Here are some concrete suggestions on how to put Sustainable Development into practice at your own workplace. Try any of these ideas that you think would work across your team, and adapt them into your own stated practices.
Create a Culture of Sustainability
Fully adopting Sustainable Development requires that an entire team - both employees and their managers - actually agree with it as an idea. Management overwhelmingly holds the key to its adoption succeeding or failing.
- Management has to care enough in it, and believe that it will work.
- Employees need to trust that management care about it succeeding, and feel safe giving management feedback on how their own stated practices are working.
Consider making it a stated company value to work sustainably. Companies sometimes use positive-sounding terms like “commitment”, “dedication”, and “passion” in their values, but those could be used in unhealthy ways to convince employees to work long hours to meet unreasonable deadlines.
Instead, commit from the top to embrace healthy and sustainable work practices, and enshrine that commitment in your team’s (or preferably, your company’s) values. Embracing and following healthy work models becomes possible once they are sanctioned by management. Conversely, Sustainable Development is doomed to failure if employees try to follow it but their management is culturally opposed to the idea.
Working hours should be explicitly stated, clear, and available to the team. Publishing them in your team’s internal document system is a good idea.
- “We all work 8 hours in a day, and you must be in the office for our 10am standup and until 3pm to allow in-person collaboration and pair programming.”
- “We do not want you to work after 6pm on weekdays or at all on weekends. Working extra hours is very strongly discouraged.”
- “As a distributed team, our work hours are flexible. We want you to focus on completing your work, and we trust you to work a healthy schedule to do that. It’s up to you to schedule times for collaborating with other remote team members.”
Vacations are incredibly important for healthy, long-term work. Disconnecting completely from the demands of the office has long been proven to reduce burn- out, improve creativity, and increase employee morale.
Companies often just define a basic vacation policy but without describing their expectations about how that vacation can and should be taken. This is where a team’s Sustainable Development practices could fill in the gaps.
For companies that offer “bounded” vacation times for their employees, it’s important to make sure that the employees do actually take the time they’ve accrued. If employees are consistently losing out on accrued vacation time because they haven’t taken enough during the work year, they may be working under high pressure and feel compelled to defer their own vacation breaks.
The “unlimited vacation” model is popular and can seem tempting. However, it can lead to employees fearing that they’re taking too much time off, since there’s often no stated guideline on what is reasonable. A team member might not have any company guidance available to them, so they could end up taking very little time off at all (bad for the employee) or taking enormous amounts of time off (bad for the company).
Teams with unlimited vacation balances should define sustainable practices around how their team members take time off. For example, requiring that everyone on the team take at least four weeks off every year.
Consider running a retrospective when the team has to work late hours or weekends, or when their own approach to sustainable work wasn’t consistently followed due to work pressures. Take real action based on the outcome of those retrospectives, and track how many times you have to run these kinds of retrospectives over time.
More will be published here shortly on the following topics:
- Personal vs. Team-Wide Policies
- Interruptions, Focus, and Work Environment
- Personal Emergencies
- Empowering Employee Back-Pressure
- Hiring and Onboarding
- Psychological Safety and Trust
- Feedback Cycles
- Exceptions Becoming Policy