Working naked – principles and origins

At the company, I founded and managed as CEO for 20 years, we used, and perhaps coined, the phrase “Working naked”. It was an amalgamation of our values statement which focuses on individual freedom and responsibility along with our unique work-life experience which included

  • Flexible schedule
  • Flexible work location
  • Decentralized management aka No bosses

Work naked Values

Our value statement is at the bottom but the 6 key points are as follows

  • Everyone thinks: Intelligent, intellectually curious, logical, and systematic
  • Everyone leads: Proactive, assertive, principled, and confident
  • Everyone grows: Intellectually curious, ambitious, energetic, and motivated
  • Everyone serves: Proactive, informed, constructive, and focused
  • Everyone shares: Outgoing, communicative, engaging, enthusiastic, and helpful
  • Everyone strives: Productive, focused, driven, and motivated (1)

These values accentuate independence, initiative and freedom … ala working naked

Work naked Work places

Freedom is just a word unless you back it up with how you treat people in the work place

There is no true freedom if

  • You enforce captive employment in an office or otherwise restrict their freedom of movement
  • You make people work by a rigid schedule or otherwise restrict their time
  • You micromanage and boss people around

Instead offer …

  • a Flexible schedule – Let your teamwork wherever the Hell they want
  • a Flexible work location – Let your teamwork whenever the Hell they want
  • Decentralized management – Get the Hell out of their way

Make it happen

It’s not that hard to implement and it will be the single, biggest and most impactful thing you do for work place morale, motivation and productivity. Here are 3 simple steps

  • Flexible location – Go remote. Ok, have an office. I love offices as long as I’m not required to work in them. They are great for meetings, interviews, getting corporate mail, hanging plants etc. But otherwise let people work remote.
  • Flexible Schedule – Focus on the results, not when or how long people work to achieve them. That allows your team to work a flexible schedule
  • Decentralized management – Empower your people to solve problems, implement solutions. Once empowered, let them do their jobs. Let them figure out how to solve business problems themselves, while you focus on facilitating them. If they need help, be there for them. If they don’t, get out of their way.

If you don’t know how to manage remote workers effectively, you will need to learn. Enterprise SCRUM and other AGILE approaches will help you

Where did the term “Working naked” originate?

I was working as a consultant at Bank Boston in the late 90’s. During my tenure, Bank Boston was acquired by Fleet and they began laying everyone off. Despite my temporary work status I was the single remaining person on the floor on my last day. They had cut the air conditioning, earlier in the week, and it was quite hot. I remember saying, “Hell, I could work naked and nobody would even know!”. Whether I ever acted on that impulse or not will not be disclosed lest I be accused of over-sharing …  but I thought to myself, “Wow, wouldn’t it be cool if I could be at a job where I COULD?”. Thus, the seed of this concept was planted in my head

I had already created some software, that in its nascent form, would go on to become some of the first ApexSQL tools. I still had 3 years left of consulting, though, before I would create my company and give myself, and later my team, the work-life freedoms that I had dreamed of in that hot, empty floor in a downtown Boston skyscraper.

How can *I* work naked?

Many and soon most companies will offer these same benefits. If you don’t work for one, quit and go work for the ones who do.

If you are reading this from Serbia, apply for a job at ApexSQL/Quest. These freedoms are still being offered and in some ways, even accentuated. For example, they purchased everyone a top of the line, Dell laptop to allow people to work anywhere they want. Vrlo dobro!

Working naked values statement

Everyone thinks: Intelligent, intellectually curious, logical, and systematic

We are all knowledge workers. Our primary tool is our brain and the power of our thought drives our actions and produces results. Don’t look to “bosses” to think for you; think for yourself; think outside of the box to achieve the best results. Think critically, objectively and with full information before you answer, act or deliver. Lack of thinking blinds us to obvious problems. Critical thought allows us to bake elegance and simplicity into everything we do

Everyone leads: Proactive, assertive, principled, and confident

We are all leaders of the company, of our team, of ourselves and of our tasks. Proactively identify problems and solve them. Don’t ask questions but make recommendations. Perform duties with minimal supervision. Don’t just worry about issues or ignore them, but express your concern through direct action. Ensure you are aligned with goals of the company and your team at all times and your actions promote tangible and measurable progress towards those goals

Everyone grows: Intellectually curious, ambitious, energetic, and motivated

Professional development is a cornerstone to our success. Constantly work to increase your knowledge, skills and efficiency. Don’t wait to be told to learn or grow; make it a daily habit. Don’t seek to learn by asking questions. Become an expert in your competency and share with others; add value to our processes and organization via actionable, well researched, and informed recommendations

Everyone serves: Proactive, informed, constructive, and focused

Recognize that empathy and a desire to serve are the foundations for a stellar customer experience. Proactively engage your customers to seek their feedback, take personal ownership of their issues and dedicate yourself to making sure it is resolved. Treat everyone as a customer, internal or external, and make responsiveness part of your personal brand. Build effective working relationships with a focus on being positive, informative, actionable, and helpful. Prioritize team success over personal achievement

Everyone shares: Outgoing, communicative, engaging, enthusiastic, and helpful

Communicate widely and effectively to the team, customers and community; educate your customers, peers and product owners. Volunteer self-criticism for failures proactively and be thankful for feedback, positive or negative. Mentor, advise and help others as they seek to grow and develop. Project value beyond your personal contribution by empowering others with your knowledge and experience

Everyone strives: Productive, focused, driven, and motivated

Focus on results. Expend the effort required to meet deadlines under pressure or at least go down with a fight; use time efficiently and demonstrate strong and consistent productivity; prioritize effectively to goals aligned with stakeholders; identify risks early and work to overcome roadblocks vs making excuses. Single task with a focus on daily deliverables, completed thoroughly to a high level of quality. Set expectations realistically and expend the effort required to meet them (2)


(1) (2) ApexSQL


Why I never take vacation

“Here’s my card. It’s got my cell number, my pager number, my home number and my other pager number. I never take vacations, I never get sick and I don’t celebrate any major holidays. ” – Dwight K. Shrute

A lot of people have asked me about vacations, time off etc over the years, and how/why I don’t take any, so I figured I would write this post to address it once and for all.

My vacation history

I’ve never taken vacation in the last (I don’t remember how many years) but let’s say 25. I did take a road trip to Arizona one time where I was technically off work for a bit. I’ve had the occasionally afternoon off or a low activity day. A few times I got sick and I think 1, 2 or even 3 times I may have even taken a sick day. But for all intents and purposes I’ve worked every day for the last 25 years, including weekends and holidays.

Vacation background

I grew up in a town in rural, Northern Maine where “vacations” weren’t really common. It was poor, by American standards, so people didn’t have a lot of money for vacations. A lot of the employment was related to mills, which would shut down for 2 weeks in the summer and that was your vacation. You didn’t ask for or request vacation like in a lot of companies now. If you weren’t working in a mill, you were probably a farmer and farmers can’t ever take vacation (unless they hire someone to cover the farm). It isn’t like people in my town or my family didn’t do enjoyable activities i.e. fishing, snow-mobiling etc but the concept of taking a week off to go somewhere and do something, wasn’t really as common or prevalent as it is now, and for many families wasn’t really a thing.

Vacations suck

It was the same for our family. We of course knew what vacations were but really didn’t get the concept of “having fun”. Despite that, my family decided, for some reason, that we would start taking a vacation each summer, renting a small home/camp by a lake that was only a few miles from our house. My parents would read books, or watch TV or something and myself and my sister, who was 8 years younger, were supposed to “have fun” throwing rocks into the lake or something.

The irony was that I was perfectly happy at my house. I had a farm with many animals that I took care of and many other activities to keep me busy. Now, on “vacation” I still had to go home to do my chores in the morning but got the opportunity to stand around doing nothing at the lake for the rest of the day. And I would have to bike the 3-4 miles one way to “commute” back and forth.

My uncle recently remarked how funny he thought it was, that when they visited at the lake and the whole family was there, that I was missing and back at the house because “I loved to work”. Yes, I did, but I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I also hated those lake vacations, which was part of it as well.

Absence creates problems

What reminded me to write a blog on this subject was a situation that happened last week. I never go out, have fun etc but last week I did. I asked my wife to close up the barn to lock in my animals for the night, but something went wrong and when I got back in the morning 20% of my chicken flock had been massacred by coyotes.

Think of it. I go out one night in probably 10 years and I come back to a disaster. This is a microcosm for my 20 years as a founder and CEO. If I stepped away for a day, invariably I would return to some sort of huge problem. This conditioned me to just never step away, especially when coupled to my general aversion to vacations (see above) and some bad experiences (see below).

Yes, I’m sure there are many people who will say “Oh, just hire people to run your business for you” like that is so easy. Even though I had very excellent people working for me, it just isn’t that easy and they couldn’t cover everything I did. But anyway, you are welcome to go on believing that …

Other examples

In addition to hating every second of my “lake vacations” several bad things happened to me while I was removed from my daily, productive and happy cycle to undergo these “forced fun” exercises.

In one case, I had been promoted to a job at a local farm, to the position of “farm wright”. I hadn’t yet transitioned to the role when the owner called me to request that I come in. I told her that I was supposed to be “On vacation or something”. She asked me to repeat what I said and so I repeated “Rainy, I’m on vacation”. She said “Good bye” and I never heard from her again. I did hear that my friend, who had lost out on the job, was promoted to the position and was working at it before I even returned to work.

Back to the massacre of my chickens, that prompted this post. One morning, I had arrived at the house, from my vacation, after biking the 3-4 miles from the lake, to find all of my chickens killed. With no one at the house, my flock was literally fair game for anything around including dogs, hawks, foxes etc. I was so angry and frustrated that I was taken away from my work, to do something I didn’t want to do, which resulted in the destruction of my business. I vowed that day to never allow anyone to take me away from my work again and thus ended my Maine lake vacations, for good.

Later years

Fast forward to my time working in Boston, we took a vacation to the Caribbean. Not only was it one of the worst weeks of my life, as I absolutely hated everything about the place, when I got back my cube was all messed up from guys who had to cover my accounts, and didn’t want to, throwing papers and files on it. I dug myself out from under the piles of crap people had dumped on my desk but swore I would never give them another opportunity, certainly not to spend time doing something I didn’t want to. I did take sweet satisfaction in messing up everyone else’s desks, when they went on vacation, knowing from that point on that they could never reciprocate!

My vacation policy

“Oh, so you don’t allow people to take vacations?!” No, actually my company had a ton of vacations. Two guys had 10 weeks of vacation a year, at the end of the year. Everyone started with 6 weeks I believe and it went up there. We offered all local holidays plus 3-4 “floating” holidays. We offered 5 paid sick/personal days. Oh, and if you didn’t use up all of this you could sell it back to the company, sometimes at a multiple of up to 2x aka double-overtime. So I think vacations were a huge perk at working at my company, and it continues to be under the new organization post acquisition.

I don’t like or appreciate vacations myself, but I do understand that others do and apparently need them and/or find them enjoyable.

My beliefs

I believe that if you want to be successful you must be present. You can’t delegate success anymore than I could effectively delegate the safe-guarding of my farm security to my wife. By being absent you miss opportunities and put yourself in the position of realizing risks, that you could otherwise mitigate.

If you want to have lots of time off, that is fine, but I would suggest you don’t start a business, startup or be a farmer.


Could your family take vacations? Yes – and they enjoyed them, just without me

Don’t you like spending time with your kids, family? Yes – and I was always available for my family and spent lots of time with them. Working naked with full flex time, flex location affording me this ability

Don’t you need time off to re-charge for work? No.

Don’t you realize vacations make you more productive and effective? No. My dead chickens apparently don’t either

Do you realize that you are violating some EU rule that mandates every worker gets 12 weeks of vacations with mandatory spa time, facials and mud bath treatments? I’m not in EU.


Ted “Chickman” Murray and other heroes of the working man

After college I worked at a genetics company in New Hampshire, called “Hubbard farms” that was a subsidiary of Merck (at the time). Hubbard’s goal was to make the next best chicken!

As part of the operation, there was a big hatchery, from which chicks would be sent to customers all over the North East of the US and parts of Canada. Ted Murray aka “Chickman” was a driver. Ted worked for the company for 40 years. He loved his job and being part of the company was important to him. Although drivers don’t make a lot of money, compared to say doctors or lawyers, Ted had worked for the company for so long and had so much Merck stock that he was set for life.

Naturally, based on his age and financial security, the idea of retirement was broached. While I was there they were negotiating with Ted to try to get him to take this step but he was resisting it. Finally, they came up with a deal where he would retire, albeit reluctantly. I remember his party at the hatchery.

Within the month, Ted was dead (1)

Come Hell or high water

While I was working at this same company, I would hear stories about this other guy, I don’t remember his name. But he also worked at the company for more than 40 years. During this time he only had one sick/personal day. But in fact, in reality he never had a full sick day but only had 2 1/2 sick/personal days

In one case, he went to his brother’s funeral. So that counted for 1/2 a day

In another case, he was caught on the Vermont side of a flooded Connecticut river, and Hubbard was on the New Hampshire side. The bridge, that you would typically take, was closed. A normal person would just turn around and go home. This guy commandeered a boat and set it off near the bridge in an attempt to cross. He finally did make it across the raging waters to the other side but by the time he did, he was several miles downstream and had to work his way back to the bridge, then hitch a ride to work. By the time he arrived at work, it was lunch time and he was docked 1/2 personal day.

I’ve always been inspired by guys like these. They didn’t create a billion dollar company, get listed on the New York Stock Exchange or invent some amazing product. They were just guys who got up and put their pants on one leg at a time, day after day for 40+ years. They loved their work for the sake of it. They loved the grind. When I look for inspiration, in my work, I don’t think of Steve Jobs or Elon Musk. I think of Ted “Chickman” Murray

(1) You can imagine my reaction when I hear people refer to me as retired 😉


Fix the damn truck

I’m fascinated by the concept of work, what people do, how they do it, what makes someone successful and someone else not so much. I’m always looking at people through the lens of their approach to their vocation. If they are successful, I’m looking for clues to what they do right. If they aren’t, they can be useful as anti-patterns for behaviors, approaches to avoid

I have a 2nd cousin in Maine, the son of my cousin, who is held up locally as a successful guy. He is in his mid 30’s and drives a truck for a living. He owns his own vehicles and runs it as an independent business. Lot’s of people drive trucks in Maine. On the surface it seems like a simple job. But why are some more successful at it, significantly so in some cases, than others?

The first thing you notice is Caleb’s truck is spotless. It has no dents or scratches, but it is also washed and clean. As I was admiring it, one thing he said to me was “When my truck breaks, I won’t stop until it gets fixed. In other words, when it breaks I’m gonna fix the damn truck”. This means he will work on it in the middle of the night, on a weekend, in the middle of a blizzard etc. But he will focus on that task until it is done. I thought to myself, this essentially sums this guy up and everything about his success. When his truck breaks, he fixes it. Not later, not tomorrow, not waiting for whatever reason, but right then, in place, no matter the conditions. It isn’t difficult to understand. It’s not complicated. That’s it.

How many people do you know who roll out of the office at 5 PM with a task not completed, a customer waiting for a reply, a build not deployed, a bug not fixed. Now think of the people who commit to finish the job, no matter if they must stay late. Now track the success of those people over time and watch the two groups diverge.

Drive through Maine and you can see beat up trucks sitting in a yard, with beer cans in the driveway. What stops that person from taking some pride in their work horse, that their livelihood depends on? What compels someone like Caleb to lie on the frozen ground, in the middle of the night with a flashlight to make sure his rig can roll out at 6 AM the next morning?

Whatever the difference in motivation, the results are clear. We see it every day. The people who keep their rigs shiny and running smooth make it happen, day in and day out. That is the person I want to be. Those are the people I want to work with.