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Babies born. Pregnancies lost. IVF. Surrogacy. Life-changing medical events: emergencies, chronic and terminal illness, parental care and bereavement. Coming out. Love. Marriage. Pets. Moving homes. Changing schools. Changing country.
This is a snapshot of the past 18 months for me, my family, my friends and my colleagues. And that’s not even directly taking into account Covid-19, mental health and burnout. But this isn’t an extraordinary list in the extraordinary times of the pandemic.
This is what life is made up of all the time—and what many people have dealt with “out of hours” for way too long. What is extraordinary is the way that this prolonged period of working from home, which has blurred the boundaries of home and officee, has finally shined a light on the reality and intensity of everyone’s lives.
You can’t go a day now without an agency leader proudly talking about their hybrid working model, declaring their newfound empathy as a result of being beamed into each other’s kitchens and bedrooms, thereby forced to confront the reality of each other’s lives. All of this is great—more empathy and consideration of people’s personal circumstances is to be applauded. But employers must not assume that a blanket solution of fewer days in the office solves the workplace flexibility conundrum.
That is merely a dipping of a toe in the ocean, albeit one that won’t get immediately stung by a jellyfish. But as the plethora of articles about The Great Resignation shows, hybrid working has become table stakes.
Providing flexibility at scale
Certainly, limited in-office days to three or two a week helps create space and a framework for organizing time better, but we shouldn’t pretend it is flexible or answering the needs of an increasingly diverse workforce. That requires offering bespoke flexibility at scale.
Workers have figured out that they work best when life works with work. People want to talk to their employers about the demands of their daily life and to have an immediate ear and action plan. They want employers to accept once and for all that flexibility can genuinely enhance productivity, not reduce it.
For example, a parent doing a daily school drop-off may log on 30 minutes late or even miss a meeting, but there is a massive productivity gain because that employee is less frazzled and is, therefore, more focused. The same goes for someone who has an established morning routine to help them keep balanced and well.
As human beings with complex circumstances, there is a whole bundle of practical and emotional needs that the majority of employers are not currently recognizing. Most companies are great at supporting people through the moments of emergency and crisis—but how can they do better beyond those moments?
The amazing work that’s emerged over the past year or so on miscarriage and menopause policies is a testament to the vision and commitment of some agencies and leaders. But process and policy can only ever be a tool to implement values and culture; it goes right to the vision and desire to build a different kind of company.
Building a human-first company
Our CEO, Gary Vaynerchuk, and chief heart officer Claude Silver have been working for the past decade to build the world’s greatest human-first company. There are some unique organizational and operational structures and practices to facilitate this: HR is not HR, but a large People and Experience Team (PET), and each department includes a PET strategist.
Monthly 1:1s for all employees are fundamental; there are monthly PET 1:1s; monthly development 1:1s; and then general 1:1s with managers for all employees, as well as an open-door policy for anyone at any level to talk to the leadership team.
At the heart of this is a business long game not driven by quarterly revenue and profit targets: being patient and investing in and nurturing people, supporting them through the ebbs and flows when life has thrown something unexpected at them.
When work supports people in life (not just their work), people perform better, feel more confident about taking risks and are more open to learning. The past 18 months especially have demonstrated the importance of doubling down and making sure this approach is embedded within the very DNA of our business.
Policies are guidance, but it’s the attitude and intent with which they are implemented that will make the difference. These policies must be built around the individual and with a recognition that an individual’s needs change depending on what they’re going through. This is what true flexible working means.
So, while we cannot predict the future or how many major life events will occur in the coming years, one thing we do know is your business is only as good as your people, and every person counts.