In a new blog series Jo Dale, who is leading on people and culture at Digital Mums, talks about #WorkThatWorks and what it’s like to work in an organisation that's leading the way in flexible working….
With our flexible working culture, large remote working team, plants with names, dogs with social media star status and random bouts of karaoke, we’re not your standard office. We work in quite a unique environment at Digital Mums and my nearly 18 months here has been a challenging, rewarding and fun experience. There’s basically never a dull moment!
I’ve worked for start-ups before, but there’s something special about Digital Mums. I know you may be sceptical given I’m part of the company but trust me on this one!
I started in May 2016 and my experience was a bit like stepping into the tardis. I arrived at our then office, which was in a shipping container overlooking the canal in Hackney. Super cool, natch. Five of us, including the Cofos worked mainly from the container, sharing desks and trying to avoid rolling our chairs over Cooper’s paws whilst he was asleep on the floor. Once I got to grips with our messaging system (Slack) I realised that Digital Mums opened out into a sizeable, incredibly vibrant and dynamic team of people working mainly from home, and that we were clearly expanding rapidly. We’ve grown a lot since then and number over 40 on the team but still only 14% work in the office.
So what’s different about Digital Mums?
There’s lots to talk about here, but a few aspects of the workplace particularly stand out for me. The tone of any company is always set by the leadership and our Cofos are very tuned in on that score. They are sensitive to the impact of changes on culture and it’s something that’s always on their agenda, rather than something to only worry about when things go wrong. They are both well liked and they genuinely relate to every member of the team as critical to the success of the business. It’s not just lip service and we all feel that. They also show vulnerability - they don’t try to be like ‘we have everything handled’: they are open about the fact that they are also learning along the way, and it helps to foster an authentic culture.
We’re not very hierarchical in structure and although there are reporting lines and roles that are more senior than others, I don’t believe we operate in such a way that anyone feels ‘senior’ or ‘junior’. We all feel important in the company and recognise that how we perform individually will impact on everyone. I think this has fostered a sense of partnership with each other and the modus operandi is to help each other out, even if it’s not strictly speaking ‘our job’. What has really cemented this are plans for an employee share scheme - when the shares are allocated, they will be done so equally, not on the basis of seniority.
The flexibility we all have at Digital Mums is fantastic. I’m office based, but I know that if I want to go and do a pilates class in the middle of the day which means I take 2 hours for lunch instead of 1, then that’s fine - and not just fine, but encouraged. I’m trusted to make that time up. Because of that trust we experience and the positive impact on our quality of life, we all want to give of our absolute best in return and I believe that it contributes massively to the high performing culture that we have.
Of course we’d be lying if we said it wasn’t without it’s problems and challenges - nothing is ever perfect! We’re at a very interesting point of transition at the moment, growing into an established business and that means putting more structure in place. It’s been quite challenging to do this and to work out where the boundaries are. We’re still defining for ourselves what our flexible working culture means, and what working practices are / aren’t effective.
Sometimes there’s a temptation to bring things in from our more conventional backgrounds and I have to remember to question those things. For example, developing job descriptions. Do we need that level of detail when we’re growing so rapidly that we need flexibility in roles? One of the brilliant and exciting things about Digital Mums is that things move quickly. It’s an entrepreneurial environment and we want to enable that fast growth, not weigh ourselves down with bureaucracy we don’t need. It’s all work in progress!
My next blog will share a bit more about what we’ve been doing on the people and culture side of things. In the meantime, I’d love to connect with others doing similar work in start-ups so please feel free to contact me on LinkedIn!