WHEN I first co-founded TheGivingMachine, I was sharing the parental duties with my wife for our children. One of them was at primary school and the other was still at home.
I wanted to be a good dad but also wanted to be able to progress my consulting business and get TheGivingMachine off the ground. After meeting other parents at the school gates, it was clear that this balance of personal responsibilities and work fulfilment was a common challenge for many. Wind the clock forward and I feel that our charity has managed to turn this challenge into a real asset for ourselves and the community we serve. I thought it might be helpful if I share what has worked for us in case it helps others.
Firstly, some of our team are self-employed contractors which gives them the flexibility to deliver what is needed in their personal lives and commitments. As anyone who has caring responsibilities knows, life can be unpredictable so having a paid role that enables you to fit around that is really helpful. Most business activities are not required to be carried out at specific times, so making up work in the evening or early mornings when needed is just fine.
Secondly, it is really important to have the systems, tools and processes that support this flexibility. We’ve found the following works great for us:
- Team Time: having flexibility is great but we need time to spend in the same room together. Sometimes this can feel inefficient because chit chat can occur but the overall increase in working together more than pays for itself. We rent a room from a local church as a shared workspace to enable all key contractors and some suppliers to spend time together once a week if they wish. We’ve purchased a mobile wi-fi router to provide a temporary broadband network for that.
- Gsuite: Google provides its suite of email, cloud storage and documentation services free of charge. This has reduced our IT overhead completely. We can now manage all of this ourselves and have an internal Intranet (or Wikki) site where we can keep track of stuff we learn that needs to be remembered for all of us.
- Basecamp: whether Basecamp or Trello or similar, reducing projects and activities to actions that are trackable is essential in a distributed environment. It means that you don’t lose actions even if you don’t have time to do them all. They give a charity discount!
- VOIP: We use Soho66 for our phone lines. We have multiple lines at only a few pounds a month that we can pick up or go to voicemail and send emails into our support system. You can buy didgeridoos to use real phones connected to your broadband or an app on your PC to take calls. It means we are totally flexible and have no equipment to manage. Working from different locations is easy.
- Freshdesk: we use a support system where every enquiry goes into it including voicemails. It means that any issue has its own chain of contact and can be assigned to a team member. It also means that if certain words are used, then auto scripted replies can be sent. This is great for those regular enquiries you get that may need more information. They give a charity discount too.
- Slack: This is the final piece on our comms story. This is an internal instant messaging system for a team or project. It means that we don’t need to use Messenger or Skype which blend personal and business. Again they give a charity discount. We’ve found this has really cut down on emails and is flexible enough to make interworking from multiple locations much easier.
I’m sure that my family might not always think I’ve got the balance right but I’m so grateful that the blend of technology and fantastic people means that we have the opportunity to live our personal and professional lives well and at the same time. Get in touch if you’d like more info on our tried and tested recipe.