Yes, Flexi-time Is A Viable Option For Your company

Three Sri Lankan companies showcase the why, what and how of flexible work arrangements

Evidence that flexible work arrangements work – for both employee and employer – is not hard to come by and yet it is hardly par for the course in Sri Lanka. The perception that Sri Lankan employees are just not productive enough is perhaps to blame, with employers afraid that allowing flexible work arrangements will only compound the problem. Three Sri Lankan employers – small, medium and large – showcase how deciding to trust your employees, combined with the right tools – be it freely available apps like Asana or an in-house created project management software – and HR processes, in fact allow for greater innovation and productivity.

HOW FRONTIER RESEARCH DOES IT
Frontier Research is a provider of economic, industry and company research based in Sri Lanka whose macro research is used for a variety of purposes, including strategic planning, sales forecasting, risk management and investment decision making. It employs nine team members, five interns and three fully remote members.

Why does Frontier Research put ‘Life First’?
Frontier Founder and Chief Executive Amal Sanderatne believes in a vision for work and life that is based on individual choice. He also hates having his or anyone else’s time wasted. “I’ve seen the impact on people of not having a good work/life balance, no time for family or fun, falling sick…” says Sanderatne. As he believes in treating his employees as he would like to be treated, Frontier Research takes a ‘life first’ approach to work. “The way we work is the most unique thing about us. In 20 years time, we might be doing a different thing, but I don’t expect this to change,” says Sanderatne.

What does ‘Life First’ entail?
Frontier Research is a results-based organization, so employees are judged on the value they contribute rather than how much time they spend at the office. In fact, most days Frontier staffers don’t turn up to office at all, working from home or wherever else they want, at whatever time they are most productive – be that 7am or 11pm. Everyone, chief executive included, meets once a week for a two-hour meeting, and each team meets once or twice a week, approximating at most about six hours over two days. They are open to the idea of meeting virtually instead, but have found the technology available inadequate so far.

There is also no concept of ‘leave’: there is ‘unavailable’, which is being unavailable for a meeting, and ‘unavailable for work’, which is not working at all. One can be as unavailable as one likes, as long as it doesn’t impact one’s work though, and like leave, one is expected to inform colleagues beforehand.

How does ‘Life First’ work?
Web and mobile-based application Asana allows the Frontier team to manage its various projects without meeting in person. Work is tracked and updated in real time, along with conversations and notifications, in a transparent manner. Frontier also uses Slack, another web and mobile-based application, as a kind of public notice board, and messaging app WhatsApp for real time conversations. A shared Google calendar further ensures that everyone is clued in. So not only is the contribution by each individual transparent to other team members, but so are salaries – to a certain extent, ensuring that no one needs to feel undervalued.

“It’s basically about trusting people,” explains Sanderatne, “Most companies are writing and enforcing policies for the 3% that don’t work.” Communication is very important, he adds, and continuous feedback (which is true for any organization, really). Sanderatne says, “This can be bad for people who are not self driven, even if it is their choice. It’s very important to hire people who also have other things to do with their lives.”

 

HOW WSO2 DOES IT
WSO2 is an open source technology company that provides service-oriented architecture. It is best known for its Enterprise Service Bus, API management, governance and analytics offerings, some of which are notably used by eBay, Boeing, Experian and the digital e-Government of Moldova. WSO2 employs 480 (not inclusive of interns), 450 of whom are based in its Sri Lankan office.

Why does WSO2 believe in ‘employee centric’?
“At WSO2, we believe in asking for forgiveness and not asking for permission. If you want to try something, go ahead and try it out; if it doesn’t work out, its okay, you can learn something from it,” explains Vice President of Human Resources and Administration Udeshika Ratnavira, adding “We don’t blame anyone, we fix things.”

WSO2 believes in employee-centric policies, the first priority is employee wellbeing. “We want to ensure that our employees are happy and lead comfortable lives because everything we do depends on each and every one of them; they’re the ones who make it work,” says Ratnavira. In return, the employer is rewarded with great motivation and commitment.

What are WSO2’s ‘employee-centric’ policies?
At WSO2, the focus is on work; so as long as you do your work, what time you come into work or leave doesn’t matter, but you do have to come into work every day. And while you can decide your times depending on your productivity cycle and commitments, it is expected to be “reasonable” – that is, in sync with your entire team. “We find that people are definitely more productive. Our work requires people to be innovative, and a strict nine to five setting does not cater to that,” says Ratnavira. Employees are even allowed to walk out of office to run an errand or get some shopping done when they need to so.

Transparency also contributes to the company culture, with every email thread open to every single person in the organization, and people from various departments allowed to contribute to discussions occurring in other departments. “People are more involved and committed because they feel they are part of the decision making process, that they are listened to.”

WSO2 also does not monitor employees’ leave – “if you want to take leave, take it”. People with over seven years of service within WSO2 are allowed to take three months off on sabbatical, while those with less can request for extended time off if they are feeling burnt out.

How does WSO2 ensure that ‘employee centric’ works for the organization?
WSO2 has a very proactive HR department that is constantly looking to bring new and better processes, and revisit existing processes and improve on them. Each team (comprising approximately 25 people) also has an HR Lead who is responsible for HR administration within the team – the person is usually someone within the team, nominated and given HR training. The Team Lead is responsible, among other things, for being the culture champion in the team.

“Very few people have tried to abuse the system,” states Ratnavira. WSO2 believes in having the “necessary controls in place”, but not being petty about things — for example, employees hanging out late at the office, even if they are not working, are provided dinner for free (on top of free breakfast and lunch that costs a meagre amount). “Sometimes employees are just new and don’t know how to manage the situation.” The organization is of course very careful in hiring new people, putting prospective candidates through a long interview process consisting of seven levels.

One of the drawbacks is that people tend to check their emails during holidays and weekends, and WSO2 is currently trying to stop Team Leads from doing that, so they do not set a precedent for their fellows. Also, because of the flexibility offered, employees tend to not take enough leave, which WSO2 considers unhealthy and is working on fixing.

“It really works here,” says Ratnavira, “The more you give, the more they give back to the company.”

 

HOW VIRTUSA POLARIS DOES IT
VirtusaPolaris is a global information technology services company providing IT consulting, technology and outsourcing services. Founded in 1996, it employs 19,000 people across the US, Europe and Asia.

Why is VirtusaPolaris millennial focused?
“Because 86% of our workforce across the world is millennials and we need to cater to their way of thinking and doing things for them to be as effective as they can be,” says Chandi Dharmaratne, Senior Director of Human Resources at VirtusaPolaris. Also, because they have clients across various time zones, which may require employees to – at times – work non-traditional hours, VirtusaPolaris believes it is important to offer flexible options.

What are the flexi-time options that VirtusaPolaris offers?
Flexible timing is offered to all employees at Virtusa with clients and projects taken into consideration. If a project requires face time at the office at certain times on certain days, then it is mandatory to be at office during that period. Otherwise, employees have the flexibility to work from home, logging in to the secure Virtusa network so that their hours and work progress is tracked.

How does VirtusaPolaris make flexi-time work across the world?
“The most important thing about implementing flexible working hours is creating the ecosystem to enable it,” explains Dharmaratne. To this end, Virtusa has its very own internal social network V+ – accessible via mobile as well, so employees can keep track while on the go – that includes Yammer, a Facebook for corporates; Vtube, a YouTube equivalent for the organization; and Vingo, an internal search engine. There is also VInnovate, which allows any employee to crowdsource feedback on anything he/she has ideated or is working on. The V+ platform is accessible and entirely visible to every single employee across the world. There are also internally built project management tools for each step – from start to finish – of the software development process that tracks work progress.