Rumor has it that, at some of the bigger tech campuses, the term “family friendly” means your family can visit you at work and even have dinner with you occasionally as you work overtime logging evening and weekend hours. Call me crazy, but to me, “family friendly” means actually being with my family outside of work. I’d much rather eat dinner at home with my kids instead of on a corporate campus no matter how fancy the food may be (although sending a chef to my house to make dinner for my family would definitely be considered family friendly in my book!).
When we launched Tinybeans, having a truly family friendly workplace was something I strived for—not only for myself, but also for my team. I know from first-hand experience, as well as from the research, that happy teams make productive colleagues, and happy colleagues typically have a pretty good work / life balance. But in talking to other entrepreneurs, I’ve learned that creating this kind of dynamic can be scary. Bosses worry that people might take advantage of flexible policies and the work product will suffer. Over the years, I’ve found that this couldn’t be further from the truth. These are some guidelines I’ve followed that have helped me to create a workplace environment that’s productive, happy, and built on trust and respect.
You Have Nothing to Fear But Fear Itself
The trend towards family friendly is not going away. The growing popularity of the gig economy, in addition to the increasing number of forward-thinking companies, has shown employees what it’s like to work in flexible environments, and more people want in! Companies should not be afraid. The key is trust and focusing on results, not bums in seats. When you know your team will get the work done, it doesn’t matter if they are in the office to do it, or what time of day they do it. You can start out small by encouraging a teammate to finish a project from home if you know they have an important personal obligation they’d like to attend to during work hours. Most likely you’ll find this vote of confidence and trust will be rewarded with a great work product.
Give an Inch and You’ll Get a Mile
There’s a popular saying among people who love their work. It’s something like, “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” That’s all well and good, but you’ll find that most people who say this work for themselves and aren’t clocking in or commuting. Many people lack the autonomy necessary to create ideal work hours and environments for themselves. So, as a leader, don’t be afraid to personalize flexible work arrangements. For example, offering the opportunity to work remotely (even in another state), or being able to leave an hour early each day, might mean the world to parents of young children. Being able to work from home on a Friday might be more meaningful to an employee who routinely puts in longer hours Monday through Thursday. These accommodations can be easily made for employees who have earned them by producing great work—and unlike providing other perks and benefits, these cost you NOTHING. Typically, you’ll find that when people are rewarded with flexibility, they’ll reward you back with stellar work.
Work Hard Play Hard
A policy with plenty of good paid leave and personal time allowances ensures that employees have sufficient time to refresh, recharge, and take care of personal items. And it bears repeating that relaxed employees are more productive employees. We’re an Australian company, so we like to model our office leave policy on what is typical there, even though the majority of our employees are now in the U.S. It’s no secret that most countries know how to do this better than the U.S., so we like to think we are on the cutting edge of providing generous vacation and personal leave guidelines for U.S. startups. But we don’t believe in unlimited vacation policies; far too often that can mean never taking a vacation.
Common Sense Measures
It may be that your “official” workday ends at 5:30 p.m., but that doesn’t mean you should schedule team meetings for 4:30 or 5 p.m. (unless it’s a team happy hour). Commuting is stressful enough without worrying about whether you’re going to miss the 5:45 train and have to wait until the 6:15 train, missing school pickup. Also, when it comes to scheduling important team activities and meetings, be respectful to your colleagues’ schedules and different time zones. We often do meetings early morning or later in the day to accommodate, so that colleagues can have time with their kids, or leave early if need be. Always remember that, while work is important to your employees, it’s not the only obligation they have. So respect their need for boundaries with regard to their free time.
Take Your Child To Work Daze
There’s one day a year when it’s official, but there are plenty of other days when parents would sure appreciate this opportunity. Once your children start elementary school you won’t believe how many days they are actually NOT in school—holidays, parent teacher conference days, in service workdays, not to mention sick days. This can be stressful for parents, but it doesn’t have to be. You don’t have to set up a daycare, but if you have the space, consider dedicating a room to movie watching or quiet reading as a kind of emergency backup plan for parents. We’re a family-oriented company, and it’s not uncommon to have a child or two hanging out in the office on school break. Plus, you can turn this into a fun day by including your children in your work tasks at hand. We’ve had kids in the office do interviews with our team to share on our social channels, and we’ve also had them model for photo shoots. It’s a win win!
It’s important to remember that a family friendly environment is for all workers from the top down and bottom up. So walk the walk, don’t just talk the talk. Founders and CEOs can feel the weight of the world on their shoulders, but they need to have balance for their sake and everyone else’s. Employees will feel more empowered when they see company heads modeling the way. If your team sees you leave early for a school recital, they’ll know its okay for them to do the same. And when they see you presenting the next morning to a new client, they’ll see how to do it responsibly.
S.J. Kurtini is the co-founder of Tinybeans, which creates one safe space for families to store and share precious memories.
Want to read more about cultural shifts in the workplace? Check out our recap from our International Women’s Day event, where we explored the benefits of feminine qualities in leadership roles.