We all have those moments in business that stay with us, whatever the reason. I will never forget the day, which I now look upon with some humour, when a senior director of a recently acquired company called me into his office for a debrief.
One of the first things he asked me was “what is your bandwidth?” The question caught me off-guard as I had not heard the expression before. I soon realised I was being asked how much of my time could be assigned to fee-paying work. The comment made me feel as though I was merely a unit of value in a big machine where my time could be sold for money. That led to a feeling of having to prove myself and quashed innovation since it meant accounting for every moment of my day.
While it more than likely is an effective strategy for some organisations, it’s an approach that has never worked for me and the way I do business. My business coach gave me a wry smile when I said that money is the fuel that keeps the car (my company) going; what matters most to me is the people in the car.
From the outset, I established an ethos of compassion at Gatehouse ICS. I had to decide early on what my endgame was, because if it was to create the most profitable business and then retire I might have done it differently. But that was never my objective. It was always about investing in people, in the business and in bringing jobs to our local area, which is South Wales, where unemployed is high. Taking the car analogy, it is my intention that when I do get out of the car, it continues to run, because I like this car.
Ensuring work/life balance
As I mentioned in my previous blog, Take Time to Smell the Roses, flexibility is integral to how we work. In that blog, I discussed our flexibility in terms of start and finish times and how we encourage staff to take breaks during the day. In addition, we allow people free days off on their birthdays and over the Christmas period. We encourage work/life balance with a four-day week and by encouraging our staff to take the time they need for important family matters, such as doing the school run.
We take time to regroup and ensure we don’t become too bogged down in the minutiae. I find nature a very good teacher in this regard. I recently sent my colleagues a link to a nature documentary, during which two tiny frogs were having a fight. The scene was set to dramatic music and showed the frogs in combat, one throwing the other over its head. As the camera panned out, you realised just how small these animals were – so tiny that with the naked eye you would barely see a leaf rustle. I told my colleagues: “This is how it can feel when you’re in the midst of a project, approaching a deadline, it feels like everything. But when we come up for air, we can see it’s just a small part of who we are.”
When you consider what we do in that context, it’s clear that we are the sum of many parts and when we bring our whole selves to the workplace, we are able to see the bigger picture of every person’s life.
I do feel that the pandemic has helped to give us even greater insight into our employees’ lives beyond the workplace. Zoom meetings take us into people’s homes, their family life and the complexity of managing both at the same time and in the same space. We start our calls with a check-in to see how the other person is, because we are genuinely interested in one another’s wellbeing. During our social get-togethers, we encourage employees to bring their families because we are all multi-faceted – the person who is a director in the office also reads bedtime stories to his or her children in the evening.
While the pandemic has been a testing time for everyone, forcing us to change the way we work and interact, it has in some ways brought us closer together. As we continue to grow, hire more people and become more successful, I will be working to ensure we retain that sense of fairness, flexibility and compassion.