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No Phones, Unlimited Vacation and They Clean Your House

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I recently read an interview in the New York Times Magazine with Phil Libin, the CEO of the software company Evernote. If you have ever been interested in the idea of pure outcome-based management, you should watch this company. For context, Evernote is a note taking and archiving/organizing program that is very cool (but does require some commitment to be useful). This is not a review of Evernote, but rather a discussion of the management of the company itself.

Libin has instituted some very interesting and unusual policies at Evernote. The first is that everyone has the same workspace (no offices). I remember when I started in the corporate world of management consulting, you could tell someone's level in the company by their workspace (shared office, single office, window office, desk size, secretary, corner office). At Evernote, whether you are CEO or newbie, you sit at the same desk. The other interesting thing about that desk is that it does not have a phone. His rationale is that everyone has a cell phone and since the company pays for the service, why buy another phone? Unified communications is coming folks; don't get dinosaured.

There are lots of open work plan offices and probably even some companies who have cut the hardline phone (as many of us have done at home), so what makes these guys special? For one thing, they have instituted a policy of unlimited vacation. The catch is that you have to get your work done to qualify. So if you get your work done early (a benefit to you and the company), you get to go to the beach. Literally, to the beach. And to make sure people really went, he gives them $1,000 spending cash. This is not an Evernote recruiting ad, really, just a fascination with a company leader who gets what motivates people. Support them, treat them like adults, and give them something they can use as a reward for success.

The most unusual thing they do is provide professional housecleaning to every employee twice a month. Libin's theory is that if you want your employees productive and happy, you better worry about what their significant others think of the company. So here is a perk that benefits the whole family. People either see housecleaning as a luxury or a necessity (I am in the latter camp), but no one objects to someone else cleaning their bathroom and mopping the kitchen floor. Brilliant.

Evernote has also addressed the issue of a distributed workforce in a very interesting way. They have offices in Mountain View, CA and Austin, TX. California is the headquarters, but they don't want the Austin folks to feel like they are just the remote field office people, so they placed a huge TV on one wall in both offices and connected them with a permanent video link. They call it a window into the other office. You can go stand in front of the window and talk to your colleague in the other office. They have video conferencing for meetings, but this is just to connect the people.

The technology is changing how we work and where we can work, but the key to managing people is to manage them as people. Treat them with respect, make them responsible, and hold them accountable. Good workers like to be treated with respect and will excel when given the tools and freedom to do so. Phil Libin and his Evernote team are not the only ones doing this, nor are they a model everyone can follow, but he has shown us you can succeed by challenging the business norms and focusing on the people.

We will be discussing these technology and management issues in more detail at the Spring Telework Town Hall Meeting on May 2, 2012 at the D.C. Convention Center. I hope you will join me there and bring some stories of what you have done or seen that pushes the envelope of management.

I look forward to your thoughts and comments. You can email me at jsawislak@teleworkexchange.com or check out my blog at Telework Exchange.