How Etch created a flexible working policy to suit staff and stakeholders
At the start of 2022, Etch ripped up the rule book (as we do) and moved to a fully flexible working model. Fuelled by a desire to do things differently whilst empowering the team to work on their terms, Etch created and implemented a flexible working policy to assist the team. For any small or medium-sized business or agency looking to implement a flexible working policy of their own, this post details our journey to become a fully flexible business.
What do we mean by flexible working?
Flexible working means different things to different people. That’s the beauty of it. For Etch, it’s the ability to work outside the traditional 9-5 Monday to Friday. This means we’re enabling our teams to deliver their work on their terms.
In practical terms, it means a lot. Etch employees could have that morning walk and coffee with a friend they’ve been meaning to see for an age. They could pick their children up from school and have quality time with them without being rushed to get back to the computer screen. Or they could work from anywhere and hit the slopes first thing in the morning before doing their days’ work overlooking the Alps.
What are the benefits of flexible working?
The benefits for Etch:
- A more productive workforce – working at a time that suits the Etch staff means they’ll work when they feel most productive.
- A happier workforce – being able to fit your life in and around work means being empowered to make decisions, helping to reduce workplace stress.
- Better quality work – working flexibly gives Etch staff the ability to carve out the proper time to focus, allowing for more cognitive space for deeper thought and creative thinking.
The benefits for our people:
- Improved work-life balance – whether for family, friends or fitness, flexible working means work and life are in harmony, rather than feeling like one is getting on top of the other.
- Reduced workplace guilt – to do what you want and need without the shame, e.g., an appointment, a meeting, an event – whether it’s for yourself, family, or friends, you won’t feel stressed or guilty about taking time off.
- Confidence to be yourself – working in an environment where the boundaries of life and work merge, allowing you the freedom to be who you are.
- More ownership – to be free to manage your own resourcing and planning, allowing you to work around your personal life.
“One member of staff feels more productive early in the morning. So they would get up at 5 am and code for a few hours straight. Then they would take time to have breakfast and make their way to the office, ready to be productive again later in the morning. And this way of working suited them.”
Jen Prangle, Head of HR
What inspired Etch to adopt a flexible working policy?
The idea for flexible working came from various places:
We listened to our staff
Every quarter we conduct an employee engagement survey, but one area to improve was work-life balance. So, we took the feedback on board and set about making a change.
We listened to the market
The traditional 9-5 doesn’t suit everyone anymore, and for the emerging workforce, flexibility for how and when you do your work is more important than salary. It’s seen as significant a benefit as a bonus or a pay rise.
Our purpose guided us
We’re defining a better way to work, live and play, and so naturally, we sought new ways to formalise this. And coupled with our values at Etch, we’re helping to create an employee-first culture of empowerment and autonomy.
The pandemic was a catalyst
Working patterns changed for everyone in 2020 and 2021 - there were parts of remote working that were hugely beneficial to companies and people. Flexible working seemed like a natural next step, as we were all more open to change, driven by a desire to make our working lives better.
What were the steps to implementing a flexible working policy?
Step one: Identify the problem and a way forward
It all started with a problem identified in our employee satisfaction survey – how do we improve work-life balance? Coupled with our research into emerging workforce workplace needs, the idea of flexible working was discussed in one of Etch’s leadership team meetings.
Next, we decided to validate the idea. So, we went back to our people and asked them how they would improve their work-life balance using a tool called Idea Drop. Not only did it seem natural and fair to canvas the opinions of our people, but this approach would also give us multiple suggestions. We selected the best three suggestions to explore further.
Step two: Validate the idea
During our monthly company all-hands meeting, we presented the three suggestions for improving work-life balance in the company. We then split the company into three working groups. Each group took an idea to explore further, establish ways to implement the solution and identify potential challenges. Based on the evidence of the working groups, the suggestion of flexible working hours was the most appropriate, achievable, and effective way of improving work-life balance.
Step three: Develop our systems
We’ve invested a lot into our tools and systems to implement a policy. This was to better handle the data around staff, clients, and projects. Friday Pulse has allowed us to measure staff happiness, whilst Productive has given us better visibility and real-time feedback on how a project or team was doing. However, the key to moving forward will be a centralised task-management system, as we’re no longer in the office to monitor projects.
Step four: Create a policy
We didn’t want to create lots of rules. That defeats the point of flexibility. Instead, our policy is best remembered in just three simple words – We Are Accountable. The concept is simple. Be accountable to the needs of your clients, projects, and team, ensure they have everything they need to progress, and you can work your 37.5 hours in whatever way suits you best from Monday to Friday. There’s no such thing as core hours, like some flexible working policies. This was important as core hours can often be relatively inflexible for people who want and need to do things during the day.
“Accountability became the guiding principle. I love the simplicity of it – ‘we are accountable’. There are no other terms and conditions, just this one guiding principle. You are accountable to your clients, your team and ultimately yourself. And you’re trusted to work and when you want to.”
Callum Donnelly, Managing Director
How is Etch measuring the success of flexible working?
With the current tools and systems we have in place, we can measure the success of flexible working both qualitatively and quantitatively.
We’re listening to feedback from individuals and teams. Staff members have the freedom and autonomy to raise concerns and suggestions on Friday Pulse. And all managers have been tasked with checking in with their team once a month to see what’s working, what’s not working etc.
The primary metric is the score for work-life balance on Friday Pulse. We take this score across the company and different teams in the business. We’re also looking at metrics like employee retention rate and delivery metrics such as project delivery times and impacts on revenues.
What have the results been so far?
Our flexible working policy has positively impacted work-life balance. According to Friday Pulse, in 2021, we scored 58 for work-life balance. In 2022 since implementing our approach, we’re scoring a 69. For context, a score of 50-59 means "needs improvement", 60-69 means “average,” and 70-79 means “good”. So, we’re improving, but there’s still room to do better. Anecdotally, it’s been positive and very well received by staff and clients. And crucially, there’s been no negative impact on the performance of the business.
In terms of how the policy is being adopted, overall, people have kept to their typical hours but with a little bit of flexibility. It’s still a win, as people are just making those more minor changes to achieve a better work-life balance. For example, people like to spend time in the daylight doing their fitness during the winter months, rather than leaving it until after work when it’s dark and much colder. This helps people feel safer too.
We’ve noticed parents spend more time with their children, e.g., dropping them off and picking them up from school or attending school events like nativity plays, sports days, and book clubs. This flexibility means removing the guilt that we sometimes get from people thinking we’re not as committed to our work because we have other responsibilities.
"Our working mums have really felt a positive impact of the change. They’ve lived so long with an expectation that work comes first and family comes second. The policy has given us all that sigh of relief. So, there's no guilt in putting family or friends first. If you’re running late for a meeting because you need to take your child to the doctor, you’re not in trouble.”
Shelly Frame, Co-owner
Is the policy working for everyone?
In some cases, it’s not working as well for people. For example, in the case of a couple working from home together, if one person is more 9-5, but the other must flex because those around them are, then it doesn’t align well for the couple. In some other instances, it’s a case of old habits die hard. And so, people aren’t taking full advantage of the policy. One reason is that people may feel guilty if they choose to flex too much. This is a learning for us.
"Different teams need different things – and it’s impacted teams in different ways. For example, client-facing teams, which are augmented into our client’s ways of working, can’t take advantage of flexible working as much as the less client-facing teams."
Emma Smethurst, Head of Operations
What have we learned so far?
We need to unlearn old behaviours
We’re still used to old ways of working. A good example is Slack. It’s treated like an instant messaging tool. The current thinking is that you must respond straight away if you see a message. And in other cases, it’s sometimes used for presenteeism – e.g., just to be seen. It’ll take time for people to realise that you don’t need to respond straight away and that you can turn it off. And it won’t be frowned upon by management. If it’s urgent, they’ll call you.
Communication is key
We’ve seen an improvement in communication. Over-communication in some instances of when people will be away etc. This is especially true for support functions. It’s allowed better awareness of who is around and when. It also means teams must work closely and consider others more often. For example, we’ve seen teams working together to solve availability problems. This shows that people are more empowered to solve a problem themselves.
How can we improve the policy?
Adopt a new mindset
At Etch, we’ve always believed that staff should not work more than their contracted hours and that their downtime is incredibly important. With flexible working, the idea is that anyone can be working at any time. So, we need to learn to be comfortable contacting people outside of those hours. But only with the expectation that they will respond when they are next working.
Show off how we’re using it
We know that people aren’t taking full advantage of it. So, in the leadership team, we’re being more vocal about when we’re taking advantage of it to encourage staff to make the most of this policy. We’re trying to promote the work from anywhere aspect too. Some people will actively showcase working abroad and visiting clients while away.
Encouraging people to work whenever, wherever is one thing, but we need to share best practices better. For example, some people may struggle to manage their time. This is also linked with distraction. Some people may feel they can’t do flexible work because they can’t focus. We need to share ways of improving attention and focus and the best ways to use tools.
We want to become more outcome-focussed, rather than measuring time at your desk or online. To do this, we need to change the way we manage projects. This will allow us to explore more innovative ways of managing resources and measuring performance. It also influences how we bill - changing the business to charge on value rather than time and materials.
Use a centralised task management system
Whilst there is no micromanaging at the task level – teams are self-managed - we are looking at a tool to help task management and collaboration be more seamless and more centralised, so there is less exposure to knowledge gaps. So, the key to moving forward will be a centralised task-management system.
It must be open to change
The policy currently states to work 37.5 hours over five days. This could drop to four days. To have the cognitive space to work five days a week is getting more challenging because of the sheer amount of information and noise, and we’re seeing a significant shift in the market to adopt a four-day week. So, watch this space.
Etch’s move to a flexible working model was one way of formalising our purpose – to define a better way to work, live and play for our people, community, and partners to go further, faster. And in doing so, we’re helping to create an employee-first culture of empowerment and autonomy. If your business is considering a transition to becoming more flexible or fully flexible, the team at Etch can help. Experienced at conceptualising, validating, and implementing a flexible working policy that satisfies our staff and stakeholders, Etch can share more information and best practices to help. Get in touch today.