We talk a lot about flex time and working from home as good ways to support working moms. I tend to believe what’s good for moms is good for humans. I spent 15 years working in technology companies where a little bit of flex time was okay, even expected. People were understanding if I needed to come in late or leave early if one of my kids was sick, or if I had to stay home waiting for a contractor to come fix the plumbing. Working from home occasionally was also fine. Still, there were unspoken rules about what ‘productivity’ and good performance looked like, so most people came to work every morning and stayed until evening.
Since starting my own company almost five years ago, I’ve had the chance to work according to my own schedule. Even more important, I’ve intentionally created a culture where everyone can work when, where, and how she feels most productive.
Opt for flexibility over Facetime.
My ideal day includes getting up at 5:30 am to meditate, read the news, and catch up on emails over a strong cup of English Breakfast tea. Starting early means I’m almost always home for dinner, something that’s important to me with two teens at home. Three days a week, I get to the office around 8 or 9 am, and Wednesday I work from home. Friday mornings are sacred because I drive my daughter to school, which I’ve done since she turned seven.
Not every job lends itself to this kind of flexibility, but many do. Challenge yourself to think about how to make your workplace more flexible. Flexibility doesn’t mean having a completely erratic, unpredictable schedule. Employees still need to prioritize working with peers and clients, and making themselves available during peak business hours. Some jobs require core hours and might require everyone to be available online from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm, whereas others can operate smoothly as long as questions get answered within one or two business days. It all depends on what’s right for your business and your clients.
One of my team members doesn’t have kids but is an avid rock climber. Several days a week she hits the gym at 3:00 pm rather than waiting until evening hours when it can be hectic and cramped. She’d been doing this for a couple years, and honestly I had no idea. It’s likely I never would have noticed if she hadn’t mentioned it since she does fantastic work and is highly responsive.
Why not work from Bali?
Working from home can be especially productive for introverts. One person on my staff does best when she has a lot of time to work independently. After in-person staff meetings, she immediately turns around, hops on the bus, and heads home where she can write contracts and proposals free from distractions.
One of my more tenured team members loves to travel, and I’ve always known if she ever resigned it would be to see the world. Instead, she’s figured out how to bring her work with her. She’s worked for us from Bali, Europe, and most recently Hawaii. Other than an occasional delay caused by time zones or an unreliable Internet connection, it’s seamless. Her clients are just as happy and have no idea she’s halfway around the world as opposed to just down the street. (We all got a little jealous during a video conference when we saw her juice-bar coworking space in Bali, but what can you do?)
One Sunday evening I received a Slack message from our COO. She was flying to the East Coast to watch her sister’s kids for a week since she and her husband had to travel for business and needed childcare. What I loved about this situation was that 1.) she knew she was absolutely empowered to help her sister out and 2.) alternative working arrangements are so second nature to us that she’d almost forgotten to tell me.
There’s nothing as fulfilling and energizing as working in a way that’s suited to your schedule and lets you work when and where you’re at your best. Working this way requires discipline, trust, and communication, which are at the core of any healthy team. Each member of our staff does what works for her (yes, our six-person staff is 100 percent female) and I ‘ve never had a higher performing, more effective team.
Mikaela Kiner is an executive coach who spent 15 years in HR leadership at Microsoft, Starbucks, Amazon, PopCap Games, and Redfin. In 2015, Kiner founded Reverb, creating a healthy, inclusive culture in startups and growing companies in the Pacific Northwest. She is author of “Female Firebrands: Stories and Techniques to Ignite Change, Take Control, and Succeed in the Workplace.”