Being ethical: The not so easy human behaviour

Human values will always remain in multicolour but often the rule of law is black or white. How can we find the balance between ethics and compliance?

Future of Work

When I think of humans, my natural instinct is to stretch my thoughts to MULTICOLOUR. Our team is a smorgasbord of cultures, personal preferences, value systems, priorities and work styles. Humans are both amazingly interesting and intensely complex.

As we build our business across geographies, our growing partner/client base requires a growing, global team. Ours is dispersed across 10 different countries; many of them working from home, some in shared office space. Today I’m working from our local coffee shop.

When it comes to ethics and compliance, sometimes multicolour doesn’t cut it. Sometimes it’s just black and white, sometimes there’s a lot of grey.

My recurring question are:

  • How do we build a scalable team that is fluid and flexible? How do we embrace digital nomads on an equal footing with their fixed-based counterparts?
  • How do we ensure our team remains ‘ethical’ to our culture and values while remaining compliant within the restraints of ever tightening data laws?
  • How do you build a team that celebrates Millennial values of inclusivity and transparency yet stress the importance of protecting partner information as if it were their very own deepest, darkest secret?
  • And how do we do all of this consistently?

As we journey towards a future of work dominated by robots and AI, ensuring humans remain relevant is critical. While robots may function in a world of black and white, human values will always remain in multicolour; and that’s our secret sauce. We need to nurture it.

Here are some answers to my own questions (a work in progress mind you):

  1. Fluidity is imperative to our success, however not all rules can be broken. Data protection laws like GDPR in Europe, though a true pain in the butt as we dot the i’s and cross the t’s, are necessary in the world of work. From a start-up and fully virtual team perspective, these laws actually provide the backbone of making ethical work easier. Sure there’s the short term pain of having to get a myriad of documents in place and rolled out to the team, but these are likely things that would have been shoved aside year-on-year until one day it was too late. Ethical considerations are important and bring clarity to a team on a foundational level so they can keep focused on where they can add the most value.
  2. Compliance is critical to our success and another necessary evil which at first one may want to resist. Every human I’ve ever met wants to be and do good. Yet, at the epicentre of their humanity lies an individual that thinks, acts and does what they assume is right. And that assumption, despite the very best of intentions, may not be fully aligned to the greater good of a company when working across multiple geographies. As a growing business with a massive vision of wanting to understand more and more how the world works, it is our duty to ensure that we have the guidelines in place, clearly documented and tracked so every single wonderful human on our team can perform within the grounds of our company values. Being compliant builds trust both internally and externally ultimately allowing us great(er) freedom and more opportunity to be creative.
  3. In a virtual team where we seldom have the luxury of being able to rely on the subtlety of body language, it’s imperative that we communicate clearly. But this isn’t always a given. I’ve preached this for years, and still need to be reminded that communication, good communication, requires the ability to tell and/or ask the “why | what | how | when | who”. As a company we don’t use email, we work across time zones, most of our team have never even met in person and while we do have opportunities to call one another using platforms like Zoom, Skype, Telegram or phone (seriously, who uses their phones for calls these days!), by providing insight on the why | what | how | when results in less assumptions and quicker, more successful outcomes. Think of it as ethical communication.
  4. The luxury to iterate till we’re happy and comfortable, then review regularly (even if it’s not broken) is a massive advantage for a start-up not hindered by a mass of red tape. Our team should never become complacent nor assume that what we are doing can’t be done better. It is our ethical responsibility to our clients and team to ensure that we are constantly improving.
  5. Finally, no surprises here, sound ethical practice sometimes means having honest and often hard conversations to nip issues in the bud. This morning, during one such connect with a colleague, I realised that this is the epitome of kindness and something we should, and I will, fiercely protect as we grow WNDYR into the best business we know how.

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