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Making Workplaces More Humanistic

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Organizations are increasingly focusing on the humanization of workplaces and supporting professionals to perform better. Ways to make workplaces more humanistic are going off-script, experimenting with working hours, being vulnerable as leaders, and appreciating diversity.

InfoQ attended Stretch 2020, a leadership and management conference that took place on February 13 and 14 in Budapest, Hungary. InfoQ interviewed several speakers from this conference to explore what can be done to make workplaces more humanistic.

Amber Vanderburg, founder of The Pathwayz Group, suggested that we should go "off-script" to enable humanistic behavior:

So much of our life is operated on a script. Few places are more scripted than our workplaces. We should be intentional about going off-script to ask deeper and more meaningful questions to foster conversations rather than shallow interactions. Going off-script can take on many forms: a change in physical scenery, a different communication script, an unconventional project or challenge can all be effective ways to see each other in new lights and make connections in our relationships that were overlooked when following a predictable script.

Ivett Ördög, a senior software engineer and creator of lean poker, proposed that people should get more time off which actually can increase productivity:

As far as I have seen where leading IT companies are in terms of a humanistic workplace goes, there is not much left to do. The only front where I see an opportunity for improvement is around working hours. What I see happen ever more often is that people spend more and more time in the office, but they don’t work more, they procrastinate and use the office as their second home. I don’t think that’s necessarily a problem for everyone, but for many, it would result in a better performance if they had more time off. Experiments so far show that for example a 4-day long work week increases productivity during those 4 days. It seems like sometimes less really ends up being more.

Veronika Pistyur, CEO at Bridge Budapest and General Partner at Oktogon Ventures, reminded us to be proud of our emotions:

Being able to become vulnerable will support you in building good business and a more humanistic workplace. To develop the skills to do self-reflection is one of the key activities that you are able to do for yourself and your environment. As a leader, you keep a mirror for your team to see potentials, opportunities, and obstacles. but if you can not see yourself clearly in it, how are you able to reflect on your own behavior and share that with your people, your team?

Jurgen Appelo, CEO at Happy Melly, stated that it is essential to accept and appreciate diversity to make workplaces more humanistic:

I had team members of many ages, races, genders, orientations, and preferences. I had multiple people with mental challenges that could best be described as "neurodiversity". I never cared about how people looked, where they came from, or what they did in their free time. The only thing that mattered was: are they contributing to better products and a better company? If yes, then they were welcome. A humanistic workplace embraces humans of all stripes and colors.

A humanistic workplace supports professionals to perform better. In an earlier interview from StretchCon 2020, InfoQ explored how leaders can foster high-performing teams. But what if an agile transformation isn’t leading to a humanistic workplace with higher performance? InfoQ asked the speakers how organizations can recover from bad or faux agile.

Ivett Ördög explained how we can recognize bad or faux agile:

Whenever I feel like a process is not agile I usually fall back to two questions:

  • Are we still adhering to the principles laid out in the agile manifesto?
  • Are we still putting the delivery of value early and often at the forefront of our processes?

The main issue I see in most cases when a team fails to deliver value is that following a process becomes more important than making sure that the output is actually delivering business value.

Jurgen Appelo suggested changing the discussion; we should stop calling it "agile" and stick to innovation and improvement:

Nobody can disagree that innovation and improvement are good things to achieve. We should keep discussing what is the best way to achieve continuous improvement and continuous innovation and always run experiments to see what works and what doesn’t. Who cares if the experimental ideas came from the Agile, Lean, Design Thinking, or Lean Startup communities or whatever? If something doesn’t work, change it. And don’t get too hung up on labels.

Ivett Ördög provided ideas for recovering from bad or faux agile:

At the heart of all functioning agile processes is the intention of improving with every iteration and using some form of the scientific method to drive changes within the organization. In a truly agile organization, change needs to be embraced and not feared.

My action plan for making sure that happens would be:

  • Identify where and how we are falling short on delivering value?
  • How can we measure that?
  • Are there any rules that impede our ability to adopt? Are there any rules we are unwilling to question?
  • Reduce iteration times as far as possible. Make adapting to change more important than following a plan.
  • Make sure that the entire organization is part of the iterative process. It’s not enough for the development team to be iterating weekly, the product management team should also be able to measure the effects of each individual change and reflect on it within a short timeframe.

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