As our team grows, we are starting to document our values as a company. After 15 years running Wildbit we surely have some values we live by. They exist without even mentioning them. They can be seen in our products, our environment, our work style and the people who have stayed on the team year after year. We also want to define our values to allow us to grow. As new people joined the team, we didn’t have a proper way to explain our values, so we wanted to get them down on paper.
Writing down our values is not about some crappy document no one will ever read. The real goal is to use our values as a way to avoid rigid policies and have a set of values and principles to drive everything we do at Wildbit. They should be front and center at all times and posted on the front page of our company site.
We just recently returned from our company retreat in Dominican Republic (more to come about this). We’re now 19 people, so it was the biggest retreat yet, and from my point of view the best yet. A majority of the retreat was spent talking about process, communication and values. I think one of the most important topics was on flexible working hours. Before I get in to why, let me give you some backstory.
Up until a few years ago, Wildbit was 100% remote. We had been for 12 years and Natalie and I were the only ones in the US. We had extremely flexible hours and most of the team had very quite mornings while the US customers were still sleeping. When we decided to move some people to Philadelphia, we settled into an office and hired locally. We are now 11 people in the Philadelphia office. While a lot of people are attempting to go remote these days, our struggle was the opposite. How do we take a team who is used to remote work and have them come into an office every day? It wasn’t too hard because everyone was excited to work together. It was like a permanent retreat. At the same time, we started to implement office-like policies. I can’t remember when we implemented it, but at some point we came up with strict 9–5 hours. The goal was not to restrict everyone, it was actually to have everyone working together and to force everyone to go home at night to spend time with family. We don’t want anyone working more than 40 hours a week here.
One of the homework questions before the retreat for everyone was “What would make you more productive in terms of your environment, schedule or process?” After going around the room there was a consensus our 9–5 was just too restrictive. The real problem wasn’t the hours, but that it caused a general “guilt” for doing anything else during those hours aside from sitting in your chair. If someone was exhausted at 4:30pm, they will still sit around until 5pm. If someone was inspired late night, getting up at 9am was miserable. If someone wanted to take a walk they felt bad. We would never want that feeling at Wildbit and it’s the exact opposite of how we had built the company. Natalie and I were devastated. We had to fix it.
Before we set out to fix it we had to figure out how we got here. One thing Natalie and I noticed is that the strict rules were actually created for a couple of bad apples on the team (who are no longer here). They were taking advantage of the team, so we set policies to get around it. As naive founders, we didn’t see the damage we were creating. Why should the entire team suffer for the mistakes of one or two people? It wasn’t fair and it surely wasn’t the company we have built. It didn’t align with our values. As a result, we came up with a much more flexible schedule based around mutual respect, communication and real results.
So what does this have to do with values? After we talked about this and discussed the problems as a team (all 18 of us on the retreat), we decided the most basic rule (value?) on our team is Don’t be an asshole. Our values should define how we grow the company, the decisions we make and the environment we work in. If our values really define who we are and what we love, no policy can ever compete with that. And if someone is on this team and breaks those values along with the trust of the rest of the team, they’re an asshole. So while our core values revolve around respect, doing the work of our lives, transparency, and practicality, this is the one rule that really binds them all together.