Avoiding 'unworking': Timely CEO Ryan Baker on why his company doesn't do time sheets

Timely CEO and co-founder Ryan Baker says businesses who are worried about their employees working 40 hours per week should be more worried about whether their employees are 'unworking', or what has also been dubbed presenteeism: turning up to work when not in a good head space and therefore not being productive with the work they get done, despite putting the hours in. Here, he explains why no one at Timely is required to fill out timesheets, and how he cultivated that trust. 

Unwork: we’ve all done it. You might be doing some today, which is why you’re here instead. That’s a good thing.

I started out as a software developer and began using the made up word “unwork” for myself after not too long. Unwork happens when you’re not in a good head space to produce your best work. You produce poor quality work that takes more time later to tidy up. As a coder this means I would work on the wrong things, create unnecessary complexity and leave bugs everywhere. All things that take time to fix up or completely redo later. At it’s worst, unwork ends up in the hands of customers and causes them problems.

Unwork can happen in any role. A sales person who isn’t at their best today will turn off potential customers rather than inspire them to see the value in your product. More work for them tomorrow to rebuild that trust. A manager who isn’t focused today could send multiple people off in the wrong direction, taking time to bring back together tomorrow. A support person who isn’t giving the best solutions to customers today will come to work tomorrow to a bigger queue of follow-up questions and maybe complaints.

We all know that unwork exists. It’s bad for your people, bad for your customers and bad for business.

Yet, we still measure the contribution of people by the number of hours we put in. Are we “at work” today? Are we putting in the hours? We still have a yardstick of a normal 40 hour working week. People working longer are “hustling” and probably doing better than the rest.

If we all believe that unwork is a thing, why do we measure contribution by hours worked at all?

It’s the quality of the work that matters, not the quantity. A calm, rested, focused and motivated mind does the best work. If you’re doing unwork this week, it’s better that you do as little of it as possible. Doing 70 hours of it isn’t hustle, it’s a shambles.

Corporate time sheets were invented over 100 years ago, well before the ultra-connected world that we live in today existed. The lines between work and life are more blurred now. Our mindset of measuring productivity has been slow to catch up.

At Timely we focus on outcomes, not outputs. We don’t do time sheets. We let people work with flexibility, from home or the office and manage their own hours wherever possible. This translates to different things for different roles, but in all cases flexibility and balance is incorporated.

When I tell people about this I often get the same question: “So, how do you know they’re working?”

I dislike this question. If you’ve hired people that you don’t trust, you have a bigger problem than their working hours.

Here’s a different one: “How do you know that your team aren’t unworking?” Someone being physically present and putting in hours doesn’t mean they’re productive. They might be unworking. Would you know and would they tell you?

At Timely, we’re a values-driven team. We believe that we’re only successful when we make our customers successful and this gives us purpose. We trust our team to work when and where they are at their best. We support each other to do the things in our life that give us energy and fulfillment. We provide a safe space where it’s OK to declare you’re unworking and you’ll get supported back to a better place.

When I tell people about this I often get the same question: “So, how do you know they’re working?” I dislike this question. If you’ve hired people that you don’t trust, you have a bigger problem than their working hours.

Is it always perfect? Of course not. At times we bite off more than we can chew and have to work harder or longer to get the task finished. At times the flexibility can be an overhead or slow down a team. At times we need more than a yoga session to get well again. But we default to flexibility, balance and trust. We believe there’s much more good than bad with this approach.

We all know unwork exists, so let’s create workplaces that recognise it’s a thing and support people to avoid it. I asked the Timely crew what they do when they’re not producing their best work. There were some themes in the answers; get outdoors, hug kids, pat pets and fitness stuff. No surprises right? These are things that energise and matter to people.

No one said “When I’m not producing my best work I stay at my desk and work my way through it”.

One person said something about llamas. That was a surprise.

Customer experience mirrors employee experience. Rested, fulfilled, motivated, focused employees produce a better experience for customers.

It’s a simple concept when you boil it down.

At Timely, our Net Promoter Score sits at around +65, which is a pretty decent score for customer satisfaction. I’m bloody proud of it, because it starts with creating an environment where a team feels purposeful, trusted and supported. It requires bravery for people to declare that they’re unworking and that they need to get in a better head space. Our job is to make sure they know that this is OK. We want their best work, not their most work.

Next time a colleague says they need to spend time with some llamas, just roll with it. Your business will be better in the long run.

Timely was founded in 2011 and provides business software primarily to the beauty industry. It’s used by over 36,000 people around the world. Baker was the worst coder on the founding team, so he got made CEO and now quite likes that job. This was originally published on his Medium

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