What does a “Work Flex” Culture mean at Sourceeasy?

We’ve written before about how we think about the Sourceeasy company culture. Do read about it here:

Building a Rigidly Flexible Culture.

At Sourceeasy, we manufacture, package, inspect and transport physical goods, across multiple locations, both in-country and globally. At Scale.

This creates a different level of complexity to manage across geographies.

We *need* to be geographically distributed.

We *need* to work on 3 different time zones.

We *need* to have a physical office in every country (In India we have 3)

We *need* to make our team culture work seamlessly.

We *need* to make every team member feel integrated.

Here are a few facts about the Sourceeasy team:

  • Sourceeasy has 24 team members in 5 locations in 3 countries. Of these:
  • 3 work Part Time / Freelance.
  • 6 have no permanent office to work from (for now)
  • 5 are traveling intermittently.
  • 5 have been rapidly promoted in 3 months or less.
  • 2 work in All TimeZones.

Our core leadership has been stable. But our team composition has been volatile.

We went from 5 people in August 2014 to 35 people in December 2014 to 24 people in Feb 2014.

Our Angellist page says it all: 16 current employees, 16 past employees. (A few are not listed).

ITS NOT EASY.

You deal with communication issues, you deal with isolation issues, you deal with ambiguity in decision making, you deal with personality / culture issues, you deal with integrity issues.

Most of All, You deal with psychological issues.

At SE, when we interview for Senior Leadership Roles globally, we optimize for:

  1. 100% mindshare in the business.
  2. Independence and Ownership.
  3. Over Communication.
  4. Trustworthiness / Reliability.
  5. Ability to GET SHIT DONE.
  6. Emotional Maturity.
  7. Self Motivation / Self Awareness.

The ability to work under a flexible structure to deliver world class results is how we define “Work Flex”.

This encompasses:

  • “Remote Working” (Working on your timeline in your choice of location)
  • “Distributed Working” (Working on your timeline in our choice of location)
  • “Telecommute” (Working on team timelines in your choice of location)
  • “Freelance / Intern” (Working on team location on limited engagement)
  • “Unlimited Holiday & Sick Leave” (Take off as long as you need, but get essential shit done)

The best results we’re achieving with a Geo-Distributed Working Team are when:

  1. We have a Senior decision maker in every time zone, in every office.
  2. We create processes, systems, and understanding of roles / responsibilities.
  3. We communicate honestly about roadblocks *WHEN* they happen.
  4. We anticipate Roadblocks and fixing them before they become toxic.
  5. We Track and Weed out politics, internal conflict, and gamesmanship. Even if it means we have to lose / pass on great talent.

Distributed Work Success is a Lonely Job — Lots of Self Doubt, Nagging Fears, Frustration during failures and delays, Anger during Uncertainty.

How does Sourceeasy empower top management across Geographies?

  • Unified Direction, Distributed Decisions / Clear Deliverables, Delegated Processing:

We set the direction for all principal decisions. We include all country heads, Tech leads, and Operations Managers in sharing our direction, our goals and our acceptable outcomes. We take as much time as it takes with team calls, one-on-one calls, skype video chats, messages and in person meetings. Once the principal direction is set, day to day decisions are delegated to the on-ground managers and are only reviewed together on a weekly basis. Aside from urgent clarifications, This policy removes the noise of “approvals”, “confirmations” and “sign-offs” and helps managers push the business forward.

  • Rigid Values, Flexible Systems / Central Culture, Remotely Hired Teams:

We spend a *LOT* of quality time with our team leaders. We do weekly 1-on-1’s, we coach them emotionally, psychologically, we support them with resources, trust, faith and confidence. We are EXTREMELY anal about Culture Fit at the top level. We consistently reinforce our core values of Resourcefulness, Transparency, Reliability and Relentlessness. We focus on Output not Input. So this drives our central culture of “Rigid Values, Flexible Systems” — and lends itself to our belief in the “Trickle Down” effect. If we choose our leaders well, they will scout, hire and train the best team in their own mould — which is ultimately the Sourceeasy mould.

  • 2 Tier Culture / Structure (Voting Stock Model):

This is a tricky one. One of the key differences between Sourceeasy and other tech startups is that we are both a tech company and a manufacturing company. This means that our in-country teams employ a number of contractors from the apparel industry. To many of these new recruits, a flexible culture is a weak culture. Enforcing rigid timelines, rigid structures becomes an absolute requirement to achieve our goals. Directing this from the top is almost always a mistake. Thats why we follow a 2 Tier Culture at Sourceeasy — Its like a voting stock model where Moral Authority drives Decision making. Realizing whom to bring into the control tier and whom to keep in the functional tier is Critical.

  • Clear Communication, 100% Trust/Bad News First,Good News Later:

Apparel Manufacturing is not a sexy business. It is a thankless, hardworking, frustrating process for most people. Streamlining the business is one of the main joys we want our customers to take away from the Sourceeasy experience. To enable this, it is imperative to cast away Age-old hesitations to pass on Bad News. The reason people keep bad news to themselves for as long as possible is either denial or distrust. Empowering your top management to feel secure in their role, in the company so they can open up and confidently share failure, delays and unseen problems *AS* they happen is probably the *MOST* underrated / underreported facets of nailing the distributed working model. At Sourceeasy, we work on this EVERY DAY.

  • Interdependence, Respect for Each Other and their Career:

This may seem like standard career advice but do not hire anyone who isn’t grateful or excited about the career opportunity you’re presenting them with. Especially in a Distributed Working Team. Resentment and frustration are powerful allies and can creep up on the best in your team. Despite all their talents, and all their efforts, Apparel Manufacturing is a mesh and the interconnected nature of our Global Manufacturing means there is a ton of interdependence between divisions. If there is no mutual respect, and no appreciation for the business and the opportunity, this situation can quickly deteriorate into a defensive chessboard with a stalemate looming.

  • Periodic Face to Face Meetings and Breaking of Boundaries:

With all the efficiencies and savings derived from the geographically distributed teams, invest in quarterly or half-yearly retreats. Invite all key team members to a central location, let them mingle, relax and let their hair down. Seminars and Company Reviews can be done on Skype. Use this time to decompress. Include spouses, pets, and kids. Make sure everyone has a great time. Make it a memory they can share anecdotes about. Build a family.

In the end, with any work culture or work method you deploy, the Results are what matter. And keeping your team happy, relaxed and secure is all you can do to keep them productive, supportive and involved.

                                         You owe it to them.

– Pranay Srinivasan