Workplace Bill of Rights
A demonstration of applying jobs theory to innovate on everyday issues.
One of my leadership principles is "Emphasize Autonomy." I often express it by saying "don't make me make a rule." People are happiest when given freedom to make their own decisions governed by their own personal philosophy and values. In practice, autonomy can fall apart. Despite everyone's best intentions, human beings are subject to the tragedy of the commons. Many rationalize their own “selfish” actions by assuming others would do the same.
I recently announced a ninety day stretch in which I've requested everyone come into the office a few days a week. I realize this is a stark contrast to the principle I’ve outlined above. There are many reasons for this request, none of which relate to productivity. The office is brand new, designed for us, the department grew by a half, and many of us hadn't worked together in-person for years. It's a push to revitalize our culture, test the space, and establish new habits.
Autonomy is clear when you're working from home. Your schedule isn't dictated by traffic, you can take a break whenever and however you'd like, there are no "common" spaces, and nobody sees your pants. Working in an office is different. Quite different.
After the announcement I fielded a litany of questions born from this loss in autonomy. Are people going to clean up after themselves? How will we handle people not refilling the toilet paper? Will you tell people to take calls in private? What's the expectation for people to refill the coffee? What are we going to do when someone burns popcorn?
The easy way out would be to turn each question into a series of rules. That's where I buckled. Nobody likes hearing what they can or can't do. Besides, there are too many exceptions. Any attempt to be exhaustive would drive me—and the team—insane. There had to be a better way.
I turned to The Theory of Jobs To Be Done. What was my job to be done? The one solved by this proposed list of rules. It was to communicate that—as a social group—we have a duty to treat our members with respect and afford them the opportunity to thrive within the environment. If that was the job to be done, a list of rules isn't the best mechanism.
My solution? The Workplace Bill of Rights. By explaining individual rights we've given each person the autonomy to make their own decisions. This doesn't fix the problem outright—nothing will. But it will reduce infringement and provide a framework to navigate the grey areas of everyday life. All without explicit rules.
We've filled society with unwritten rules. It adds a tinge of ambiguity to every day. I aim to reduce the ambiguity while in the office.
I've said enough. Here it is. Am I missing anything?1 Let me know.
The Right to Focus
To be free of distractions so that one can concentrate and produce work undisturbed.
We hold focus sacred and believe everyone has the right and desire to maintain it. When someone appears in the zone, use digital communications to signal you'd like their attention once they're available. That allows each person to focus in their own way. Limit visual, auditory, and olfactory distractions. Curtail conversations, silence your phone, and enjoy music in private.
The Right to Collaborate
To connect with colleagues, foster teamwork, and engage in collective problem-solving.
Our work is collaborative and—while digital interactions can be effective—in person collaboration may be more efficient and yield better results. We have many collaboration spaces in the office. There are phone booths, ad hoc spaces, and traditional conference rooms. While everyone has the right to collaborate, please align that activity to an appropriate environment and time. Don't forget to plan ahead and reserve spaces on the calendar.
The Right to Socialize
To foster a collective spirit, build relationships, and contribute to a vibrant workplace culture.
Healthy relationships between team members result in increased worker satisfaction. Happy people are more effective and produce better results. We spend a third of our life together; we should enjoy each other's company. We encourage socialization throughout the office and throughout the day, and we've dedicated space for those activities.
The Right to Cleanliness
To promote individual health and happiness and provide a pleasant experience for all.
Nobody is too busy to clean up after themselves. Keep your workspace tidy, wash your dishes, clean your spills, and throw away expired food. Eat meals in social areas. We don't have a dishwasher, but we will provide the appropriate items to clean your dishes. Leave spaces better than you found them.
The Right to Essentials
To have what's needed, when needed—personal and professional.
If you end it, mend it. This applies to toilet paper, paper towels, post-its, and any other communal resources. We will do our best to ensure nobody experiences these situations, but things happen. Don't force an uncomfortable situation on your colleagues.
The Right to Well-Being
To maintain individual health and wellness.
We want to promote healthy individuals. We have bike racks, locker rooms, showers, proximity to various activities, and plenty of natural light. If there is dangerous weather, stay home. If you're sick, stay home.
The Right to Personal Space
To provide individuals with the sovereignty of their immediate work area.
Treat people's designated workspaces with respect. Nobody wants their personal space invaded or their belongings mistreated. It should go without saying, but don't eat each other's food either!
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I am missing many essential rights covered by the government or our employee handbook. My intention is to focus on the workplace and the work-related interactions that occur there.