Slide Rules

I recently wrote about how some modern offices have bean bags and slides to create a sense of fun – and how those gimmicks don’t really work. As it happens, I stumbled across something in the last week which typifies the battle between “fun office gimmicks” and “practical office rules”.   

Part of me really wants to believe that those sparkling, start-up companies don’t have any rules – it’s just turn up, do stuff well, go home.   Sadly, that isn’t the case.  All businesses have rules.  Some of them are pretty standard rules about timekeeping.  Others may feel pedantic and unnecessary.

However, if you work in the YouTube offices in San Francisco, you have another set of rules to follow – The Slide Rules.

Yep, you read that right; a set of rules about how to use and not use the slide.

YouTube has a massive red slide in its HQ.   It’s got 3 lanes (a bit like ones you see in waterparks so people can race each other).   It looks like great fun.  But in a bout of health and safety, the YouTube slide has a set of rules.

Do the adults at YouTube really need to be told how (not) to use the slide? Apparently so.

Perhaps there were minor injuries, perhaps there were law suits. Most definitely, it’s YouTube being a tad careful. To the outside world, an office with a slide looks like great fun.  To those on the inside, it may well appear to be something where the fun has been surgically removed.

But it got me thinking about treating people like adults and NOT imposing sets of unnecessary rules. The key word here is “unnecessary”.  Many businesses have completely vital H&S requirements.  Those working in heavy industry wear PPE to keep themselves safe.   Keep those rules.

But think about whether your business has any unnecessary rules that may at worst be sucking the engagement and fun out of the workplace and at best be guilty of treating your staff like children.  These “rules” could relate to something as simple as “not eating at your desk” or “no smartphones / devices in meetings”.  

However, if you substitute the word “processes” for the word “rules”, consider the question again.

What processes exist in your organisation that are a consistent drain on employee engagement and also add no value to the business?  If you’re part of senior management, it’s way too easy for you to lose sight of which processes are actually perceived in this way.  You may well see all of your “rules and processes” as fundamentally vital to the success of the business.  But those on the shop floor may well have a different view. 

It’s important to use regular team meetings to allow your staff to raise concerns about the values of certain processes and to make suggestions for changing how things are conducted for the better.

To create more engagement, be a good listener, change processes, relax rules.  But don’t necessarily install a slide.