Around a month ago, I stood up in our usual monthly meeting and I told my team this:
“You can work whatever hours you want and come into the office just one day a week, as long as the work is done.”
Mic drop. At first, no one was quite sure if I was being serious. Then the questions came in,
“What about if I want to work on a Sunday but not Monday?”
“What if I have hit my targets by Thursday?”
“What should I do if I have a doctors appointment, do you still need to know?”
I reiterated my initial point – as long as the work is done, I don’t care when you do it. So, why would I tell my staff they could work from home four days a week? Why would I say they can do whatever hours they want? Well, the truth is that this was as much for me as it was for them…
When I first set up my business I had dreams of writing all day, with my little team of staff writing with me. We were going to be one super creative hub of likeminded people that drank lattes and discussed world affairs over mason jar salad lunches. However, the reality of running a business and employing other people soon hit me. My phone would be constantly pinging with holiday requests, team members asking to work from home because of buses or trains or doctors appointments and the dreaded sick days – which usually meant that we’d all go down like dominos once one person had spread their lurgy around the office. I spent less time writing and more time fighting fires. I juggled staff requests and issues, along with managing clients, before realising I hadn’t written a single word in weeks. Other than replies to emails, of course.
Suddenly, my job was just managing people. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m a business owner and so I love the leadership side of things. However, I was working 12 hour days, feeling unproductive, and just generally miserable. I could only imagine how my team were feeling if this was how I felt. One of the reasons I decided to take the plunge and become almost entirely flexible and remote was to ease some of my own stresses. Interestingly, a survey of 500 small business owners by Xero found that the number one cause of stress is managing staff (42%). At least I know I’m not alone…
Now, however, If someone has a doctors appointment, they simply work around it. If they’re feeling peaky then they don’t need to ask to work from home, they just do. Which also means less spreading the lurgy around. If they want to smash their targets in four days and take a long weekend off, they can. No dramz.
Better mental health
I’ve already mentioned that I have a team of likeminded people, which is amazing in so many ways. However, it also means that several of my team have their own anxiety and depression to contend with on a daily basis. It must be a writer thing. Despite me being open and honest about my own issues, I know that it can be difficult to tell your ‘boss’ that you need a duvet day. I could see the anxiety in some of my team’s faces when they told me how they were feeling… and that they needed some time off. I remember my days of working for someone else and how many jobs I’d lost because of poor mental health. I also remember how much worse it could make you feel, asking for time off, feeling like you’d let someone down.
With our new way of working, there’s none of that. Need a duvet day? Take it. Don’t want to face the commute today? Work from home. The reason we have one day in the office is to try and ensure we don’t isolate ourselves. In fact, most of the team come into the office 2-3 days a week, as I think they’ve realised that working from home all the time can be pretty lonely. It’s the perfect balance.
One of the reasons why I decided to say that people could work whenever they wanted, instead of a strict 9-5, is because we’re creatives. Anyone in a creative industry will know that there’s just no way of forcing your mind to write or paint or draw when it doesn’t want to. Some people are more productive first thing in the morning (that’s me), others are night owls (there’s a science behind you weirdos). Since making the changes, it’s been so interesting to see when people write and the quality of work has improved because of that. You can’t force someone to be creative when they’re just not feeling it, which is why the concept of 9-5 just wasn’t working for us.
Operationally, it has been a little bit difficult to get used to. However, I’ve realised that I get a constant stream of writing coming in now, instead of a dozen articles all at once. This has actually led to a better system of editing and preparing articles for clients. I can wake up in the morning and my night owls have been typing away!
Add these key benefits to the fact that my team are saving money (and the planet) by less commuting, we’re spending less on things like coffee and electricity in the office, and I’m getting a chance to write more once again… I’d say it was one of the best business decisions I’ve ever made.