Open-source thinking - why we've made our employee handbook public

Tim Deeson

Nov 10 2016

Deeson handbook

As time goes on, Deeson’s culture is evolving to meet future workplace demands. Self-organising teams and flexible working means that we’ve created a fantastic environment for employees, with our work going from strength to strength. Our model is not static. There is constant evolution which means changing responsibilities and accountabilities. We want everyone in our team to be aware of them.

Our handbook

Introducing the Deeson Handbook. In it, we’ve described exactly how we work, along with our ethos and our vision. It’s written in plain English and contains simple guidelines, designed to give employees responsibility, talk to leaders, and become leaders themselves. We created it as a living document that’s been produced collaboratively, through workshops and candid discussions. And the best part? The handbook is now published on GitHub with a Creative Commons license so that anyone can download it. This means it’s now a freely-available and public document that anyone can add to and make suggestions for improvement - including other agencies.

The open source way

Like any modern entity, we’ve borrowed some elements of our culture and philosophy from companies we admire, taking the features we find useful and adding them into the mix to produce something that’s sustainable, collaborative and unique to us. In turn, we’re sharing the handbook for other companies to borrow from and build on; in the spirit of all that’s open source, we believe this is the best approach.

The trend for transparency

We’re not alone in this decision to publicise our company policies and processes. In fact, more and more organisations are choosing this transparent way of working. The social media platform Buffer, for example, openly blogs about its company decisions and publishes investor’s reports on a monthly basis. Animation studio Pixar shares details of its company culture for the world to read about and learn from (including this idea, which we borrowed recently). And others are joining them, from tech companies like GitLab and Clef to big brands like HubSpot, Wholefoods, Twitter and Google.

Building a culture

This trend for openness is part of a wider movement in which companies are choosing to design more inclusive cultures, rather than adopting traditional modes of working. This means introducing new processes that facilitate a more satisfying, productive way to work.

Here are some examples from our handbook

Flexible working and the remote revolution: Deeson has encouraged flexible working for a while now, and we’ve never looked back. In the handbook, we’ve emphasised that frictionless communication is key to successful distributed teams. We achieve this by using tools such as Slack and skills such as empathy.

Collaborative communities over bureaucracies: At Deeson everybody is willing to help because success is measured on how we work as a team. For example, our developers have a 20 minute rule; if someone has been trying unsuccessfully to solve a problem for 20 minutes or more, they should enlist a colleague to collaborate on finding a solution.

Flat structures over hierarchies: The trend for flat organisational structures is something we’re proud to be a part of with our self organising “pods”. It’s a topic we were recently interviewed about in The Guardian.

The handbook is our way of addressing, structurally and fundamentally, the reasons people can be unhappy at work. It’s imperative that Deeson, as well as other companies, address the difficult stuff that can often lead to toxic cultures and behaviours. Replacing micro-management with autonomy is key to this, but so is being clear about our goals and values.

Clearly defining the qualities we want to embody as an agency is an important part of creating the optimal workplace - find out how we’re trying to get our own house in order when it comes to diversity.

A new milestone

The handbook is not just a document; it’s also a milestone for us. Collaboration, trust and a flat structure is the only way to go - as a result, we’re removing rules such having to be in the office, designed for organisations where trust does not exist. We have the confidence to show clients and competitors exactly how we’re learning, succeeding and growing.

Curious to know what working at Deeson is like? Visit our Careers section or read the Deeson handbook.

Tim Deeson

About the author

Tim Deeson

Agency Founder

Tim's focus at the agency is culture and growth, including new services and technologies. Recent work has centred on self-organising teams and how the digital sector can become more inclusive.