Are you working too much? West Palm company focuses on ‘results only’
By Jeff Ostrowski – Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla., April 6, 2015 — Software engineer Edwin Rodriguez had just started his job at Forte Interactive, and he was surprised when his boss told him to go home at 2 p.m.
Rodriguez was prepared to put in a long day, and he worried that he might make a bad impression or even get fired for leaving early.
In fact, the short day was part of the more-for-less strategy used by the owners of Forte Interactive. The West Palm Beach-based tech company has made a concerted effort to limit employees’ hours.
They’ve adopted a “results-only” work schedule that doesn’t require employees to clock in and allows them unlimited vacation time. The only requirement is that they complete the projects assigned to them.
It’s an atypical approach to management, and even the biggest beneficiaries — engineers like Rodriguez, who is encouraged to go home once he has finished his work — can find it disconcerting.
“It was weird for me,” Rodriguez recalled. “I wasn’t accustomed to that kind of culture.”
Now that Rodriguez has been at Forte Interactive for more than a year, he’s too busy to leave at 2 p.m., but he does end his day as early as 3:30 or 4.
“As long as you’ve done all your work and completed all your tasks, they push you to go home,” Rodriguez said. “I can play with my kids.”
Slade Sundar, Forte Interactive’s chief operating officer, said the company eliminated time clocks and vacation limits several years ago. The result, he said, is a happier and more productive work force.
“It stops a lot of the clock-watching that you find in larger organizations,” Sundar said. “We’re getting better work. We’re treating them like adults. We give them the goals, and they deliver the results.”
In an age of telecommuting and e-mail and video conferences, workplace experts long have predicted that work schedules will grow more flexible. Instead, the opposite seems to have happened. Even tech companies like Yahoo! have discouraged telecommuting.
Employment attorney Eric Gordon of Akerman in West Palm Beach said he knows of no South Florida companies that have loosened their work schedules as much as Forte Interactive.
“In concept, I love the idea,” Gordon said. “It doesn’t matter where you work, when you work, or how you work, as long as you get the work done.”
But it’s a scary concept for managers, who want to squeeze as much productivity from workers as possible. Robert Anderson, a founding partner at Forte Interactive, recalls that launching the results-only schedule was frightening. He wondered if anyone would show up for work.
“The fear is that people are going to take advantage of it,” Anderson said.
That makes hiring crucial — if workers can leave when they want, employers must hire serious, motivated people, Anderson said.
And Forte Interactive’s executives found the big challenge wasn’t getting workers to show up despite their freedom. It was getting them to go home.
“We didn’t know how to deal with the workaholics,” Sundar said.
One employee at Forte Interactive insisted on putting in long hours even after his wife gave birth to their baby. Sundar’s solution? He cut off the workers access to Forte Interactive’s system after 5:30 p.m.
“A schedule-free workplace doesn’t work for everyone,” said Joyce Chastain, president of the HR Florida State Council. “Workers in retail and health care, for instance, can’t just leave the store or hospital. And labor laws require hourly wage earners to be paid by the hour.”
“It can’t work in a setting with non-exempt employees because of the Fair Labor Standards Act,” Chastain said.
She sees the arrangement making sense for professional organizations such as law practices, consulting companies and engineering firms, which typically are staffed with striving professionals who typically put in a few hours of work even when they’re on vacation.
Chastain also sees a strong financial motive for employers: By doing away with vacation time, they no longer carry unused vacation time on their balance sheets.
“That huge financial liability goes away if we say vacation is something we can take whenever you feel like you need to take it,” Chastain said.
For Forte Interactive, the schedule-free workplace is driven not by accounting concerns but by a desire to hang onto hard-to-find tech employees.
“Our productivity went up, and people were happier,” Anderson said. “It’s kind of tough to grasp in the beginning, but when you let go, it really works well. Once you see the value, you don’t go back.”
As the Chief Operating Officer of Forte Interactive, Slade leads marketing, operations, human resources, and product development, while overseeing a staff of Millennial employees.
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