Despite having enjoyed the free-lance life for the better part of the last decade, I occasionally wish that I had another job-job in me.
Part of this is, no doubt, a bleating little desire to peel off a few years.
And part of it’s, also no doubt, a bleating little desire to work in a cool company.
It’s not as if I did my entire time in stodgy, bureaucratic, floppy-bow-tie organizations – that would be the 2 years, seven months, and 14 days I spent at Wang Labs.
Much of my career was spent in places that, while just as dysfunctional as Wang, were a lot more fun: Friday Parties with junk food and joints (ah, those were the days…); casual Friday (not to mention Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday…); video games in the kitchen; invitations to everyone in the company to come up with a re-org plan; subversives who thought nothing of tacking a paper bag with “punch your way out of this one” outside of a management meeting…(Dysfunctional, but fun, that…)
It’s just that – sniffle, wipe tear from corner of left eye – even the fun places didn’t work out so well. (If I had a dollar for every busted option I ever held, I’d be writing this on a tablet of solid gold…) I sure could pick ‘em.
So I hope I’m not putting the kibosh whammy when I say that Evernote sounds like a cool place to work. (Having interesting products helps, too.)
I’m basing this on Adam Bryant’s interview with chief exec Phil Libin that appeared in The New York Times way back in April, which I recently stumbled on.
Now, we all know that in real life there may be a complete and utter disconnect between what the smooth talking Big Mahoff has to say, and what it’s actually like in the workplace. Still, if I were in Mountain View or Austin and wanted to get back in the game full time, this sounds just like the type of place I’d be happy. (Another ‘if I were’ would have to be ‘if I were younger’. I suspect that I’m more than double the mode, mean, and median age of employees at Evernote, and would never be considered hip and cool enough to work there. But, what the hell, here’s a shout out: if you need a remote writer, I do everything from tweets to white papers. Forget I mentioned white papers. You are a company of few words.)
Anyway, here’s why Evernote appeals to me:
- The Big Mahoff comes across as a no BS kind of guy. Phil Libin talks about how when he first ran a show, he thought he was a natural as a CEO, only to realize that he was a brilliant manager for the types of people he had working under him: high-energy, focused on the same goal, etc. Once he began managing in a more typical environment, he was awakened to the reality that you may end up with people reporting to you who don’t share your agenda, your goals, your work style.
When people who worked for me tell me what a good manager I was, I always have to laugh. I was an excellent manager for folks who were self-directed, capable, and didn’t want or need anyone looking over their shoulders. Folks like this enjoyed working for me because I trusted them, gave them free rein, and never stood in their way when they had an opportunity to get in front of higher-ups. My philosophy was: Have at it! Knock yourself out! Make me look good!
Unfortunately, for those who were less self-directed, less capable, and in dire need of someone not just looking over their shoulders but manipulating them like a puppet to get them to get anything right, I was a not so hot manager. (And with my managerial Wonder Woman complex, I brought some of this on myself by assuming I could take on extreme management challenges that no one else wanted to deal with and cure them by my Wondrous Woman presence. In pretty much every one of those cases, I had to be the heavy who got rid of them. But it always took me far longer than it should have.)
- Evernote’s culture: “We have a flat and very open structure. Nobody has an office. In fact, there are no perks that are signs of seniority. Obviously, there are differences in compensation, but there are no status symbols.”
Wang was the very worst place I worked in terms of hierarchy and perks – if you were a denizen of cubicle land, you didn’t even get your waste-basket emptied all that often. And the communal dumpsites on each floor, where we went to throw our apple cores and banana peels so they wouldn’t stink up our cubicles, were often in over-flow mode. Meanwhile, those in offices got their workplaces cleaned every night. (And don’t get me going on the unscrewed light-bulbs…)
But “fun-cool” places can be hierarchical, too. The president of one small “fun-cool” company I worked for was so remote and inaccessible that I once suggested that he put a dog-door in his office. Someone willing to crawl through the dog-door should have been able to meet with him.
Anyway, in this day and age, compensation seems like enough of a differential. People can get hinky about what the other guy’s getting paid, but at least it’s not in their face every day. The big office, the better parking place, the separate dining room… Pure resentment builders that get folks focused on the wrong thing – i.e., working toward the parking spot, not a goal that furthers the business.
- They got rid of desk phones, and are “uprooting” the e-mail culture. Okay, I’m not 100% in favor of the ‘everyone has a cell phone with a plan we pay for’ element of contemporary work culture, only because it officially makes it okay for everyone to be on call 24/7. Let’s face it, most of us tap into our e-mail when we’re away, but how often do you check voice mail? Having an official phone on the desk gives you a tiny bit of a break. While most everyone leaves a cell number on their message, this means that it has to be important for someone to call you. If your mobile’s all you got, then you’re always fair game. On the other hand, this philosophy reflects the flexibility of today’s work-style. A reasonable trade-off. (And one that’s probably not even viewed as a trade-off by post-Boomer workers.)
On the other hand, I love this approach to e-mail: “If you want to talk to somebody and you’re a couple floors apart, I kind of want you to get up and go talk to them.”
E-mail’s certainly a useful mass communication vehicle, but it also leads to cc-madness. (Do 50 people really need to read this missive?) Not to mention that e-mail, which despite emoticons, is lacking in nuance, is subject to misinterpretation. Plus it’s become a “drop everything” medium – even without the ! – which can really disrupt your productivity if you’re not highly disciplined.
I haven’t even gotten to the really interesting stuff, but if I want to convince anyone I’m capable of composing a tweet, I’d better speed things up:
Unlimited vacation – and, just to make sure that people take some, they give you $1,000 of spending money to make sure that you take at least one week-long trip each year.
Office Training – Employees can volunteer for this, which means they get randomly assigned to meetings – where they’re expected to participate - in other groups, exposing them to functional areas they wouldn’t routinely work with. What a great way to groom managers!
Telepresence – A big video wall, in a high-traffic area, linking their Mt. View and Austin so that employees in different locations can have “water cooler” encounters.
Professional housekeeping – Forget Wang not cleaning our cubicles. Evernote pays for twice-a-month cleaning in your home. This is so that spouses won’t encourage their hard-working SO’s to look for work elsewhere. Genius!
A robot for when Phil Libin’s not there – Management by Walking Around is one of the best methods to keep in touch with what’s going on with your employees, and senior managers do far too little of it. (Wheeling an ice-cream cart through the halls one a quarter doesn’t count.) I love the idea that, when Phil’s on the road, he walks around via a robot with telepresence, so that when “it” strolls into your workspace, it’s not a creepy spy cam, it’s the next best thing to being there.
The robot does it. I want a do-over. I’m coming back as an Evernote employee.