Two critical things bring the humane workplace to life, according to Dustin Moskovitz of Asana, and previously co-founder of Facebook: a commitment to work-life balance and open communication. In an interview with Katie Benner of the New York Times at Startup Grind, Moskovitz explained how these values inform the culture of the new company he’s building, Asana.
Watch Dustin Moskovitz of Asana and Katie Benner of the New York Times, and read our highlights below.
Stay Productive: Stable Structure meets Personalized Downtime
Moskovitz learned some hard lessons during his tenure at Facebook - and the most valuable of them inspired him to found Asana, aimed at facilitating efficient teamwork. “When I started working in the Valley, I succumbed to the pressure to keep driving, keep grinding," said Moskovitz, who endured but not endorsed the hard-driving culture of Silicon Valley that build Facebook into the world's largest social networking company, adding "there’s also a culture of one-upsmanship, and I sort of fell into it.”
Asana is build different, says Moskovitz, deeply conscious of the pitfalls of burnout.
For one, while the company uses the agile methodologies common in software development, it organizes its projects with an approach Moskovitz calls episodes: a 4-month period over which certain product, strategy and sales goals are achieved. At the end of an episode, the team runs a review in the form of "roadmap week." This is an opportunity to break from the episode - the "in the weeds" doing part of the job - to review progress, identify problem areas, and begin plans for the next episode - effectively taking a "sky high" perspective of the job to be done.
Episodes and roadmap week provide structure for the entire company, but Moskovitz also encourages members to take downtime whenever they need it. The value of these breaks - whether they’re walks, vacations or sabbaticals - is that they respect the need for human beings to find the right rhythm to perform optimally.
Keep Improving: Open and Productive Communication
That's the second ingredient, Moskovitz shared: all healthy companies need open and productive communication, spanning every area of concern from recruiting to fair compensation to team project management and assessment. Being able to tackle any issue openly helps the company grow and improve, posed Moskovitz, emphasizing that tackling problems head on is a core value.
For example, an employee not pulling his or her weight imposes a cost on an entire team - a cost that cannot be ignored because it will be amplified as a company scales.
Moskovitz directly addressed equity compensation, arguing that employees were at a disadvantage in terms of understanding how equity works. “Options are such a foreign subject for most employees. Then you add liquidation preferences and ratchets, and so this is a losing game for employees,” Moskovitz lamented. For problems like this, a culture of open communication ensures that problems are solved intentionally.
Best Practices for Humane Workplaces
Though it’s difficult to convey in words, Moskovitz made it clear that “best practices” cannot be cemented in company manuals or value statements. Instead, they have to be embedded in the way a company actually handles conflict among its employees and in the way a company proactively empowers its teams. At Asana, this is accomplished through intentional product development practices (episodes followed by roadmap weeks) and genuine support for an anti-grinding culture. Sounds like a nice place to work to us.