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Why working flexibly — just like a startup — could digitally transform your business

Jan 24, 2017 · 4 min read

Author: Emma Cerrone, Co-founder and Partner at Freeformers

In his New York Times bestseller Work Rules, Google’s Head of People Operations Laszlo Bock writes: “If you’re comfortable with the amount of freedom you’ve given your employees, you haven’t gone far enough.”

But before you shudder at the thought of letting your staff off the leash even more, consider this: If Google with its 55,000+ employees in numerous locations worldwide can manage them more like a startup, then why can’t you?

Google’s HR chief shines a light on an attitude already embedded within startup and digital culture on both sides of the Atlantic… learning to trust and listen to your employees in order to innovate.

Some companies think flexible working purely means working from home, but few realise ‘flexibility’ should be given as much to employees’ minds as to where they place their laptop.

“Encourage side projects — even within business hours”

In practically every startup or digital company, employees will be working on their own projects as well as those of the company. Google used to allow 20% of the week for it.

Not only can this lead to increased creativity and loyalty, at, they claim it was a side project that actually saved their business.

Marcus Jamieson-Pond, director of CSR consultancy Three Legged Stool, says: “If employees are treated as adults rather than units of production, they’ll form a psychological contract based on values like respect and integrity.

“Accepting that they’re likely to use ideas elsewhere, in a grown-up way, allows employers to build loyalty in their people — who will bring new ideas and innovation back into the workplace.”

“Work a four-day week”

An extra day off? We can see you squirming in your chair already at that suggestion. But it certainly works for the staff of UniqueLA, who’ve been organising hugely successful ‘buy local’ shopping events since 2008. Employees there get Fridays off.

In a recent interview with The Guardian, founder Sonja Rasula said: “My employees are well-rested and actively enjoy ‘time off’, which results in higher productivity during those four workdays and an increased happiness level.”

If you are customer facing this is going to be hard to implement — but the idea of looking at productivity rather than specific hours and days worked is the key.

Flexibility is not confined only to the working week. A growing number of companies have removed traditional holiday allowances, replacing them with unlimited days instead. Netflix recently announced an unlimited approach to maternity and paternity leave too.

The ethos is simple: Hire motivated people who believe in your business and they’ll take a responsible approach to holiday time and be more productive.

But being flexible doesn’t mean having no policy at all. You’ll still need clear guidelines. Sharon Clews adds: “Employers need to set boundaries and expectations and make sure their employees do the same.”

“Flexible working tools”

Every day we sees more and more startups creating digital tools and offering them for free, or very low cost, to other companies allowing them to streamline operations or offer remote working.

The likes of Asana, Sqwiggle, Slack and Hackpad make it easy for colleagues to share ideas or work together when thousands of miles apart.

But how many times have you asked your employees what digital tools could you provide to make their lives easier? How often have you brought in a new technological process with little consultation with those on the ground?

Working flexibly, just like a startup would, you’d empower your staff with the digital thinking and digital skills for them to come up with the ideas — and even develop them from within. We see these lightbulb moments and resulting success every time we deliver our Freeformers digital transformation sessions.

“Flexible devices policy”

If you don’t already operate a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy, then you really should. And that should never be a blanket ban.

Our personal smartphones, tablets and laptops are the driving force behind flexible working — and one of the reasons so many of us fail to switch off when we leave the office. In Germany they’ve been considering banning after-hours emails while in the US they are examining the implications of this.

There are security implications, of course, as Chloe Green writes in a recent article for IT blog, Information Age — but encouraging your employees to use the technology they feel most comfortable with is key here.

Rather than foist that clunky laptop on a worker, offer them the chance to pick the machine they want, or contribute to the cost of something they can use both at home and at work to foster a sense of responsibility to the tech in their hands.

Move fast and break things

In startup culture, you’re nothing if you don’t allow yourself to make mistakes. It’s an expectation rather than a fear.

Dan Bower, co-founder of Rise-To, a start-up careers platform matching graduates to startups and SMEs, says: “If you want to be a unicorn [a private company valued at $1bn or more] you have to be cheaper, better, different and new!

“Startups move fast, break things, and let the dog chew up the rule book. That’s where the good stuff happens.”

If you want to know how to make “the good stuff happen” then speak to us about the digital transformation programmes we offer to businesses and organisations — and we’ll tell you how working with Freeformers can fuel our unique one_for1 social impact model to digitally train young people for free.

Originally published on 28th August, 2015

Freeformers is the digital growth partner to FTSE 100 organisations, working with a diverse array of clients including Barclays, HSBC, John Lewis, Camelot and E.ON. Our mission: to create the future workforce, now. Find out more at


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We do the people part of digital transformation & prepare your employees for the future of work. How much could we save your organisation?


Written by

We do the people part of digital transformation & prepare your employees for the future of work. How much could we save your organisation?

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