Flexibility for all
Flexible working can help start-up businesses to grow and employ top professionals they would never be able to afford otherwise. One company which has exploited this and which works on a wholly flexible model is marketingQED [www.marketingqed.com].
The company was set up in 2007 in the UK by IT expert Drew Barnes and management consultant John Dawson and provides cutting edge technology which helps companies to measure the effectiveness of their marketing efforts. John, who is chief client officer, was looking for a bit of a career change. As a management consultant, he had to travel all over the world for his job. He had a toddler at the time and shortly after the company was started his second child came along. “I decided I couldn't be away from my family as much as that,” he said.
The two men initially worked from their bedrooms on different sides of London. In the early days the two worked all hours to get the business set up. “We were working round the clock, at home, at friends' offices, wherever and whenever we could,” says John. “Now though we can afford to work more flexibly and to be more understanding of family needs.”
Gradually, in the last four years they have begun to take on staff and now they have nine people in the UK and partners in Vienna who work for them on sales and marketing in central Europe plus distributors in Japan.
John says the work culture is very flexible and everyone has some flexible working even if their reasons for having it vary.
Both John and Drew had worked for Accenture, which has a good track record on flexible working and in fact won Workingmums.co.uk Top Employer Award for innovation in flexible working last year. “They were pretty progressive and maybe we just inherited that culture from them,” says John. “I couldn't say we have deliberately done it, but I can never understand when people say they work from 9 to 5 and that is it. It generates the wrong attitude.”
One programmer works four days a week and on his other day works for a charity. The woman in charge of administration and finance does four days a week. The chief executive officer Glenn Granger is a local councillor who works from home a couple of days a week. And one coder moved to South Africa recently for family reasons and is still working for the company on a contract basis from there.
John says this flexibility works well for the business and means they can set up virtually anywhere in the world and they can attract people whose full-time rates they could not afford. For instance, they have just hired an HR manager on a part-time basis who has been head of HR at a big bank. “We get a best in class HR expert who will really help us with our recruitment process and will save us money on using a recruitment agency plus provide us with a more customised solution,” says John.
Some of the staff are working mums - the sales and marketing person who works part time, is currently on maternity leave and another mum is helping out over the summer, working three days a week, some of which are from home. John also understands the issues facing them, having seen how they affected his wife. “Even though she is a lawyer we had to think whether it was worthwhile financially for her to go back due to childcare costs,” he says. His wife, who helps out sometimes with contracts, is now running her own business teaching children to read.
A quality model
Managing flexible workers can present small businesses with a challenge, but John says everything at marketingQED is done on trust. “We look at output more than the hours worked. Our business model is about quality,” he says. “You could count lines of code produced, but in the end you have to trust people to get on and manage their workload themselves.”
In fact, he says, some people in the company may work too hard. He adds that IT people probably work best remotely to some degree. “Coders don't tend to like being in an office. They want to work in a bubble. When they are in the office working together they all have their headphones on anyway,” he says. Plus working remotely saves commuting time.
The company is, however, just about to recruit its first less experienced staff and John thinks they will require more managing. “When we have hired people in the past they have had a good track record of working flexibly and we have trusted them, but we may have to monitor the flexible working more with less experienced people in case, for instance, they need more support,” he says.