Radical flexibility: What it is and why we love it
As a working parent, I feel grateful every day for our workplace which takes a truly innovative approach to managing staff. Rapid Context is led by Dr Samantha Crompvoets, a sociologist and entrepreneur who hasn’t shied away from putting what she knows from research into practice in the workplace.
We like to call it ‘radical flexibility’. So, what is radical flexibility? What we mean is that all staff are given 100% trust and flexibility to manage their working lives as they see fit. Staff are trusted to do the work they need to do, manage their own deadlines, juggle their personal lives, choose where – in the world - they work and live, without having to compromise on their ability to do meaningful work. A key factor supporting this has been the implementation of our unlimited paid leave policy. That’s right, paid. It’s not ‘buying leave’ or self-funded ‘life leave’. Its genuine, unlimited, paid leave.
What does it mean in practice? As my husband and I pack school lunches and get ready for our day, I do a very quick check of emails. I decide that I will work from home that day - my little boy has a school assembly and it’s been a while since I’ve been. I am our only employee in Melbourne – we have employees all over Australia, including rural areas, and internationally. I am provided with a desk in a co-working space in the CBD that I often choose to use, for example if I need to meet clients or I want to more intensively focus on a task. But today I decide to work from home. I don’t call my boss or apologise to anyone for my decision. We are given the freedom and support to work from wherever it works best for us.
Rapid Context prides itself on being a flexible workplace – not a place where people work flexibly. There is a difference.
Later on, I join a meeting with a project team who are working on a really complex problem. I pop a load of laundry in the washing-machine and join the video-conference. We have invested heavily in the infrastructure needed to do this (the video-conference, not the laundry, ha!), as well as training to make sure everyone is skilled at using the software, and so it’s rare that we experience a technical issue. The project team includes a team member on the south coast of NSW, and another in Canberra working from the Canberra office, another one in Canberra working from home with a sick baby (she phones in while breastfeeding), and myself. People often ask if it’s hard to work closely on really complex and challenging tasks with people you don’t see every day. I know everyone in our team really well. We have staff retreats, workshops and other opportunities throughout the year where we get to know each other. The last one was in Tassie, in the small and scenic home town of one of our staff members which was great. So, no, it’s not hard.
Later in the day, I have client meetings scheduled. I plan these after lunch, and before school pick up because I know that these are meetings where I will prefer not to be interrupted. I also need to speak to my boss to get some guidance on a few things, but I call her after school pick up. If the call gets interrupted by a small child needing a snack or wanting to know where his LEGO dinosaur is, it’s no big deal. She has kids too. We all know what it’s like! I decide to put tools down between about 4pm and 8pm, to focus on the kids, sit down and have dinner together as a family and do the bedtime routine. Once the kids are in bed, I spend 30 mins revising a report, and another 30 minutes crafting a time-critical email to a client. Then my husband and I watch the Game of Thrones finale. Obviously.
There are a couple of key things that underpin the successful implementation of ‘radical flexibility’ – having solid support systems in place for staff, having open communication and, most importantly, developing relationships that are characterised by mutual trust. We are also very protective of our company culture (which is especially important when it comes to recruitment).
What is the pay off? We have a team of extremely talented and dedicated staff who are fiercely loyal to the company, its values, and to achieving excellence in their work every day, with award-winning results. The other pay off, which some people find surprising, is the productivity benefit. We have an extremely efficient team. When our staff are working, they are really working. If they need time off, they take it. They don’t sit around at work wishing they were doing something else.
But it also means that staff need to be supported to speak up if their workload becomes too heavy, or if they need to reduce their hours for a period of time. At Rapid Context, if you have caring responsibilities, if you need a mental break, or you need to focus on your life outside of work for any other reason, we aim to remove the anxiety that is often associated with that – we don’t want any staff member to worry that they are being judged by their colleagues or having their performance or commitment questioned. This has meant that when staff are working – they are all in.
The important thing that all of our staff know is that flexibility doesn’t flow one way. Sometimes, when a project is nearing a deadline we need to surge to meet that deadline. But having unlimited paid leave means that staff have the freedom to take the time they need in their lives when they need it and it works for them. But we also find that our staff tend to be much more aware of what works for the company. That’s where the mutual trust comes into play.
I am immensely proud to work for a company that has been willing to take this radical approach. It has forever changed the way I think about my life and career. It may not work for all workplaces or for all people, and it is important to remember that an effective flexible workplace requires consistent check-in points to ensure that the approach is still the one that best suits your employees and your organisation. While flexible work day is a chance to encourage this conversation, it is something that should be occurring all the time.
If you’d like some advice on how you can optimise the flexibility arrangements your workplace offers, we can help. Get in touch with Rapid Context’s flexible work specialist Sara Edwards (recognised as a Flexible Work Ambassador for 2019) for an obligation-free chat.
Katherine Post is General Manager at Rapid Context. She started her career as a researcher in the Parliamentary Library, before going on to work in senior advisory roles for several Cabinet Ministers across legal and social policy portfolios, including Women’s Adviser to the Minister for Women. She has also worked in senior policy roles in the Commonwealth public sector. Katherine joined Rapid Context nearly four years ago as a senior consultant in our research and advisory services, working from various locations including Canberra, Oxford, all over Europe, and now Melbourne.