Outcome Focused Work Environments

This post was written by Ola Sitarska and Salim Hamid, from Pollen’s Engineering Team. 

Ola Sitarska is Pollen’s VP of Engineering. She is the co-founder of Django Girls and a member of the Django Software FoundationSalim Hamid is Pollen’s Technical Recruiter. He previously scaled Deliveroo’s tech team from 12 people to over 280 as their first recruitment specialist.

At Pollen, we create an environment which is focused on outcomes. For those unfamiliar with the benefits, we’d like to shed some light on a forward-thinking approach to creating a successful working environment.

What is an Outcome-Focused Work Environment?

Individuals and teams discuss suitable business outcomes with their managers and, once those are agreed, the rest is up to the employee. At Pollen you’re completely free to work in a way that suits you and your team, as long as those objectives are met. This includes choosing the hours you work, the holiday you take, and where you work from. 

A typical 9-to-5 is just that: employees have set working hours where they’re expected to be in the office. Chances are you or somebody you know has worked in an environment like this. If so, think about the times you were watching the clock count down until you could go home, or those times you knew you would be able to approach a problem more effectively in the morning. At Pollen, that doesn’t happen.

Because we only measure outcomes, we don’t need to worry about any of the things that are a poor indicator of effectiveness, such as time. If it takes somebody four hours to complete a project, we don’t assume it’s inherently better or worse than one done by someone who took two hours. Our employees’ time is our most valuable resource. If you can deliver high quality outcomes and still have time to do the things you need to outside of work, that’s just perfect for us.

We think of it as a mindset that helps us facilitate teams to do their best work, rather than impose a set of rules and guidelines that force it.

How does it work in practice?

We think of the office as just another tool, like a printer. If you had nothing to print and getting to the printer meant a one-hour journey during rush hour, it wouldn’t make sense to stand near the printer for a whole day. Likewise, if you don’t have a reason to be in the office, and can still work effectively, then please do so from wherever you like.

At Pollen, we use Slack to communicate across the company. We’ve decided that half-day increments feel about right for letting people know our availability. We simply pop a quick “WFH” or “offline, at a workshop in the AM” for example, into one of the relevant channels to let people know our availability. Any message like “Sorry, I have to WFH today, my child is sick and I tried to get an evening appointment but they only had morning slots” is shut down by management. Why? We trust our teams and Slack isn’t a timesheet; you don’t need to explain why you’re working in the way you are.

Our teams are often much more explicit about setting their norms and ways of working, which benefits everyone, even those who like to be in the office 9-to-5. One of our teams, for example, has decided that their most productive time is in the morning, so meetings are saved for the afternoon. This allows everyone in the team to maximise their focus and productivity throughout the day.

This approach also means we can take as much holiday as we need. No strings attached, that’s as much paid holiday as we need. In fact, nothing would make us happier than creating an environment that means you can still produce high quality work whilst enjoying your life outside of Pollen! We only track holiday to comply with HR laws, and for contract purposes we state 28 days minimum holiday. We also ask that if you’re planning a long trip, you let your manager and team know as early as possible, and vice versa.

What are some of the immediate benefits and challenges?

One clear benefit for us all is that we have access to the huge pool of talented people who find a 9-to-5 doesn’t suit them. Our team is considerably more diverse than many other startups and we can hire based on talent, not availability. We can also better retain our top performers, because of the happier working life we’ve created.

Because we don’t measure performance by attendance or by following any specific process, everyone working here has to be in tune with what good looks like for their role and outcomes, then self-regulate around that. This can be a big adjustment for people joining from more traditional environments, and a big part of the management role at Pollen is to help people understand themselves and their goals well enough to self-regulate and self-serve.

How has this helped Pollen build a better product?

In lots of ways!

The more diverse pool of people we’ve been able to attract means our product is being built by people that are much more representative of our end user, which is a huge bonus not currently afforded to many startups. This give us extra context during all parts of the decision making process, which in turn allows us to to gain a competitive edge over our rivals.

It also helps create a genuinely enjoyable working environment. We consistently report high numbers in our employee satisfaction surveys, which is great and something we’re dedicated to score even higher on. Employees produce their best work when they’re happy on a holistic level, and that leads to a world-beating product as well as being named the Tech Track 100’s 7th fastest growing startup.

We’re always looking for exciting, talented people.
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