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Work-life balance and business success: Flexibility tips from Telstra Business Women’s Awards winners

Smarter Writer
Smarter Team

The Smarter Team is made up of business and technology journalists who write to offer insights to small and medium businesses about technology, business know-how and emerging trends.

Smarter Writer
Smarter Team

The Smarter Team is made up of business and technology journalists who write to offer insights to small and medium businesses about technology, business know-how and emerging trends.

For a growing number of small-to-medium businesses, the conventional nine-to-five, Monday-to-Friday work week is a thing of the past. Today’s technology-led digital transformation – like enhanced mobility using the cloud – and changes in society have triggered a cultural shift in the workplace. And the benefits of a workplace that offers flexible hours or working from home are far-reaching – from employee productivity to a business’s overall growth potential.

Here, four successful Telstra Business Women’s Awards alumni – Kester Black’s Anna Ross, Own Body’s Fiona White, Love To Dream’s Hana-Lia Krawchuk and Kuluin Mufflers’ Angie Mansey – share insights into how they built flexible workplaces. Two juggling motherhood and entrepreneurship, and two running businesses that foster flexible practices and work-from-home policies for the mums in their teams. The women talk about the personal benefits and business advantages of a flexible workplace, and share tips for how you can incorporate similar practices.

Caring about people and profits at the same time    

Following a recent change, Melbourne digital agency Deepend reported a 46% growth in revenue after cutting Wednesdays from their work week. Similarly, Planio – a Berlin-based online project management startup – has adopted a work-four-days-get-paid-for-five approach. “It is much healthier and we do a better job if we’re not working crazy hours,” founder Jan Schulz-Hofen said.

Moves like these prove that prioritising employee wellbeing can yield increased profits – even if that means cutting back on work hours.

Anecdotally, at least, there’s evidence that flexible approaches boost productivity. Think of it as quality over quantity. But it’s not always a considered business decision that leads to radical decisions like these.

Anna Ross, for instance, had her own motivations when she decided to make Kester Black, Australia’s leading ethical beauty brand, a flexible workplace. “It was a lifestyle choice that I wanted,” she says. “Then when I told my staff at the time, they also wanted it.”

For Angie Mansey, owner and managing director of auto shop Kuluin Mufflers, the decision to restructure her workplace was more than just a business decision – it was a lifestyle choice. “It was done with the sole intention to make the move into a manageable career that would meet the needs of my family,” says Angie, who runs the business with her husband, Luke.

The movement towards flexible workplaces isn’t being led solely by private enterprise, either. Internationally, flexible models are gaining traction from the top down: Sweden has experimented with six-hour workdays – with positive results – and France has legislated the “right to disconnect”, a law that allows workers to ignore business emails outside of office hours.

Family flexibility

Angie Mansey and Hana-Lia Krawchuk are both proud mums who run successful businesses. Anna Ross and Fiona White both achieved entrepreneurial success while championing workplace flexibility for parents.

“My family comes first, my business second.” 

Angie Mansey, Kuluin Mufflers, 2019 Telstra Queensland Business Women’s Small Business Award winner

“Almost all of our team members are parents, so when kids need attention during work hours our company understands and allows for that,” Hana-Lia explains. “None of our employees watch the clock. In return for their great work ethic, we are flexible to their needs.”

Fiona offers her team self-managed scheduling at her mobile physiotherapy business, Own Body. So long as they reach their KPIs, of course. “In healthcare, most of the population is female. So it’s really important to have a workplace that supports them throughout their careers,” Fiona says.

“We have quite a number of clinicians who have been breastfeeding while working for us. They might be breastfeeding, but they may have someone who can babysit for a few hours while they work.”

Sometimes, flexibility is born out of necessity. Angie changed careers to care for her son, who experienced liver failure at the age of five. “I am the mother of four and a full-time carer to my now eight-year-old son,” Angie says. “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.”

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Angie built her business with her son’s needs in mind, creating a custom lounge room in the office that allowed her to nurse and work at the same time. “It has been paramount to our family’s situation,” she says. “Having flexibility has contributed to me being able to be a dedicated mother and still find independence in my identity in maintaining a career.”

Putting trust in the right people

Does creating a flexible workplace foster team culture and a positive work environment? It does, but there’s more to it. For any successful venture, finding the right people is crucial. This is especially so for flexible workplaces.

“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

For Hana, finding the right employee 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 skillset in itself: “Choose your team wisely. Not everyone has the ability to work in a flexible environment.”

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:

  • 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:

  • 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.”

Hana-Lia Krawchuk:

  • 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.

Fiona White:

  • Choose the right team to be able to work flexibly.
  • Don’t discount it. Offering flexibility 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.

There’s no one-size-fits-all

Changing the way people in your business work depends on your own philosophy, the nature of your business, the available technology (to enable effective remote access, for example) and the people you work with.

Using digital transformation to support a flexible business and a better work–life balance for the people in your business truly is achievable.

You can’t discount the benefits of having a highly engaged workforce through helping people achieve a work–life balance. 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.”

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