As I See It: The Ideal Workplace, Part 2
January 24, 2022 Victor Rozek
New year, new possibilities. And what better place to start than sharing the experiences and aspirations of IT professionals.
Last month, as 2021 was coming to an end, I asked readers for feedback on how they would describe their ideal workplace; the issues that were important to them, the quality of their working environment, and how they wanted to be treated by their company and its management. I offered a list of issues for consideration, and below is a summary of their responses.
The first question was a variation of the classic “paper or plastic” dilemma. Would you prefer to work from home or the office, or both? Respondents were split with the majority preferring to work from home with perhaps weekly visits to the office for the obligatory meetings. Those who preferred working in the office cited the benefits of a structured routine, and the opportunity to interact with coworkers, in part as a remedy for excessive isolation.
How many hours/days per week would you like to work? Most found the standard 8-hour to 9-hour days, 5 days a week acceptable as long as they had sufficient time for family, recreation, and recuperation. Others preferred a shorter work week and 30 hours was a popular option. A number cited steep staffing cuts which, like it or not, required them to work additional hours.
Do you prefer working collaboratively or independently? Most prefer a mix, with independence slightly edging collaboration. Introversion was cited for the preference of independence, although almost everyone had interactions with end users or development teams. The importance of complementary skills and competence levels was cited as crucial for successful – and tolerable – collaboration.
If you work remotely, does your company monitor your activity through tracking software? If so, how do you feel about that? No one currently believes they are being monitored, although some are suspicious that as work becomes more mobile greater effort will go into tracking employees. One man’s tracking, however, is another man’s spying. Respondents reacted strongly to the possibility of being monitored, saying they would feel violated. They wanted their work to be judged by results, not keystrokes, preferring not to be treated like Amazon delivery drivers.
Should people willing to work in the office be compensated more than people who work from home? On this issue the responses were unanimous: a hearty, unequivocal: “No! ” The general consensus was that people should be compensated for the value they provide the company, not from where they provide it. Admittedly, for office workers there are undeniable expenses not borne by those working from home: commute expenses, clothing and dry cleaning costs, child care, restaurant meals. Nonetheless, a two-tier salary system was thought to contribute to an us versus them mindset that breeds resentment on one side, and disdain on the other.
Should unvaccinated people be allowed to return to the office? Would you be comfortable working with unvaccinated people? For some, the answers were an unambiguous “No! ” to both questions. Others gave a qualified, albeit reluctant, yes, citing the need for everyone – especially the unvaccinated – to be masked, properly distanced, and for the facility to be well ventilated.
Is your work meaningful? Does it have value beyond compensation? Does it fulfill you? What would make it more meaningful? The IT professionals who started working on the AS/400 and are now tending the IBM i report being quite satisfied with their careers and the value of the work they do. Some reported frustrations with staffing levels and lack of communication, but many of the staffing problems are due to COVID and what’s being called The Great Resignation. Hopefully, staffing shortages are transitory. Communication, however, is a chronic problem across time and occupation, exacerbated by the impersonal nature of technology.
Some respondents felt undervalued and that IT was generally taken for granted unless something went wrong. Several thought that IBM was not giving the same level of attention to the IBM i community that it previously afforded the AS/400.
Does your job require creativity? If so, is there time in the workday for creative reflection? Is there quiet space available for reflection? Application developers unanimously saw their work as creative and the majority said they had time and space for reflection.
Does your work tend to be more creative or more repetitive? Those whose responsibilities were primarily maintaining existing applications reported that the work felt repetitive, like being in the movie Groundhog Day, one said. Most report their work is primarily creative and expressed boredom with repetition. One particularly telling response from a person who apparently does not lack initiative was: “Repetitive by job description, creative by choice.”
Is your work environment conductive to productivity? Do you prefer working in a private office or a cubicle? There was no consensus on these questions. Some thought they were less productive working from home, given the absence of available interaction with coworkers. Others thought they could accomplish more without the steady flow of office interruptions. There was no clear preference between office and cubicle. More important was the ability to take breaks when needed, to clear your head or change your state of being for a few minutes.
If you do repetitive work, is there anything that can alleviate the sameness of your days? At work as at home, workplace boredom is reportedly relieved by Internet surfing, social media, and engaging the mind by learning something new. Taking regular breaks, reading a few pages of a novel, or taking a quick walk, were also cited for monotony mitigation.
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? The answers to those questions depended largely on the age of the respondent. Younger employees welcomed the benefits of mentorship, while older workers preferred a partnership that also respected their autonomy. Improved communication, an interest in understanding individual employees, and calculated risk taking were also cited.
How often would you like to interact with your manager? Do you have a preference for in person contact or Zoom? Most preferred in person contact on at least a weekly basis. Others had no preference for either modality or frequency.
Would additional technical guidance or support be useful? Do you receive adequate training? If not, what specific skills would you like to update? Those who work in understaffed facilities would particularly welcome additional technical support. Words like “essential” and “critical” were used. As technology continuously morphs, many believe they have not received adequate training to maintain relevant skills. Others have taken education/training into their own hands. One respondent writes: “I am always learning new things thanks to IT Jungle [Thank you], COMMON, IBM, and Omni.”
Do you prefer classroom or computer-based training? Classroom training was preferred, but respondents acknowledged the convenience, reach, and affordability of learning by laptop.
Do you have an outlined career path? Is the possibility of advancement part of your performance plan? Apparently, though advancement is theoretically based on performance, it is not formally mentioned in any performance plan. It falls to the employee to fashion his/her own career. A number of older IT professionals, however, were no longer interested in chasing advancement, but are content with their current job.
Does your company have a vision? Do you agree with it? Is it worthy of your support? In those companies that actually articulate a vision, employees are generally supportive, although it was noted that with regime change comes vision change, which may not always be as compelling as the original. Many companies, surprisingly, have no formal vision at all.
Are you compensated fairly? Do you have a benefits package? A retirement plan? Does your company provide a pension? Generally, employees who work at small companies report receiving few, if any, benefits, although most feel they are fairly compensated. Larger companies provide an array of standard benefits, 401K, assistance with medical coverage, and retirement planning. With rare exceptions, pensions appear to be relics of a bygone era.
Is medical insurance provided or subsidized? Those who live in countries with socialized medicine had no complaints, “Canada, eh?” For the rest it was a mixed bag of subsidies, some more generous than others.
How much paid vacation time are you allowed? Available vacation ranged from two weeks to a month. However, those working in understaffed departments found it difficult to actually take vacations of any duration. And when they did, they were greeted by a mountain of work upon their return.
Is there a generous parental leave policy? Only as required by law. Some exceptions were noted in extreme circumstances.
Is your hardware and software up to date? The answers ranged from “yes” to “pretty much.” Some upgrade plans were put on hold due to COVID-induced economic blight.
Does diversity exist and is equal opportunity practiced in your company? Generally, the answer was “yes,” although it was noted that not all departments were equally diverse.
If you could change three things about your workplace, what would they be? There was no consensus on this issue but some of the desired changes mentioned include: better communication, increased training, hiring additional staff, profit sharing, funding pensions, and taking more calculated risks.
There you have it. The people have spoken. Author Vern McLellan is credited with saying: “What the new year brings to you will depend a great deal on what you bring to the new year.” If the collective wisdom and experience of IT professionals is any indication, it will be a good one.