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Goodbye burnout, hello beach: this Sydney agency has quit traditional office hours

A PR agency in Sydney’s inner west has waved goodbye to traditional office hours – and even introduced a regular ‘Work from the Beach Day’ – to improve staff work/life balance and eliminate the risk of burnout.

Renae Smith, Director of The Atticism, has placed a limit on the ‘in office’ hours staff can work. Employees are banned from working more than 20 hours per week from the company’s headquarters in Newtown – and office time is only permitted mid-week (Tuesday through Thursday). Further, staff are encouraged to work remotely – and only part-time – on Monday and Friday, which also serves as ‘Work from the Beach Day’.

With encouragement from her partner, Smith introduced the new work schedule – a radical departure from the norm – following a health scare six months ago. Burnt-out from work (she would check emails from 7.30am to 8.30pm, 7 days a week), her health deteriorated. Eventually, she was hospitalised for heart palpitations and diagnosed with stress.

Smith spoke to Dynamic Business about her new policy, what is has meant for staff productivity and wellbeing, and how other SMEs can strike a better work/life balance.

How long has this work/life balance policy been in place?

We implemented it around two months ago. Prior to that I was trialing different concepts like “select your own hours” etc but found this idea worked the best – and it has stuck! No one at all said they didn’t want to get on board with the new policy. My team has embraced it.

Has the new policy helped to attract and engage talent?

Absolutely! I have people applying to work with us due to our new work/life balance policy, including our account manager Carolina Are. I’ve also noticed improvements in employee performance and better results overall. We are very motivated and efficient.  Our staff love what they do and therefore give their best when they’re working.  I think it’s a great place to work and our clients feel that and therefore enjoy the work we do with them more. Importantly, everyone has told me they’re happier working here now than they ever were in their previous jobs – which is a great feeling!

Were you concerned a remote work option would erode productivity?

It was a concern, initially. While trialing ideas for the new policy, I found a few of our then part-time staff were dragging the chain. By that I mean they weren’t getting things done, they were rushing to get work done at the last minute even though they’d had ample time, and they were emailing at ridiculous hours (e.g. 1 am) after taking while days off. In the months before we implemented the final policy, I was able to see who worked best this way, who ‘got it’ and who was perfect for the team.  We now have a perfect team and i have absolutely no concerns whatsoever.  The results speak for themselves.

What resources are needed to support the policy?

In the office, staff are provided with what they need.  Remotely, they can use their laptop but I am just as happy for work emails to be sent from their phones.  We use Dropbox and Google for our emails – everything is linked and we are all connected and can access our documents and timelines, etc. from our phones. Having said that, I don’t want staff to be stuck to their laptops when they’re not in the office. Outside of our heavy pitching days (Tuesday to Thursday), staff are free to to complete work on their phones on Monday and Friday.

How do you ensure staff switch off outside of work hours?

I have to try and lead by example and not go too over the top with messages on the days staff aren’t in.  I also know my staff have a lot going on – some study, some have children, others are always traveling etc.  I am pretty sure they’re keen on the idea themselves and i don’t have to do much here.

How does the ‘Work from the Beach Day’ work?

I set up at the beach and try and work outdoors in the shade as much as I can. Just being outside changes your focus and you don’t get so consumed by a computer screen as there’s so much else to look at.  I feel much happier after a day at the beach.

What would you advise SMEs seeking to implement a similar policy?

It’s a process of trial and error.  You have to find what works for your team as well as the clients who get your vibe. Also, as the boss, the switch over is isn’t going to be straight forward: I still have to work overtime sometimes but I am much more conscious of making time for myself.

Do you feel many employers overlook work/life balance?

Absolutely.  I used to, for sure.  We ‘glorify’ being busy – if you are slaving at work, you’re seen as a hard worker, which is detrimental.  My health suffered.  I was stressed, upset, on edge and very unproductive.  I would respond to an email in 3 seconds after receiving it, but my brain was not performing like it is now.  I have improved, my staff have improved, our results have improved.  I will never go back.

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James Harkness

James Harkness

James Harnkess previous editor at Dynamic Business

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