When we first read about Quirky’s new Blackout policy, a complete operational shutdown for the 1st week of each quarter, we were admittedly more than a little intrigued. We have written about Quirky previously here and here, as well as being featured in PSFK Labs‘ Future of Work report. The policy sounded great for office morale- but what about production? Would working only 48 weeks of the year hurt the business and external relationships? We spoke to Nikki Kaufman, head of People and Culture at Quirky, about the innovative schedule, learning that the Blackout was just one small aspect of Quirky’s unconventional and forward-thinking approach that is redefining traditional norms of how we work:
What was the impetus behind creating the Blackout?
We’ve found that our cadence as a business is very centered around 90 day sprints. Retail seems to have 4 major seasons, our best products seem to be baked in 90 day time frames. The longest we can lock in tactical plans without completely guessing as to what products we will be talking about/investing in is quarterly. Pressure slowly builds throughout these 90 day periods, culminating in an extremely stressful and magically productive final 2-3 weeks of a calendar quarter. It’s been this way for 3 years. Historically, we’ve jumped right back into it.
However, at Quirky we aim to reinvent all aspects of product development so why not reinvent the workplace environment too?
Hence, beginning in 2013, the first week of every new calendar quarter will be lights out. This Blackout is one way that we are aiming to reinvent the traditional work environment. I imagine that we will experiment with other meaningful changes down the road too. These [changes] might be anything from a change to the way in which physical space is used, the way in which meetings are conducted, vacations are scheduled and more!
What does the Blackout help achieve, from both a morale and production point of view?
This is time for us to explore other creative interests. Relax without worrying about what we’re missing. Time for us to get our head back into the game. For some of us, time for us to clean our apartments, see the dentist, and buy a new pair of kicks. A time where all of us as a team can all relax simultaneously and know that there is nothing to worry about.
A time for us to reflect on the successes and failures of the prior quarter, and prepare mentally for the one to come.
At the end of each Blackout week, leadership team members will come into the office to plan the next 11 weeks of work. All the goals will be defined. We will start the Monday of the 2nd week of each quarter with an all staff meeting where we will discuss our plan, objectives, goals for the 11 weeks to follow.
What did employees do during the Blackout? Did they respect the no work policy? How is the Blackout different than a week-long vacation they could take by themselves?
Yes! The intent is to respect the Blackout. This first week may have been a poor example because there was not enough planning time. Some staff had prior work commitments that they had to oblige to and many of the staff could not plan a vacation in time. I think the next Blackout will be a better indication of the success of this new way of working. Staff can do anything from make doctor appointments they might not otherwise want fit in, visit family & friends, clean their apartments, SLEEP, stay away from email & calls, visit museums, design something for themselves, go to a spa and much more.
Staff are still encouraged to take as much vacation as they need. The 4 weeks Blackout DO NOT replace any vacation days that our staff needs or wants. In everyone’s offer letter, we stipulate the following: Vacation and Personal Time Off: You’re an adult. Take vacation / personal time off when you need it, and provide your coworkers and supervisor with plenty of notice.
This time is not meant to be a replacement to our current vacation policy, but instead a supplement to it. You’ll note the days which fall under this policy do not always coincide with school calendars, major holidays when you might want to travel home, etc… Our ‘you’re an adult, take whatever time off you need to live a happy life, see your family, maintain at the top of your game’ policy prevails.
Can you tell us a bit about the reaction to the Blackout, from an internal and external standpoint? How will you measure its success?
The Blackout definitely seems to be a success so far. I have been checking with with lots of different employees from different departments to gather their feedback and hear about what they did during Blackout. The external Quirky community seems to be pleased as well. I think the beginning of Q2 blackout will be an even better measure of it’s success because everyone internally (as well as externally) will expect it and be able to plan for it accordingly (plan vacations, complete all work before hand, book appointments, travel etc). Also, from a recruiting standpoint of course this a very advantageous perk. Every candidate I have told gets super excited about it. Many have them have already read about it as well.
The Blackout is just one part of the unique Quirky culture- can you tell us about some other things you and your team do to create a positive environment?
Quirky is a high pressure atmosphere. We push the absolute limits of every single day we have. Doodling, Breaking, Building, Shipping, Prettying, Counting, Labeling, Collaborating, Coding, Inventing. And at Quirky, our people always come first. People are our biggest asset and we all do our best to give them the ideal work environment and culture. I believe that we hire ‘A’ (or A+ ) talent, give them an ‘A’ work environment & culture and expect ‘A’ output.
Some of the other perks and aspects of Quirky’s culture include: catered dinner every Thursday night before evaluation, awesome drinks & snacks 24/7, gorgeous office with full kitchen and showers (in case you want to work out during the day or jog/bike to work), bike rack in the office, monthly $100 for each staff member, 401K plan, excellent medical & dental benefits, unique on-boarding activities, monthly potluck, birthday celebrations and more!
In addition to rethinking a traditional work schedule and boosting office morale, the Blackout also redefines what it means to set goals. With the clearly defined break between quarters, the team has the opportunity to think about objectives for the quarter ahead with a refreshed focus. The Blackout redefines a year as 48 weeks, which in turn redefines how employees focus and work. Is this people-focused approach the Future of Work?
Click through the images below to get a peak into the Quirky office:
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