When do you work?

Sometimes, my friends who don’t work in and around startups ask me what my hours are.  I have no idea how to even answer that question.  Am I working when I attend a lecture on a tech topic of interest?  Am I working when I’m hanging out with a bunch of actual friends of mine who work at startups on a quest to find the best steak in New York?  I got a potential deal from the latter, but I wasn’t thinking of it like work at all.

That’s why I think the setting of hours is interesting.  There are clearly some reasonable reasons to set some amount of expectations around work.  If your developers are working late, and then they don’t stroll in into the afternoon, they might be putting in enough time, but they might make it hard for designers and product managers to get work done in the morning. 

That being said, if the hours set are too onerous, you wind up with a company full of clock watchers—or even worse, a company focused on putting hours in versus doing great work.

I’ve always been someone who keeps very inconsistent hours.  You’ll often se me leave the office at 5 or 5:30 to go play softball—but you’ll just as easily see me stay until 10 or 11 so I can dig out from underneath a mountain of e-mail.  I enjoy that flexibility, and because our company culture at First Round is all about getting high quality work done, not just putting in hours, that feels fine.

I asked Ted from Dogster what hours they keep.  He told me something like 9:30 to 6—but it’s really only written down so no one shows up at noon.  Other than that, they don’t much pay attention to it at all—it’s a very casual, comfortable work environment.  That being said, when they’re launching a new product or release, everyone knows they stay until its done—which might be 1AM.  However that also means that when the PMs are speccing, and the designers and devs have nothing to do, they’re free to leave early. 

Hours aren’t the only thing that make up company culture, but they often set the tone.  I know personally that I hated environments like I felt like it was a race to put in hours, or that you were looked upon with a raised eyebrow if you were out before 8.  Maybe I’m just a more productive worker than you—or maybe I work more efficiently at home.  Maybe I’m really just good for 8 or 9 hours of quality work per day, and then my brain shuts off. What then?  Would you rather have me or someone who operates below par for 12 hours a day?

What other things effect company culture?  What makes a good culture?  Right now, nextNY is doing a community vote around which NYC tech company has the best culture.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.  If a company you know, maybe yours, really strives to create a great environment, nominate them!