https://gds.blog.gov.uk/2016/05/25/its-ok-to-say-whats-ok/

It's ok to say what's ok

It's ok - photo of the list of what's ok at GDS featured as bullet points in this post

We're hiring quite a lot of new people at GDS, and that's brilliant because there are so many new brains and new skills and new faces to get to know.

It's also difficult. It's difficult for those newcomers to know what to expect, and what's expected of them.

Of course they get told all the official stuff - how they get paid, how to use the printer, who their line manager is.

But it’s harder to communicate the unofficial stuff. The stuff that's good to know, but that it’s no-one's job to tell you. The stuff you'll probably find out during your first few months, but most likely by accident, because someone casually mentions something in passing and you say "Wait, what? Is that a thing?"

Stuff that’s good to know on day 1

The team I work with has been hiring too. We welcomed one newcomer two weeks ago, and two more just this week.

And it occurred to me: maybe it would be helpful to spell out this unofficial stuff up front, on day 1. Maybe we just need to say what’s ok. To be explicit about the things that those of us who have been here a few years take for granted.

So our team wrote a list of things it's ok to do at GDS.

It's ok to:

  • say "I don't know"
  • ask for more clarity
  • stay at home when you feel ill
  • say you don't understand
  • ask what acronyms stand for
  • ask why, and why not
  • forget things
  • introduce yourself
  • depend on the team
  • ask for help
  • not know everything
  • have quiet days
  • have loud days, to talk, joke and laugh
  • put your headphones on
  • say "No" when you're too busy
  • make mistakes
  • sing
  • sigh
  • not check your email out of hours
  • not check your email constantly during hours
  • just Slack it
  • walk over and ask someone face-to-face
  • go somewhere else to concentrate
  • offer feedback on other people's work
  • challenge things you're not comfortable with
  • say yes when anyone does a coffee run
  • prefer tea
  • snack
  • have a messy desk
  • have a tidy desk
  • work how you like to work
  • ask the management to fix it
  • have off-days
  • have days off

Having written the list and shared it with a few other people, we turned it into a poster and stuck a few copies on the walls. We took pictures and posted them on Twitter and Instagram. It seemed to go down quite well.

Growing a team is hard

I'm no expert, but I think that maintaining a good organisational culture is hard work, especially when your organisation is growing. None of your newly arrived colleagues can be expected to know all that cultural knowledge, and few of the old hands have time to sit down with them and explain it all.

So too often, newcomers are left to stumble on it by themselves. Eventually, they figure out the unwritten rules on their own, but that might take months, even years.

This poster isn't exhaustive. It doesn’t say everything that needs to be said. It's not an induction either, but perhaps it might become part of one. (We're working on a new induction process, something we've needed to do for ages. More on that another time.)

But: it's a start, and we hope it gives newcomers at GDS a hint about how we work, and how they'll be working too. Some of those old hands I mentioned have said they found it useful too.

It's ok to print your own copy

Quite a lot of people asked if they could get a copy to put up in their office too. Great idea. If you'd like one, you can download a print-your-own version.

Did I mention that we’re hiring? Oh yes, I did. Righto then.

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12 comments

  1. Comment by Darren posted on

    I'd love to download this. Shame that Tumblr is blocked by my department's direwall... (typo intentional!)

  2. Comment by David Wright posted on

    Hit the "download and print your own version" and DWP system blocked it! Classic! Will reproduce digitally (by using my digits to retype it!)

  3. Comment by fiona posted on

    Love the poster but obviously dont work customer facing- never allowed off days or be ill!!!! But Im going to print it and use it.

  4. Comment by Owais Qureshi posted on

    It totally depends on culture of the organisation .. Thats is why most organisations are looking for change - a way to organize their work in a better way and more leverage to employees.
    So GDS is doing a great job.

  5. Comment by GW posted on

    Culture is a wonderful thing - but it can lead to misunderstandings !
    To help me avoid that - what does "Just slack it " mean? Does it mean "sit there and don't do any work"? Or in the same way the "sick" and "bad" can actually mean "good" does it mean "get your head down and work really hard"? Or something totally different?

    • Replies to GW>

      Comment by Carrie Barclay posted on

      Hi Gwyn

      Thanks for your question. 'Slack' is a realtime messaging app that some people use to communicate with their colleagues, friends, or clients; especially if they are working remotely: https://slack.com/. Hope that clears it up!

      • Replies to Carrie Barclay>

        Comment by Katie posted on

        I find that Slack is the perfect name for it. Mainly as you spend more time answering questions on it from a dozen people when five minutes of real-time conversation would suffice.

  6. Comment by Sue L posted on

    Love it. It's also OK to fail sometimes. At least it shows that you've tried, and that way you can learn and grow.

  7. Comment by Nick S posted on

    Great list - wish more workplaces would genuinely take this kind of ethos to heart!

  8. Comment by Ilaria posted on

    Leave on time?

  9. Comment by Rachel posted on

    I loved this and as my unit is doing large scale recruitment thought it would be perfect for managers and new recruits. Like the earlier comment though my department has blocked access to the site as it's social media. Is there another way to get hold of a copy?

  10. Comment by Steve posted on

    This is great!

    I've just applied for a role at GDS and this goes a long way to making the noobs feel more comfortable while finding their feet. Fingers crossed I get to experience that for myself ;0)