It's all well and good promoting #workthatsworks and calling for everyone else to offer it. But actually supporting and enabling a genuinely flexible working culture is another thing entirely.
We're a small company of nine at Digital Mums. Four of our team work completely remotely. Two spend half of their time working remotely and the other half in the office, and the other three of us work full-time, mostly office-based but with a significant amount of flexibility.
Offering #workthatworks does present challenges. How do you build a company culture? How do you manage a partly remote workforce? Making it work for us has taken a lot of thought and care, but the benefits to our team and our organisation have been huge. Here's the practical steps we've taken to ensure every member of our team has #workthatworks for them.
We made sure we have the buy-in of every single member of our team
This seems obvious but it's really the most important step of all. If there are members of the team - especially at management and senior levels - that on an instinctual level don't buy into the idea of flexible or remote working then it's not going to work. If there's no buy-in then trust issues and resentment will appear further down the line, which are poisonous for a company's long-term health and culture.
Our founders Nikki and Kathryn originally became entrepreneurs so they could have more flexibility in their work lives. Digital Mums' entire purpose is to provide flexible work opportunities for a demographic that lacks them. Most of our team were attracted to us in the first place because of our flexible working policies. We live and breathe flexible working, and because our entire team is bought into that, it's much easier to navigate around any potential hurdles that might come with it.
We break down job roles
When you're a start-up trying to grow, you still have the same needs as a bigger business - finance, marketing, customer services, sales, product development - but without the staff to do them. Unless you get significant investment, the realities of limited cashflow in the first few years mean you don't have the luxury of hiring lots of people full-time, especially early on. Personally, we're still under two years old and we aren't large enough to do that yet.
We also don't always need 35 hours a week spent on every part of our business. Many of the roles we have - content creation for our Live Learning Programmes, matchmaking our graduates to businesses, customer services - only need anywhere from 10-20 hours per week. We could combine these roles, which a lot of small businesses tend to do. However, they require very different skill sets to excel at them. The likelihood that one person has all these skills is pretty low.
What makes more sense for us is to hire four different people, each specialised for the task at hand. As a business, we get better bang for our buck because our team are better suited for their tasks. And our team members get to work part-time, which many of them are looking for in the first place.
We enter into a dialogue with our team members
When we need to hire someone we don't say "pick what hours you want" and work from there. However, we also don't mandate to our employees about exactly how and when we expect them to work. Instead we make it a conversation and determine what's the best fit for both of us.
First of all, we look at the role itself. What's the minimum and maximum number of hours it would need? Does it need to be done within office hours (i.e. customer services or sales calls)? Would it make sense for that role to be done entirely by one person (i.e. a more managerial role) or could it be broken down into multiple roles. Would it be beneficial to have them office-based some of the time to aid communication flows?
Once we have an idea about some of the details, we speak to our potential candidate and figure out what would be their ideal scenario. How many hours would they want to work? Do they prefer coming into the office or working from home?
When we have answers to these questions, we can determine whether it will be a good match and what's the optimal arrangement that will leave both of us satisfied.
We use the right tools
Remote working is made possible because of the various communication tools out there. For the first 18 months of our existence, our entire team was completely remote so using the right tools was essential to building a functioning business. We use a lot of digital tools, but really the main difference maker has been Slack.
Everyone and their dog seems to be jumping on the Slack bandwagon and we're no different. Slack is absolutely brilliant for allowing a remote team to communicate effectively. It takes your internal conversations out of email and allows you have communicate immediately and effectively as a team. It's intuitive, free and has an amazing search function. It is a vital part of our organisation now and has gone a long way to enabling us to build a company culture despite not being in the same physical building.
We hire the right people
As you'd expect, we attract a lot of women with children that want to work with us. With extensive professional careers and time spent bringing up a family, maturity is a common trait.
I can't overstate how crucial this is. GrooveHQ recently wrote about this, specifically the need to vet people for mature decision-making as one of the most important factors when hiring somebody to work remotely. Flexible, remote working is definitely not for everybody.
Combined with consistent and clear communication (essential whether you're remote or not), this means that we don't have to worry about whether our team are being productive. It's a given because we're choosing from a candidate pool who are mature, motivated by having flexible working and make good decisions. Obviously we're extremely lucky because we attract these type of candidates, but hiring for mature decision-making is a must for anyone when building a flexible, remote team.
Ensuring that everybody at Digital Mums has #workthatworks is still an ongoing process and will definitely bring new challenges as we grow larger. But we're proof that you can give control to your employees over their working lives and still successfully run a business. It makes everyone happier, more productive and more invested in your organisation, which ultimately will help you thrive over the long-term. Our #workthatworks campaign might be coming to an end, but it's here to stay with us for good.