Brad Feld posts about Office hours during college and how he tries to do similar things now at their TechStars incubator. We have a different take on office hours at DeepRockDrive but so far it works out really well and I thought it would be interesting to share.
When I started working with DeepRockDrive the technology folks up here in the Seattle area didn’t have a real office at all yet. Folks just met most days in a coffee shop and would hang out and work on the code. There were a few contractors scattered off around various parts of the world and people would often work at home. Everyone would log in to Skype all day in a common chat room so you get the similar concept to shouting over to the guy at the desk near you.
We have had an office now for several months, but its over in Bellevue. Our staff is all over the Puget Sound area and traffic isn’t so wonderful around here most of the time. I was hoping we could maintain some of the culture of being able to avoid wasting 40-60 minutes a day in traffic plus the advantages of being able to concentrate at my home office (not to mention reducing the environmental impact of all that driving especially in stop and go traffic). At the same time to act as a well oiled agile startup we need to have great communication with each other and it was sometimes really difficult to find a time when all the right people were around to discuss a given topic.
What we came up with was the concept of “core office hours”. This is roughly Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10am to 3pm. During those times people are expected to be in the office (with the obvious exceptions for vacation, travel, important appointments, etc). Those are great times to schedule a meeting, plus you can usually pull together the right people for an impromptu meeting for just about anything. But, with the limited hours this also helps prevent our schedules from filling up with constant meetings so we have solid times to get code done, tested, write important documents, etc. On Tuesday and Thursdays I can avoid getting in the car at all. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday when I do need to go into the office I can do it at a time when traffic is WAY better (20min vs 40-60) plus its a nicer time if you want to bike too.
So far overall I’d say this system is working great, but I do have a few thoughts about some considerations that are necessary to make it work-
- It is not going to work for all job roles. Some types of jobs require you to be at the central place where people can be there together. And the job needs to be something where the output is pretty measurable- if you can’t tell if someone is goofing off, its going to breed ill-will. If the job is something where the results speak for themselves (amount of code written, bugs found, etc) it is a good fit.
- It is not going to work for all people. To make this work you need people that are very self-motivated and self-starting.
- The Skype thing helps us a ton (although any other form of live chat-room with presence information also works). It helps both give us that ability to communicate and get problems solved with colleagues in real time, as well as helps people be visibly “on the job”.
- It helps to have good network resources. We rely on a combination of the Skype stuff, as well as GMail, Google Docs, Basecamp, and an SVN and Trac server that we have deployed in our data-center. I’d also point out that all of those services are accessible without VPN so our staff can easily work on stuff from home / a cafe / vacation / the road. In theory having to VPN shouldn’t matter but I’ve always found it to be a big barrier to getting real work done.