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Flexible Working - Alliance Creative Case Study

11 Jan 2020
Ewan Anderson

Flexible working is a hot topic right now and seems to be a potential solution to small businesses' perceived skill shortage. So we thought we would interview someone who has real experience of managing this. Steve Johnstone, Co-Founder/Director at Alliance Creative, has a fully remote team and they are delivering some amazing results.  

What sort of flexible working policy do Creative Alliance have and how did it come about? 

I come from a traditional agency background; I've worked in and ran busy studios in some of Scotland's largest advertising agencies. My colleagues and I eventually got to the stage where we thought agency life just wasn't suiting us – you work very long and stressful hours and don't necessarily get paid for them either. 

Everybody's very conscientious in the creative industry because they love their craft. Still, you start to get burnt out, which affects your health, both mentally and physically, and the longevity of your career is in jeopardy. Essentially, we looked at the areas we really had an issue with and thought about what we could do to address them; how could we take back some control to achieve a better work-life balance? 

So, we started thinking about different models for creating our own business where employees had far more freedom. There's a wide range of talented people out there, and we knew most of them, but we just needed to bring them all together under one umbrella and sell them back as a neat and useful package to the marketplace. 

We thought "how do we make this an interesting opportunity to attract the best creative talent around?" We started bringing together many well-respected and trusted freelancers to create a support system that accommodated differing lifestyles. 

For example, if one of our team couldn't complete a project because they were going on holiday or ill, plenty of trustworthy people could take over.

How have you managed to maintain your company culture with remote working and flexible hours? 

Having a flexible working model can undoubtedly change how company culture evolves for the greater good. Because our collective work on their own a lot of the time, it does take some adjustment as many can miss good old face-to-face interaction. 

So, for us, our people must get out there and interact, whether that be our monthly staff meetings, client meetings, internal catchups or our staff parties. We aim for a happy balance of both individual and collaborative activities and give our employees the freedom of choice to work in the way that's best for them, and that's how we maintain our company culture. 

How have these policies been received by your staff? 

Some might not be very familiar with aspects such as working from home or making their own schedule, and if that's the case, you have to learn to be a bit more regimented and self-disciplined. However, once people get their head around that and get into a work groove, they find it an awful lot easier to manage their time. 

They can schedule their life better, deal with personal matters easier, and just generally attain that much sought after healthier work-life balance, so the response from staff is really positive when it comes to flexible working. 

There is also an absolute understanding of how our company works, which is communicated from the outset, so everybody is prepared for this work style. 

It works really well in the creative space, and you need to give your employees that freedom to be inventive as their input is crucial to the continued evolution of the model. 

How have the policies impacted on the performance of the business?  

Giving our team the freedom to work how they like has been hugely beneficial to performance. It has actually seen us more often than not deliver high-quality projects earlier than their agreed deadlines. As long as the delivery element is there, it doesn't matter where people work or their approach tactics. 

Everyone has different working methods, so as long as our staff have the freedom to exercise that, then our productivity remains strong. I've read recent surveys that support the claims that remote working is actually far more productive, so it's great to see that the wider business community is also seeing the same benefits. 

I know a lot of employers are wary of the possibility that people won't be as productive as they should be with flexible working options, but to foster loyalty within your workforce, you need to treat everyone with the professional respect you would expect yourself, it's all about building and maintaining that trust. 

Our team is dedicated to what they do because it is their personal reputation on the line and the company's, so it's a win-win situation. Also, in the recruitment process, we usually select people we have employed or worked with previously, or come highly recommended within our peer group, not to mention their reputation for being specialists in their field. That's how we ensure trust and quality from the beginning.

What about your duty of care to your employees, is this an issue? It can be an issue if it is not carefully managed, but it all comes down to effective communication. As we started to grow, we could see it getting slightly more complex in terms of managing your workflow, how you communicate to people and how you delegate responsibility to your staff. Like any business, you go through your trials and errors, and we regularly re-evaluate how the business is run and how our employees are getting on. 

The core team communicate continually daily, managing workflow, project queries, etc., so we know exactly what's happening at all times. Regular contact is undoubtedly vital in your duty of care to employees, even if it's on a remote basis. 

Our mantra to the team is "keep talking" if there's an issue, we need to know, otherwise, we can't fix it, straightforward message but extremely important. 

What is next in terms of flexible working?

Regarding our particular business model, I can't see it changing much aside any new legislation that the government decides to impose; it works really well for our employees and our clients. More people are shifting from full-time employment and actively seeking us to accommodate their aspirational lifestyle, so I can definitely see it continuing to grow from our perspective. 

In general, it's hard to say. I think it's going to apply to more workplaces, but it's going to depend on the stability of individual businesses' infrastructure, whether it's going to work or not. If companies can support it, I would highly recommend them implementing flexible working, but if it creates significant barriers, which I've seen first-hand, it's not going to be feasible in some areas.

There is a growing movement and pressure on businesses to acknowledge this trend and offer a flexible working scheme, so it will be interesting to see how they address this topic and its business.


Ewan Anderson
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