When Mathew Cutts walked out on a well paid senior job at a large network communications agency in 2011 he had a mortgage and two young children and nothing lined up.
However, he had always had starting a business on his bucket list. He talked to his sister Caroline who at the time had a senior job in experiential marketing and communication strategy for pharmaceutical company and the two siblings decided to go into business together.
“It was not as daunting as I initially thought,” says Mathew. “The main thing was leaving something comfortable and moving into the unknown.”
The two set up healthcare communications agency Cuttsy and Cuttsy in 2011 in a building that resembled a shed at the bottom of Mathew’s garden.
They were fortunate to get a contract as soon as they started and have built up a consistent pipeline of work. That has meant they haven’t had to borrow money for their business because it has been able to pay for itself since the early days.
By the end of year one there were four people. Over the last few years that number has increased to 16 – including six working mums, three working dads and one mum on maternity leave – and they have moved out of the ‘shed’ into an office in Southern Cambridge.
One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is their work culture. Since both Caroline and Mathew are parents and Cuttsy and Cuttsy is a family business, there is a clear determination to avoid the long hours culture that is traditional in their industry.
Caroline and Mathew understand the pressures that combining work and family life can create and the company’s family friendly culture is set from the top and addressed from both a mother’s and a father’s perspective. Mathew makes no bones about the fact he goes home at 5.30pm to see his children.
He says one of the hardest things for him when he started the business was shaking off the traditional 9-5 strait jacket and the guilt that if you are not working between those hours that you are not working hard enough.
He grew to realise he could flex how he worked so he could do family things, like attend a school play, and either come in very early or catch up later.
Caroline often does the school run and then gets back to work. “It was about changing our mindset and taking advantage of that flexibility,” he says.
That change of mindset having been made, the company has gone from strength to strength on the back of it, winning this year’s Workingmums.co.uk Top Employer Award for companies with less than 26 employees because of its flexible and supportive culture.
There is a strong business case for that culture: it has enabled the company to hire top professionals with years of experience who have had families and want to work more flexibly, including returners. “We actively recruit working parents and see that as a positive and as giving us a competitive advantage,” says Mathew.
Doing so also allows people to grow their hours as the business – and their children – grow and it means the company can get really high quality people on a pro rata basis.
That includes a couple of members of staff from the top London agencies who want to avoid long commutes and to work more flexibly. Moreover, Mathew adds: “Working parents are often very productive with their time. They tend to be determined and focused. To get their head down.”
He adds that Cuttsy and Cuttsy’s culture works because it is built on trust and on the basis that flexibility is a two-way street.
It also means that the company has attracted a lot of women – there are only three men on the staff and it is part of a wider focus on staff wellbeing, which includes staff members being given a free pair of trainers to encourage fitness.
Five employees work part time between 15 and 30 hours per week across a range of days. Some prefer to work school hours, with others working longer days, with a day off in the week.
Working patterns can be altered to accommodate school holidays or working from home when circumstances require or it makes sense for the business or individual to do so. As the company has grown it has created an official Flexible Working Policy to protect both the needs of the business and its expanding number of employees.
Flexible working is open to all employees, for instance, a recent recruit is a graduate who lives in Kent who works flexi hours and is looking to work one day from home to avoid rush-hour traffic.
Mathew admits managing a flexible team can be hard work. “We look at every employee as an individual and do our best to ensure there is no resentment,” he says.
“It’s about creating an environment which makes people want to come to work, but we are clear that there has to be give and take on both sides.” That doesn’t mean working lots of overtime. It has to be fair, says Mathew.
Technology plays a key role in enabling the company’s flexibility. Many of Cuttsy and Cuttsy’s clients are major pharmaceutical companies and security is very important, which has made working in the cloud difficult, but in the last two years technology has moved on and Cuttsy and Cuttsy has invested heavily in it. Now it is much easier for team members to work easily from anywhere.
The company also places a big emphasis on staff development and achieved Gold accreditation in continuous professional development within its first year of being a member of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, their sector’s professional trade body.
Every member of staff gets a minimum of 24 hours training a year, regardless of what pattern of work they do, but most do more. Some junior members of staff have done 100 hours of training this year.
The company also emphasises the positive through its ‘Be Proud’ appraisal system. Line managers run monthly appraisals with each individual in their team to discuss key ‘proud moments’/achievements from the past month and set objectives for the coming month.
“We are keen to develop people’s skills and emphasise the positive. It is inbuilt in the culture of the business,” says Mathew.
“We are a service company and people and their skills are what our clients buy. We want to attract the best talent and the way we do it is through flexible working and professional development.”