As I See It: The Ideal Workplace
December 13, 2021 Victor Rozek
Traditionally, at yearend, I would write a predictive article about IT trends and prospects for the coming year. But if you’re not among the lucky few who have been abducted by aliens and kept closeted these past two years, you doubtless already know that our foreseeable future will include more dreck and disruption, liberally peppered with stress and uncertainty.
Of course, computers could care less, but the people who work with them do, so writing about anything uplifting was preferable to another dose of dour reality. I wracked my brain to find it, failed miserably, and was about to settle for another installment of IT Noir. But paging through my calendar I happened to see an upcoming appointment with my doctor, and recalling her story inspired what follows.
In brief, she found medical school to be disillusioning. An exercise in endurance and abuse. Upon graduating she entered what she called “assembly line” medicine, assigned to care for hundreds of patients most of whom spent the majority of their time in waiting rooms, or empty examining rooms waiting for their doctor. Six to eight minutes was all she could spare them before having to rush off to the next underserved sufferer. She realized she wasn’t providing the quality of care she had hoped to provide. At best she was scrawling her name to prescription slips, treating symptoms, not patients.
There had to be a better way.
She decided to leave the practice with the unmanageable overhead and extraneous staff and go solo. That’s what she wanted, but what did her patients want? She determined to find out by doing the medically unthinkable: She asked them. She held a series of community meetings and invited feedback about what people wanted from their doctor and how they wished to be treated. It was her intention to create the ideal medical practice by giving her patients a voice.
The disruptions to the economy – and to the traditional workplace – caused by COVID and climate have had an unintended benefit for many employees, including IT professionals: They acquired a voice that could not easily be ignored. Those who could retired early. Others changed jobs or careers. Still others demanded improvements in working conditions. Labor shortages sprang up like virus variants.
So, what if we considered these two years of malaise as an opportunity for a fresh start. What if IT professionals could design their ideal workplace? What would it look like? What opportunities would it provide?
So I’m asking for feedback. If you could design the ideal IT workplace, what transformations would you make? And how would your place in it change?
Here are a handful of considerations:
- Would you prefer to work from home or the office? Or both? If both, how would you like to distribute your time?
- How many hours/days per week would you like to work?
- Do you prefer working collaboratively or independently?
- If you work remotely, does your company monitor your activity through tracking software? If so, how do you feel about that?
- Should people willing to work in the office be compensated more than people who work from home?
- Should unvaccinated people be allowed to return to the office? Would you be comfortable working with unvaccinated people?
- Is your work meaningful? Does it have value beyond compensation? Does it fulfill you? What would make it more meaningful?
- Does your job require creativity? If so, is there time in the workday for creative reflection? Is there quiet space available for reflection?
- Is your work environment conducive to productivity? Do you prefer working in a private office or a cubicle?
- Does your work tend to be more creative or more repetitive?
- If you do repetitive work, is there anything that can alleviate the sameness of your days?
- What do you want from management? Do you prefer to be principally left alone? Could you benefit from mentorship? Or would you prefer something akin to a working partnership?
- How often would you like to interact with your manager? Do you have a preference for in person contact or Zoom?
- Would additional technical guidance or support be useful?
- Do you receive adequate training? If not, what specific skills would you like to update? Do you prefer classroom or computer-based training?
- Do you have an outlined career path? Is the possibility of advancement part of your performance plan?
- Does your company have a vision? Do you agree with it? Is it worthy of your support?
- Are you compensated fairly? Do you have a benefits package? A retirement plan? Does the company provide a pension?
- Is medical insurance provided or subsidized?
- How much paid vacation time are you allowed?
- Is there a generous parental leave policy?
- Is your hardware and software up to date?
- Does diversity exist and is equal opportunity practiced in your company?
- If you could change three things about your workplace, what would they be?
This is by no means an exhaustive list of concerns and considerations you may have about your current workplace. And having your voice heard will not guarantee that even the most needed changes will be adopted based on your recommendations alone. But there is value in simply finding your voice, speaking to what’s important and fair, and adding your voice to those of others. If the pandemic has taught us anything it’s the importance of the contributions of millions of working people who were previously ignored, and whose labors were largely taken for granted. And since there is hardly a profession, business, or line of work that does not — in some fashion — rely on IT, there’s every reason to believe that the voices of IT professionals carry import and gravitas.
As for my doctor, as a result of her community gatherings she discovered people wanted surprisingly simple things. Someone to listen to them. Someone who wasn’t always distracted and rushed. They wanted to be treated with respect; didn’t want to wait months for an appointment; wanted to speak directly to their physician without all the intervening layers of bureaucracy. Perhaps the most telling request came from a patient who said: “I just want a doctor who is happy.”
Since happiness is a universal aspiration, whether you’re a physician or an IT professional, there is every reason to construct a workplace in support of it.