis of what creativity-based work needs to thrive. It doesn’t work for many, it doesn’t work for long, and it doesn’t work for Pixite.
Pixite is people. Real people with children who get the flu and have science projects due in twelve hours. You know, the “that jar of fruit flies isn’t going to write its own report, Dad.” project. Real people with the in-laws that drop in unexpectedly, or the internet service provider experiencing an outage, or the dog that just produced something truly exciting on the good rug while we’re in the middle of composing an article. Pixite is doing something truly remarkable in the business world: we are choosing to respond to the matter of our developers and Creatives being real people by being, well, realistic.
So, how do we manage a remote workforce? We use Basecamp. A web-based organizational and communications platform for businesses that enables us to keep in touch with each other without relying on the proverbial “online” signal. There’s nothing in this tool that indicates to others that an employee is or is not available to be, quite frankly, interrupted. In fact, Basecamp was one of the first companies to use the expression “green dot rebellion” to describe the movement away from over-monitoring.
At Pixite, we recognize that each of us is busy. We’re all working. We’re all doing things. We’re all linked and we’re all productive. But we’re not watching each other and measuring productivity or availability against some arbitrary, archaic yardstick that no longer has any utility in this modern world of mobile employees. We check in with one another regularly, but not compulsively or under any strict orders to do so. We’re not helicopter employees, circling one another with an eye for every opportunity to interfere, interject, or otherwise intrude. We appreciate and support one another’s capacity for agency and self-management, both from a professional standpoint and from a generative one.
It’s not that we have anything to prove, but we’ll prove it anyway: Creative people work best when they aren’t trussed up by the pressure to produce inside a business construct designed around performance and presence auditing, dictatorial pursuance, and rigid schedules that contradict the natural behavior and lifestyles of most human beings. It takes some courage to trust that one’s employees are going to do everything they need to do without being monitored every moment of their work day. Pixite trusts. And we think we’re doing pretty great.
“Routine kills creative thought.” ~ Scarlett Thomas