Feminist Work Culture

February 19, 2020 • ☕️ 5 min read


Tyrannical Managers, Long Hours, Ass in Seat, “What’s self care?”, Punishment Over Praise. Why do most endure this?

I’m hyper privileged. In many ways. But let’s talk about a subset of it. My work environment for the last few years.

I naturally seek out flexibility. It’s one of my core values. And as a result I’ve found my self dropped contently into the realm of remote tech work. Don’t worry this isn’t a “remote is the future” post, I’ll save that for another soap box. It is about the companies that have taken remote to heart and the cultural mind set it impresses. It’s about respecting and embracing the diversity of people, of work styles, of location. It’s about knowing that being personally well creates well working products and teams. It’s about prioritizing learning and leadership over misguided middle management.

Metalab’s “Don’t hire assholes” comes to mind.

Last night I was gifted a term for all of it. Feminist Work Culture. A set of systems in online work that aim to promote your best work by starting with the person and not the output. Feminist Culture embraces the multitude of ways people live and the environments they produce their best work in.

This is a work in progress but I’ve been able to identify 5 principles that I want to share. 5 principles that I’ve cultivated over my last 4 positions who in part or whole embodied these aspects.

1. Location Independent

Life is diverse. Understatement of the century. No two people’s situations are identical and no one person’s situation stays the same forever. There are vast differences between people and their life stages. Do you want to be close to family? Do you want to be close to friends? Perhaps all you need is a lively tech scene or a cozy ski hill? Then there exist other needs: kids, partners, ill family members, emergencies, dreams, and visa requirements.

To be a company stuck on hiring in a certain locale is to be a company perpetually hiring medianly talented, unhappy people. Life changes will push your churn high. More importantly your work product and business will suffer, opening a gap to be out competed. People who are allowed to work from whereever have been shown to be better performers and less likely to be poached. It’s why Stripe realized that a new office is the same as offering remote.

Though the false assumption that businesses are built on spontaneous water cooler conversations is still strongly held. The good news is, that gives an advantage to whomever embraced a distributed culture from the start. And, let’s be honest, the best never just lived in the bay area anyway.

2. Time Autonomy

If location needs is one piece of the puzzle, time needs are another. Life doesn’t fall neatly into a 9-5 for everyone. There are appointments, sick children, dry cleaning, night owls, and early birds. If you don’t let people structure their own day then you inevitably force them to waste vacations and take sick days, which increases stress and causes performance to suffer.

Life is hectic, people are different. We all know this. So why don’t we build systems to account for this?

Because working asynchronously is a different way of working. One that any team must acclimatized to. Ensuring everything is written down, your goals are well defined, and your product process strong. Thankfully if you’re already distributed, congrats, async isn’t much of a leap.

Higher output, higher resiliency, lower employee turn over, all good things. Yet the real benefit of async is it’s second order effects. Every decision, conversation and piece of context becomes searchable as your team develops a shared Second Brain. Allowing anyone to get on-boarded to any project, team, or issue faster.

The complexity of scaling a company becomes simplified as async work encompasses many of the best practices for growing. The company is already available around the clock. Everyone is a satellite office.

Another second order effect, everyone makes better decisions. Text communication is a great forcing function to distill and refine your thoughts. Making your overall decision quality rise with it.

A company that bakes async work into it’s fabric from the begining will be better set to compete and better set to grow.

3. Health First

Rushed people make mistakes, tired people make poor decisions, poor mindset translates into poor work product. No one wants that. So, why do many have a culture that pushes people towards this? Excessive hours, rigid schedules, the permission to focus on your health considered an employee perk, not a company strategy.

To have a well performing team and product people must be encouraged to take time for their mental and physical wellbeing. Everything will be better for it.

Channels where one can post pictures of their unwind time, activities, and family. Programs that encourage physical and mental health. Fitness classes and equipment reimbursements, team accounts for your favorite meditation app, and counseling available on your medical plan. All of these keep a team in the right headspace to do their best work.

Most importantly, the leadership team has to signal that taking care of yourself is OK by being vocal about their own wellness and recovery time. This is not optional.

4. Praise Over Punishment

People are swift to criticism and slow to praise online. We see this in comment sections and in customer reviews. However, humans respond best to intrinsic motivations which are best created initially by external praise.

Welcome to the remote team culture paradox.

Any successful team has to be mindful of this. Truly great teams need to feel bonded, protected, and supported. A culture must be formed that’s quick to public praise. Members need to feel like they’re part of the community so they naturally want to contribute their best back into it. Without fostering this, many will feel like opening Slack is the worst part of the day and avoid it at all cost. Communication as a team will suffer and so will the product.

This isn’t a hard problem, just a constant one. To encourage this environment three things must be addressed:

  1. Make praise visible to everyone
  2. Track who is receiving praise
  3. Attach rewards to the praise itself

Bonusly is used to do exactly this and it does it well. I can’t recommend it enough for establishing these systems

5. Guidance Over Shame

Knowledge sharing and skill building is a fact for all teams. Junior, senior, it doesn’t really matter, any company will always have information asymmetry that will need to be addressed. Repeating for those in the back: ALWAYS!

In a distributed team the text box can become an ego barrier, preventing people from freely asking questions. Don’t let it be. Everyone needs to feel secure in exposing their knowledge gaps. Free from criticism, free from a bruised ego. Otherwise, they will withdraw inward, struggle to solve their issue, and the whole company will suffer where it didn’t have to.

This is probably the hardest step. You have to be ruthless about creating a culture that promotes asking the stupid question and teaching the right answer with patience and compassion. It starts with the founding team and has to be nurtured all the way through.

All of these have come out of my own experience working in distributed teams for the last 6 years. What worked, what didn’t work, why. But, this is JUST me. There is much more to understand and learn from others about Feminist Culture.

I encourage anyone reading to add, expand and refine this. We’ll all be better for it.