Oh, the more I travel, the more I realise that the Brits can be cynical. And the longer I run a business which is committed to ‘life-friendly working plans’ the more I come into contact with grumpy cynics who refuse to believe it can work. But please, let me tell you, in no uncertain terms. A flexible working policy for a company can deliver enormous benefits. It does for us.
Our company is a luxury online clothing and gifts boutique (www.BabesWithBabies.com). We are passionate about delivering products which make maternity and motherhood feel good. And behind the scenes, we are as passionate about our working policy which is set up to make work ‘work’ for people’s individual lives.
I am incredibly proud of, and happy with the Bb London team; they were very carefully recruited and managed, they are smart and hard-working. The careful management however, takes place remotely. Our company is committed to allowing our employees, wherever possible, to work from different locations and to work the hours which suit their personal lives. This is not always easy but the personal benefits for those involved mean we have a highly motivated team who appreciate the convenient way in which work fits in with their life.
Our customer team all have an individual work pattern which is set up to work for them but also for the business. For example, two of the team do a ‘job share’ during the day to allow them to work part-time. Another team member works with ‘floating hours’; she works whenever she wants to and as long as the job is done efficiently and she works the required hours, we don’t mind when she wants to do those hours. She could work at 2am if it suited her. Inevitably, many of the team want to fit their job around their family life. It’s not just about babies though. Our web guy doesn’t have children but he, too, works flexibly which allows him to work at times which suit him, his ski-ing, his ‘night-owl’ working patterns.
We provide some flexibility with hours (dependent on the individual situation) but full flexibility with location. Our web-guy moved to rural France to be with his girlfriend. It made no difference whatsoever to his working relationship with us. In February, Susie, one of our team will be working from Mallorca. Last summer, she worked from a caravan in Cornwall for three days (working in the day, eating fish and chips on the beach by 6).. I am married to a diplomat and spend a lot of time travelling; our set up enables me to work anywhere from a cafe in Eastern Europe to sitting waiting at Heathrow. It is easy and so efficient.
We use clever technology and clear communications to make sure everyone is clear about responsibilities and able to stay in touch with all the important developments and changes. The challenge? Planning is imperative and the people need to be right. This set-up doesn’t work for everyone. We do a strict probation period and we have found that some people find it too hard to work this way. It does depend on recruiting the right people who understand the advantages of working this way, but also the responsibilities.
The truth is flexible working can challenge the employee as well as the employer. It fosters a ‘work by results’ culture; if people aren’t producing the results you see it much more clearly than if they are sitting in an office from 9-5. And it certainly means there’s a lot of trust involved as you can’t see what people are actually doing.
The incredible thing about this though is that as a result we have ended up with a team which I entirely trust to get things done. This level of trust fosters an extremely positive and empowering environment for all of us. In addition, an honest and close way of working means that the team are happy to ask each other for help when needed (a childcare emergency) or to work at different hours when things crop up which results in less guilt, less ‘sickies’ and a shared sense of achievement as everybody contributes to the growth of the company in a way which suits them.
Like anything else in running your own business, a commitment to a flexible working policy requires a clear strategy, careful planning and management in order for it to work carefully. It requires the right processes and the right people. Bb London have now been working like this for three years though and it’s one of the most satisfying and smart initiatives we’ve undertaken. It’s a joy to run a company where technology makes this possible (& to work with a team who have the nous and determination to make it work).
Sophie Devonshire left corporate life with companies like Coca-Cola and Procter and Gamble to found e-boutique Babes with Babies London (www.babeswithbabies.com) in 2006. Married to a diplomat with two daughters, she also acts as a branding consultant with companies such as The Caffeine Partnership (www.thecaffeinepartnership.com).