Phil Libin on Workplace Management and Workflow Processes

August 20, 2015

CEO of Evernote, Phil Libin, not only brought us a pretty fantastic life hack tool, but he’s also known for sharing his pearls of wisdom on the topic of booting archaic workplace practices and workflows. His common sense anecdotes on improving the place we spend a majority of our time, often leave us scratching our heads, Yeah, why do we still do it that way?

Here are a few Libinisms that we here at Volano could totally get behind…

On Eliminating Artificial Barriers

Libin refuses to buy into workplace politics, so he has very thoughtfully designed his own company in a fashion that discourages an emphasis on the traditional signs of seniority. The physical office has a very flat, open structure with no offices, quite literally eliminating the idea of “the ladder”.

Evernote offers no perks and none of the traditional status symbols that come with being a higher up. Libin believes that these things create artificial barriers to communication, and they just aren’t necessary. Obviously, there are varying levels of financial compensation, but his goal is to get rid of all of those outward signs that make decision makers unavailable to the rest of the company.

“We try to have an organization that just helps you get your work done, and then it’s my job to eliminate all of the risks and all the distractions so you can just focus on achieving. That attracts people who are primarily motivated by how much they achieve.”

On the Problem with Email

This one sounds insane, but Libin has actually uprooted the e-mail culture at Evernote. The tide is really changing here. Once thought of as the backbone of workplace communications, email is now going the way of the fax machine when it comes to interoffice communications. We can all agree that email isn’t efficient, but what are the other options?  Well, according to Libin, the other option is to get up from your desk and walk over to the person you’re trying to communicate with. What a novel idea.

Simply put, when Libin sees a workflow flaw, he gives it the boot and he’s never afraid to try and fail. Maybe he didn’t find the better way this time, but he keeps trying until he does.

“We strongly discourage lengthy e-mail threads with everyone weighing in. It’s just not good for that. Plus, it’s dangerous, because it’s way too easy to misread the tone of something. If you want to talk to somebody and you’re a couple floors apart, I kind of want you to get up and go talk to them.”

On Stupid, Passive Aggressive Signs

Probably our favorite. Libin realized that everywhere he went around the office he would see stupid, “snotty” signs. So, he went around, tore all of them down and talked with the people who posted them. Now, common sense, passive aggressive signs are nowhere to be seen in the Evernote office. Instead, people are tasked with saying what they mean. In this case, what has for years passed as the “polite” way to do things, is totally not acceptable any longer.

“I declared war a few months ago on stupid office signs. I realized that I started seeing signs around the office everywhere. Like, ‘Your mother doesn’t work here, make sure you wash the dishes after yourself.’ And the signs suck. They’re passive aggressive….Because when you get to be a company of a bigger size, it really does start to feel like work when you see the accumulation of crappy culture like this.”

Libin is of the same school of thought that we are here at Volano. “Because we’ve always done it that way.” isn’t a reason to continue with archaic business practices or flawed workflow management procedures. There will always be a better way to do something, a way that saves time, money or sanity, and we’re all about figuring out what it is.

If you’d like to talk about how Volano can help improve the workflow at your company, we’d love to talk.