How we create a flexible working culture

Working in a flexitime culture has clear benefits — the freedom to look after yourself, maintain the quality of your work, and find a good work/home life balance. But this requires trust, between your team and with any external clients, to work. Here are some of the techniques we use to build that trust

Working out loud

“How can I trust someone is working if I can’t see them?” is a common question in organisations considering remote working. Convivio is a fully distributed company (what we call Free Range), and instead of just a visible presence at a desk, we believe in visibility of the work itself to build trust and empathy between the team.

We encourage working out loud. This includes simple things like saying ‘hi’ and ‘bye’ when starting or finishing work, or when taking a break. It also includes mentioning what you’re working on, and how you’re getting on, as you go through the day.

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For example, if I’m struggling to figure out a problem, I’ll mention it in the chat, and that I’m taking a 5 minute break away from the desk to mull it over. When you’re not sitting across from each other in an office, you completely miss the body language and other cues on colleagues mental state.

We use a lot of Slack integrations to output commits, deployments, design updates, and feedback into project chat rooms. That shows the results of our work.

We also use the Slack status feature to update each other on our whereabouts, be it 🚂 commuting to a client office, ☕️ working from a coffee shop, or 🏋️‍ at the gym.

Peer review all the things

We don’t believe in strong hierarchical management, and we don’t have one person or department that approves all time off and holiday. We rely on peer review to get a second opinion on time off, training, and equipment expenses.

This raises awareness of the impact of what is being reviewed, which can be workload or finance related.

Who your peers are depends on what you’re asking to be reviewed. If you’re requesting holiday time during the project, you’d speak to your project team. If you’re requesting a review for a conference, you’d speak to people who do the same work as you. This has the added benefit of making people aware of conferences they might be interested in.

Expenses claims are also listed for anyone on the team to see. It’s management by transparency rather than authority.

Minimum holiday time

When you have a fixed maximum holiday time it’s easy to plan throughout the year to make sure you use it all up before the end of the year. When you remove that limitation, things become a lot less structured. We’ve found that we’ve had to keep an eye out for people who haven’t taken time off for a while, especially if they are working on high pressure projects.

We even built a little tool that checks our calendar for our last holiday. At the time of writing, it looks like I’m slacking!

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Finding the right people

Like working-from-home, flexible working sounds like a cave of riches, freedom to do what you want, when you want, where you want. But it’s not a good fit for everyone. It requires discipline, self-awareness, and good communications skills.

To make sure this culture works productively, you need to look for the right attributes in the people you’re hiring. Ask questions that reveal what motivates them, how self-directed they are, and how collaborative and empathetic they are.

When we re-thought our hiring process, we generated our interview questions based around our company values and culture:

Doing the right thing: being healthy, sustainable and working with integrity;

Doing things right: being professional, achieving excellence;

Doing things big: being ambitious, thinking higher and long-term;

Doing things: getting things done with focus and momentum;

Doing things together: being collaborative and sharing, radically transparent.

Working towards a flexitime, self-managing culture isn’t easy, and it’s a privilege you have to keep earning. It takes time, reflection, transparency and honesty to get it right. We’re still learning how to get better at it and would love to hear your thoughts and ideas on what works for you, or what problems you face.