Where I want to work
Tech workers have been remote since March or so at the latest: while some startups had always worked through the internet, others were torn from their offices with no understanding of when they would return. Across Silicon Valley, plants wither in pots and dust gathers on desks. Buffet-style cafeterias — remnants of the Before Times — sit empty and unused.
I’ve never been much of a big-company tech worker, but for many others, this was a huge shift. Lots of people picked their employers based on the comfort of their offices and the luxury of their in-person benefits. But the novel coronavirus has thrown that all away. Fancy gyms, kombucha taps, and unlimited high-end snacks are all historical novelties. We sit in our own homes, the line between life and work blurred until they’re one and the same. We buy the snacks and are responsible for our own exercise.
There are lots of things to worry about in this new dynamic — not least the effect on women and communities of color, who have borne the brunt of the worst of it. (Black and Latinx women represented most of the jobs that were lost in 2020.) But this loss of luxury? It’s not one of them. It’s one of the good things.
Coddled rich-person bonuses aren’t the right things to index on when you’re choosing a position. They don’t help work get done, and they don’t make it more meaningful — an important thing to realize when making progress on meaningful work is the most important measure of job satisfaction for knowledge workers. Removing the stuff that doesn’t matter makes room for the stuff that does. Even once the pandemic has ebbed away and it’s no longer dangerous to gather in groups, we’re never going back to how things used to be.
So what does make a difference? What’s important about a post-coronavirus workplace, whether remote or in-person? I’ve been thinking about questions I might ask in a future job interview, to uncover the characteristics that matter to me. Spoiler alert: these things were always important, and have always been things I looked for. Maybe something similar is true for you, too, and all those Kind bars and chef-made meals were neither here nor there.
So here’s what I think about great workplaces:
I want a workplace that gives people the time and space they need to take a step back and contemplate the right solutions. It’s not about the continual, up-tempo hustle and long nights behind a screen for the sake of them; it’s about considerate decision-making and room for creative thought. It’s about collaboration over argument; a learning-oriented, no-blame culture when things go wrong; one of writing and individual work over endless meetings; an environment where nobody in the company feels like they need to compete with anyone else there.
They care about equity.
I want a workplace that understands its role in systems of oppression and doesn’t just intend to not perpetuate them but actively participates in undoing them. It understands that politics can’t be separated from work, because politics affect the lives of everyone who works there and everyone who the company is trying to serve. It intentionally hires for diversity and doesn’t roll its eyes at attempts to normalize inclusion. It makes sure the management layer is not the exception to this rule.
They’re smart as hell.
I want a workplace that hires for expertise, not for meaningless attributes likes school pedigree. It seeks to hire the people who can do the work better than anyone, not the people who are the cheapest or who happened to graduate from a particular place. It doesn’t outsource its technology prowess. And it provides opportunities for ongoing professional development and learning.
They work hard — healthily.
There’s a sense of urgency and purpose that allows everyone to work towards a shared goal with effort. Nobody is leaning back or phoning it in (something that can kill motivation for everybody else). Conversely, nobody’s pulling in 80 hour weeks, all-nighters or regularly working weekends. Sometimes crunches do happen, but they’re the exception, rather than the rule, and the workplace tries to enforce a respectful integration of life and work. Hours are not really enforced, except for crucial meetings.
They’re working on something ambitious and world-positive.
Life is short. Time is precious. Why would you work on something that doesn’t make a meaningful difference in peoples’ lives? A workplace that has a strong social mission is one that attracts empathetic people who embody all of the characteristics above.
Of course, these are my values: the things I care about. But everyone is different. What are the characteristics of your sort of workplace? What kind of culture makes working worthwhile for you? I’d love to hear your thoughts.