Why Remote Companies Are Doing Employee Perks Better Than Google

Employee perks. The idea rushed into our vocabulary sometime around the year 2000. The world feared Y2K, it got foosball and laundry service. Since then perks at tech companies have covered all positions on the field, from the practical (catered lunch) to the silly (birthday parties).

Some perks — casual dress, equity — are so common in Silicon Valley that they don’t even seem like perks anymore. We take them for granted.

In your parents’ or grandparents’ day, insurance and sick days were the only perks needed. Even weekends and holidays started out as a wacky and progressive idea. Those days are gone. Today’s employees expect ping pong, pizza Fridays and bring your dog to work policies. Or at least that’s what we’re told.

In reality, many companies are evolving their understanding of what a good employee perk really is. We’ve gone from the early perks of the dot-com bubble (ping pong tables to seem cool and attract press attention) to the perks designed to help keep you sitting on your squishy exercise ball writing code all night. Now, a new kind of perk is emerging, and remote companies are leading the way.

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How Travis CI Is Fixing Company Culture By Taking On ‘Culture’

Travis CI

Travis CI

Here’s a loaded phrase in the startup world: culture fit.

It’s a term with humble early intentions that has grown weeds and sprouted out of its container. It started as a simple way of talking about whether a new hire and current team would work well together. It’s grown into a loaded gun of baggage and misappropriation. It’s used to hire unqualified people and fire great ones.

Mathias Meyer, CEO at Travis CI, started to notice a problem with “culture fit” and the way it was implemented at many companies. It seemed to him like “culture fit” was doing the opposite, and holding company cultures back. Companies, if not careful, would create a monoculture, with everyone acting and thinking the same way. This is terrible for creativity and growth.

Or as Meyer put it in an excellent blog post:

“There’s one fundamental mistake in both using and looking for culture fit as a means for hiring: You’re assuming that your current culture is healthy and doesn’t need to be changed.”

I chatted with Meyer about his thoughts on culture fit, growing Travis CI and what they’re doing to create an authentic company culture.

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What Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg Love But 1 in 4 Americans Ignore

What’s the secret weapon of highly successful people? Reading books.

Throughout history, Bill Gates and many of the world’s most successful and influential people have been avid book readers.

Unfortunately, many Americans are not. One in four Americans did not read a single book in 2013, according to a Pew Research Center poll. In 1978, that number was 8 percent. By 2005 it was 16 percent.

It’s a trend to avoid it you want to do great things.

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How Micromanaging Poisons Productivity and Creates a Vicious Cycle of Despair


pablo (1)

Here’s the thing about bosses who micromanage. None of them think they’re actually doing it.

It’s easy to see how this happens. Managers, typically, were once experts at the work their subordinates are doing. That’s likely why they were promoted.

But this changes at the management level. Their jobs are more strategic, less hands on. Many managers aren’t up for the transition, so they sink back into what they’re familiar with — the gritty details of the work they used to do.

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What Sports Knows, and Business Gets Wrong, About Motivation


Big teams are bad for productivity. The bigger the team, the less people do.

Maximilien Ringelmann discovered this more than 100 years ago. The French engineering professor measured effort from students in a simple rope pulling exercise. Not only did people exhibit less individual effort while pulling as a group, individual effort quickly diminished as the size of the group increased.

Ringelmann found that eight people didn’t even pull as hard as four. It became known as the Ringelmann effect.

Unfortunately, many businesses are run like a giant game of tug of war. There can be a top notch team, a clear objective, everyone working toward the same goal. And maybe it’s successful. But who actually helped pull the rope? Did they do their best? We’ll never know. Stop running your business like tug of war. Want to be successful? Run it like an NBA team.

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How Great Managers Know When They’re Doing Their Job


There’s a piece of conventional wisdom in business: People aren’t raw materials. You can’t manage people like they’re widgets on a conveyor belt. People are fluid, emotional, volatile, unpredictable beings that need to be treated as such. You can’t manage people like an assembly line, right?

Maybe not.

The problem with that type of thinking isn’t that people actually are static and predictable. The problem is thinking that a manufacturing process is static and predictable. On a production line, unexpected problems and changes happen all the time. Raw materials arrive flawed, blizzards slow down deliveries, equipment breaks down, orders slow down and inventory piles up, some obscure agricultural disease in another continent wipes out a crop used in a chemical essential to the production process.

Unpredictable, fluid, ever-changing. Kind of like humans, right?

Great managers of people realize this. Great managers of people, in fact, embrace this and approach their job seeking the same consistency and measurable results as a production line operator. They know that their job is measured in the output of the people and departments they’re managing.

It’s the kind of thinking that helped propel Intel into the company it is today, with more than $55 billion in annual sales. It’s a central theme to Andrew S. Grove’s classic 1983 management book “High Output Management.”

The output of the manager is the output of their organization, Grove writes.

“In principle, every hour of your day should be spent increasing the output or the value of the output of the people whom you’re responsible for.”

In other words, a manager is doing their job when their department — when their people — are producing results. A manager at a candy cane factory can measure their personal productivity by the amount and quality of candy canes sent out the door. A software company manager can measure their achievements by the software shipped from the engineers.

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The Transparency Paradox: How Transparency Can Force Your Best Employees to Hide

i love lucy chocolate assembly line to illustrate transparency paradox

The rule is one operator per station. But when nobody’s watching, there might 17 people for 13 stations on the assembly line at one mobile phone manufacturing plant in Southern China.

When managers comes around, though, they’ll see 13 operators, one for each station, exactly as prescribed by the leaders. Even with company values like learning and continuous improvement, this plant’s employees scrambles to hide exactly the kinds of refinements and creativity that management seeks.

Transparency is often touted as a vital ingredient for the best teams. And it’s true. For people to move fast and think for themselves, they need ready access to the information they need to do their job. Failing to provide a foundation of common knowledge and creating an uneven distribution of information opens the door for inefficiency and unhealthy power imbalances.

But the transparency paradox arises when there’s no trust and autonomy. Actually, it’s more like counterproductive monitoring — one-sided visibility to benefit the manager’s curiosity rather than equip the employees to do their best work.

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Don’t Preserve Startup Culture in Your Growing Company

startup culture like peter pan

Like seeing your kids off to college for the very first time, it’s always a bit jolting for startup founders who see their company grow beyond the plucky “move fast and break things” startup culture of its youth. It’s hard not to get a little nostalgic about that exciting age when everything was new.


Phil Libin has seen his company Evernote shoot up from a small startup to a billion-dollar company in six short years. Growing the Evernote team from just tens of people to 400, Libin worried over what such fast growth would do to the young company culture.

When he talked to Dick Costolo, Twitter CEO, who’d seen his own company grow precipitously, he asked him how to preserve the company culture that had helped get Evernote to such a successful start. Costolo’s answer was completely unexpected.

Don’t, Costolo said.

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The Most Charismatic Leaders Are People You’ve Never Heard of

evil queen from snow white

When you’re in charge, you get used enjoying feeling like the linchpin. Take co-founder and CEO of Menlo Innovations, Rich Sheridan, who used to think: “I liked being the person everyone came to…. There was glory to it. I felt like the smartest guy in the room.”

Back when he was a VP at a company called Interface Systems, he brought his eight-year-old daughter with him to work one day. Her candid observation about his job ended up completely transforming how he thought about management. When she told her dad that he must be very important — because “[a]ll day long… people came in here and asked you to make a decision for them. And you made a decision, and they went on their way” — that threw Sheridan for a loop.

He realized how this style of managing people created a system of bottlenecks and he began to conceive of the right way to manage as a decentralized, bottom-up approach of decision-making. Menlo Innovations now runs as a bossless organization, because being the smartest guy in the room was a liability.

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When CEOs Are Proud to Be Powerless

powerless ceo

At Menlo Innovations, a software company in Ann Arbor, bosses aren’t the major decision-makers — even over how to hire and fire.

When James Goebel and Richard Sheridan founded Menlo, they went all in on their ideas of decentralizing power and rethinking modern management that they’d implemented at a previous workplace. In doing so, they crafted a strong identity and culture at their new company. The “Menlo way” is remarkably open, collective, and democratic.

One of the best tests of those ideas took place when Goebel, who is the COO, had a niece, Erin, who worked as an admin at the company for a few months.

The company’s employees wanted to let her go — having collectively decided that nepotism wasn’t something that fit the Menlo way. Firing someone is always a serious decision, and firing the boss’s family member can be particularly thorny. But the rules applied equally — Goebel wasn’t able to object to the final decision to fire her. “Actually, my niece lives with me,” he told New York Magazine. “And she was really pissed….it was a little frosty for a while.”

For CEOs and bosses reinventing the traditional top-down way of running a company, being a strong leader means less power. Their proudest moment is when they are weakest.

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