I’m days away from moving my family halfway across the globe, but I won’t miss a beat at work because I work for a truly flexible company. Just to be clear, when I say flexible, I don’t mean that stuff that big companies peddle as a way of attracting millennial staff. I mean genuine, high-functioning flexibility built into the fabric of a small, creative business that allows it to be truly agile and forward-thinking.
When I announced my decision to move to a country that is as far away as I could physically get from our company base in Scotland, my CEO didn’t even blink. There was no hesitation or disappointment. She simply congratulated me on my adventurous new plans. When the excitement and questions settled, she didn’t list a bunch of potential concerns and problems we’d likely face working from different time zones. She wasn’t worried about it; in fact, she saw it as an opportunity for the business.
You see before this company I was anchored to a workplace. My physical presence was required there. That meant that my husband and I were sometimes apart for several months as his job required him to travel and my son and I could not accompany him. In most normal circumstances I would have had to quit my job to move outside of a commutable distance.
Now, I can live and work in an entirely different time zone and continue to fulfil my duties. Of course, some things will change, but we’re built for that. You see, long before the pandemic forced companies that purported to be flexible, to put their money where their mouths were, we’d already built our organisation on that foundation. As working mothers we needed flexibility and autonomy in order to succeed. We simply couldn’t work any other way; it was intrinsic to everything we set out to do. We can handle school runs, sick children and real-life and still succeed.
How do you create flexibility in your business?
To do this… to really do this well, with high functionality and output, meant we needed systems, processes, really good comms and trust in each other and our ability to deliver without the usual structure in place from the start. The secret isn’t sexy. It’s about organisation and honesty. Very few people, especially in the bootstrapping-start-up world begin by designing processes and systems. It’s not the fun stuff nor does it equal immediate revenue, so it’s often overlooked. But once it’s in place, it allows everything that comes after it to happen quickly and smoothly.
In order for us to work flexible hours, but still work collaboratively, we needed to be in pretty regular contact and transparent about all that we were doing so that anyone could pick it up and run with it if for instance, one of us were to find ourselves at A&E with a child but simultaneously up against a deadline (which is always the way!)
We have a brilliantly tailored intranet for quick comms and easy access to docs. We have regular meetings, updates and training on new systems, so we’re all always in the loop. We accept that what we’re doing is iterative and that allows us to try things and change them within a single conversation.
But it’s more than that. We’ve built a small but mighty team of doers and problem solvers (rare skills that are worth every penny) that all believe in our shared vision – because we’ve built it together. My teammates are experts in their areas, they understand their roles and remits and are dedicated to delivering on their targets because they played a part in setting them. We respect each other’s skills and roles and stay in our own lanes.
Trust each other
We lead together. We discuss the goals and build the strategy collaboratively and then, no matter where we are, we go off and do our part. We trust each other to deliver and we respect each other’s expertise and perspective. That doesn’t mean that we always agree, but it means that we work together to get there.
We know that everyone is playing their part and it doesn’t matter when and how they work or use their time to get the job done. In fact, no one is keeping track. It’s simply not important. We’ve never missed a deadline or not delivered on a project.
Our core staff all work 4 days a week with total autonomy from our chosen locations. We like to meet up monthly for some actual face-to-face time at a central location, but that’s more because we genuinely like each other and the exchange of energy in person is fun, more than it is necessary. I’ll miss these meetings most of all when I’m abroad.
Invest in each other’s success and happiness
As a small organisation, we work with a team of part-timers, contractors and freelancers to grow and deliver projects as we need to. We work with these people in the same manner as we work, with respect for their individual skills, and a clear remit with goals and timelines. We let them get on with their other projects and clients as they need to. When team members get a big contract elsewhere or need time away to realise creative ventures, we give them the time and work together internally to compensate for their absence. It’s yet to be an issue that we couldn’t solve.
We love what we do and we appreciate the freedom to do it in a way that works for all of us. We’re honest and transparent with each other, knowing that sometimes it will be hectic and we need all hands on deck, whilst other times we can take it easy.
Flexibility, autonomy and a healthy workplace dynamic with lots of communication and trust makes it easy for us to be agile and well-balanced with a high output. I realise not everyone has the luxury of achieving this kind of company culture, but it should be the goal. We don’t need spa days and team-building exercises to compensate for high-stress environments, though we do have healthy pensions and great holidays, just because that’s what is important to us.
If you’re looking to build a genuinely healthy workplace, I recommend that you start as you wish to go on. Take the time early on, before you have a team, to consider how to build a value led organisation with genuine flexibility sewn into the fabric of your organisation. Pre-empt the needs of your people and think about what the optimal organisation looks like for you and them. Explore ways to create smooth processes and efficiencies, which later will allow for easy growth, good communication and transparent work practices. This is the key to building a high-quality global team.
As I pack my last few boxes, ahead of boarding a 20+ hour flight to Australia, I assure you that the benefits of working this way far outweigh any cons (I have yet to find any, but some people like going into an office). To be able to do what you love, whilst living the life you want to live, wherever you want to live it (and in my case, to be able to bring my family together) is a gift that I’m very grateful for. And I’m especially proud that the policy was already in place before I needed it.
In closing, I’d like to thank my colleagues for helping me make this new life possible. In addition to moving far away, I’m now off for a long stretch to settle my family into our new routine. It’s not exactly a quiet time at work and so it’s down to the support of my colleagues that this is all possible and I couldn’t be more appreciative.