Here, four successful women in business (Telstra Business Women’s Awards Alumni) – Kester Black’s Anna Ross, Own Body’s Fiona White, Hana-Lia Krawchuk of Love To Dream and Angie Mansey of Kuluin Mufflers – give us their insights into building a flexible workplace. Two juggle motherhood and entrepreneurship, the other two run businesses that foster flexible options for the mums in their teams. They tell us their experiences, share the personal benefits, divulge the all-important business boosts, and offer their tips on how a flexible business might be incorporated into your practice.
Caring about people and profits at the same time
Recently, Melbourne-based digital agency Deepend reported a 46% growth in revenue while cutting Wednesdays from their work week. This may not be causative, but it shows profits are possible while taking care of people. Meanwhile Planio – a Berlin online project management start-up – has adopted a work-4-days-get-paid-for- 5 approach. Their founder, Jan Schulz-Hofen, says “It is much healthier and we do a better job if we're not working crazy hours.”
Anecdotally, at least, there’s evidence that flexible approaches boost productivity.
But it’s not always a business decision to change the way business is run. Anna Ross, founder of Australia’s leading ethical beauty brand Kester Black, had her own motivation.
“It was a lifestyle choice that I wanted. Then when I told my staff at the time, they also wanted it.”Anna Ross, Kester Black, 2016 Telstra Australian Young Business Woman of the Year
For Angie Mansey of Kuluin Mufflers, motivation was also a lifestyle choice – it was for her family. She bought the business because she knew she could direct the approach. “It was done with the sole intention to make the move into a manageable career that would meet the needs of my family,” Angie says.
This shift hasn’t solely been led by the initiative of private enterprise, either. Internationally, flexible workplace models are gaining traction from the top down: Sweden has experimented with 6-hour workdays with positive results, and France has legislated the “right to disconnect”.
How flexibility can work for mothers
“My family comes first, my business second.”Angie Mansey, Kuluin Mufflers, 2019 Telstra Queensland Business Women’s Small Business Award winner
Angie Mansey and Hana-Lia Krawchuk are both proud mums who run successful businesses. Anna Ross and Fiona White both have stories of entrepreneurial success, won while championing approaches that help parents be parents.
“Almost all of our team members are parents, so when the kids need attention during work hours our company understands and allows for that,” Hana explains. “None of our employees watch the clock. In return for their great work ethic, we are flexible to their needs.”
Fiona White’s mobile physiotherapy business Own Body offers her team self-managed scheduling, as long as they reach their KPIs. “In healthcare, most of the population is female. So it’s really important to have a workplace that supports that, that supports them throughout their careers,” Fiona says.
“We have quite a number of clinicians who have been at the breastfeeding stage of motherhood while working for us. They might be breastfeeding, but they may have someone who can babysit for a few hours while they work. There’s no other job that you can just decide when you want to work.”
Sometimes, flexible practices are born out of human necessity and love. This was the case for Angie: she faced the challenge of changing careers to care for her son, who experienced liver failure at 5 years old. “I am the mother of 4 and a full-time carer to my now 8-year-old son.
“At that stage he had undergone approximately 21 surgeries, and I needed to make a drastic lifestyle change in order to continue to provide for my family.”
Angie built her business with her son’s needs in mind, creating a custom lounge room so she could nurse while still growing her business and keeping a roof over her family’s head. “It has been paramount to our family’s situation. Having flexibility has contributed to me being able to be a dedicated mother and still find independence in my identity in maintaining a career.”
It’s about putting trust in the right people
In any venture, having the right people is fundamental to success. With a flexible workplace policy, this adage rings loud and true.
For Hana, the solution is straightforward: “We simply hire people with great work ethic and our flexibility is repaid in commitment to our business.” But Fiona cautions that working flexibly can be a skill on its own. “Choose your team wisely,” she advises. “Not everyone has the ability to work in a flexible environment.”
The way to ensure this approach works is to first find the right people, then add in a layer of performance measuring. As feelgood as flexibility may be, pragmatism protects.
“Choose a team in the first place who are right, who you trust, earn that trust, and set some KPIs around that, just to protect yourself.”Fiona White, Own Body, 2019 Telstra Victorian Business Women’s Small Business Award winner
Been there: Tips from those who’ve done it
Approaches to flexible workplace practices will vary from business to business, but here are some ideas on how to get started.
Anna Ross, Kester Black:
- Put it on trial: It’s easier to make these changes to your team when they know they have the option to back out.
- Manage customer and client expectations: “When we introduced the idea to our customers, we said ‘We’re not going to answer any of your emails on Friday. That this is part of our company, our values, it’s part of our brand identity.’ Once we explained it to them, they were all good with it – totally fine.”
Angie Mansey, Kuluin Mufflers:
- First step: listen. Enable your team to be open and upfront with the work hours currently in place.
- “As a working mother, relax the notion that you can have it all. You will need to prioritise and possibly won’t be able to accept every opportunity that comes your way.”
“Look at your employee base and the needs they have, then design a strategy for them. Parents will have different needs to those who don’t have kids, and this should always be taken into consideration.”Hana-Lia Krawchuk, Love To Dream, 2017 Telstra Australian Business Women’s Entrepreneur Award winner
Fiona White, Own Body:
- Choose the right team to be able to work flexibly.
- Don’t discount it. Offering flexibility really helps attract great people. “If you can offer that flexibility, if you can enhance someone’s life by changing the way you work, it can be more valuable than a pay rise. There’s the opportunity to improve productivity, too.”
But there’s no one-size-fits-all
Changing the way the people in your business work depends on your own philosophy, the nature of your business, the available technology, and the people within it.
But you can’t discount the business benefits of having a highly engaged workforce. As Fiona says, “If you have a team who are actually engaged in the business, that care about the business, they’re going to do better work for the business.”