24th August 2021

Introducing Smartnumbers Flex: Our plan for long-term flexible work

By Heena Surani

Just like everyone else, the Smartnumbers team have spent the best part of the eighteen months working from our beds, kitchens and spare rooms.

Before the pandemic, we’d never have imagined that remote working could actually… work – or, at least, not this well. But with great challenges comes great innovation – and we’ve all been surprised to discover just how effective, productive and rewarding working remotely can be.

As the CHRO at Smartnumbers, I’ve been involved in every stage of the company’s transition to the new workplace. As the world now begins its steady return to normality, I wanted to make sure our team could retain everything that’s positive about telecommuting long-term. After all, none of us are in a hurry to return to the five-day-a-week commute. That’s why we created Smartnumbers Flex: our plan to combine the best of remote and in-person working, forever. Here’s how it works.

Our plan for long-term flexible work

Smartnumbers Flex does exactly what it suggests: make flexible working the default for our team. Four days a week, everybody’s free to work however they like, wherever they like. That might be in the office, at home or at their local coffee shop. The only rule is to come into the office one day a week, on whichever day they prefer.

We decided on this approach because, fundamentally, remote working does work – and it works well. By every measure of productivity, we work equally or more effectively from home. I’ve spent much of the last year and a half talking to everyone in the team about how they like to work and what remote working means to them. The results overwhelmingly suggest our team are happier, healthier and more focused from home. People now spend less time on trains and more time with their families – and that makes a big difference to their wellbeing and how they feel when they work.

It would have been completely unreasonable for us to ask our staff to spend time and money commuting into the office everyday, when we know they’d be less productive — and more unhappy.  A flexible model made sense on every level.

Smartnumbers flex: How we got here

We always knew that 100% remote working all the time wasn’t the ideal scenario for Smartnumbers. Most people wanted to come in once or twice a week. And I think we gain something really valuable from seeing each other in person regularly: it helps us define our culture. No matter how much time we spend at home, our office will always be part of our DNA.

We always knew that a hybrid approach was going to work best for us. But how did we decide on our one-day-a-week policy? We considered a few models, each with their own pros and cons.

One option was to have three weeks a month working remotely and one week in the office – roughly the same balance of remote and in-person working. But ultimately, the goal was to maintain productivity and collaboration, and we didn’t want people delaying meetings for weeks so they could do it in person. The other option was to stagger people’s office days throughout the week. In the end, though, we decided that letting everyone choose the day they preferred and arrange to meet other colleagues, if they so wished, was the best way to keep our teamwork juices flowing. 

Staying happy and healthy, wherever we are 

One of the big challenges of remote working is that it can be harder for managers to keep an eye on how people in their team are doing. That includes everything from job satisfaction to problems at home and general wellbeing. If we want to make remote working work, we need to avoid mental health becoming ‘out of sight, out of mind’. 

So, we’re putting work into training and support, from making all our managers mental health first-aiders to putting in regular catch-ups where teams can just chat about anything. And we make a point of only hiring managers that can lead virtually and take an interest in their teams’ wellbeing. As an HR leader, I catch up with staff regularly, so I know a little bit about everybody’s hopes, dreams and daily challenges. I expect nothing less from their managers.

At the same time, we’re encouraging people to take part in a range of activities to support mental and physical health, including meditation and breathing exercises, nutrition and fitness classes. In our “Mind, Body and Earth” initiative, we invite staff to take care of themselves as well as giving back to the planet and driving sustainability. After all, a happy, rewarded worker is a productive one – and that ultimately benefits everyone.

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to working in the ‘new normal’, and everybody’s needs and experiences are different. But as a CHRO, it’s been really heartwarming to work for a company that puts our people first when defining our plan. Whatever the future holds, our success as a company rests on the health and motivation of the people that power it. Now, I can confidently say we’ve got that covered.