Why Freedom and Ownership Are More Than Just Perks

Freedom and ownership aren’t just perks; they are unique components which mark Verve out as a great place to work and values we think more companies should adopt.

There’s an episode of The Simpsons that some of you may have seen, where the teachers have gone on strike over poor working conditions and the family are discussing it at dinner.

Lousy teachers, trying to palm our kids off on us,” Homer mutters, indignantly.
But Dad,” says Lisa, “by striking they’re trying to effect a change in management so they can be happier and more productive.

Lisa, if you don’t like your job you don’t strike,” Homer replies, “you just go in every day and do it really half-assed.

At some point in our lives, we’ve all related to some degree with Homer’s slanted work ethic. Long, inflexible hours, poor pay, glass ceilings (the career kind, not architectural), resentment towards management – the list goes on and on.

One of the biggest adjustments I’ve had to get used to since joining Verve are the concepts of Freedom and Ownership. In other words, being responsible for delivering results in a way that works best for you and your team. At Verve this means all employees choose when and where they work, how much holiday they need, which meetings to attend and also have full access to company information.

This approach would not work in every industry. I’d be a little concerned, for example, if ambulance crews or police officers were suddenly working flexible hours. However, in this digital age of remote working, the idea of a 9-5 office-based job in a fixed location and with no flexibility seems utterly archaic and incongruous with creating a happy and productive environment.

Until I joined Verve my experience of ‘company culture’ meant a derivative code of ethics listed somewhere on the company website and a vague assurance about diversity in the workplace. At the last company I worked for the CEO considered ‘casual Fridays’ and a second-hand coffee machine as being akin to Google. Suggesting to him that staff should have complete autonomy over when and where they worked would have resulted in your sanity being questioned, before being curtly dismissed with a boot ringing on your backside.

Every other company I’ve worked for has also operated a similar model. Employees turn up at a fixed location and work a minimum of seven hours, with an hour’s lunch they’d rather you didn’t take, and an expectation that you’ll be at your desk by no later than 9AM the next morning. This last point has always been tough for me as I’ve never exactly been what you would call a morning person. It certainly didn’t help having to endure a morning commute that went something like this:

6:45: Wake up only after sleeping through first alarm.

8:00: Leave flat, feeling pleased for doing so on time.

8:10: Leave flat again in blind panic after realising I’d forgotten something first time around.

8:15: Sprint to tube and be greeted by inevitable rush-hour crowd waiting for station staff (who are already at work) to allow everyone onto platform.

8:30: Force way onto thirteenth train that arrives by elbowing other commuters and ignoring exasperated sighs.

9:00: After two changes, several litres of sweat soaked up by clothes and life considerably shortened, arrive at office, foot weary and irritable.

9:05: Resist urge to burn down office and toast marshmallows over cindered remains after discovering that coffee machine is broken (again!).

9:10: Sit down at fixed desk next to office bore, who looks dishevelled and smells worse after similar commute.

9:15: Turn on computer. Discover the deadline for a project I was working on until 10pm previous night has been pushed back to end of the week. Make mental note to update portfolio and start looking for new job.

OK, so admittedly that last point was more to do with the nature of my chosen career path, but an infuriating email is a lot easier to deal with when you’re not already feeling stressed from negotiating London’s equivalent of the Pamplona bull run. Like bad design however, if it’s all you’ve ever known, then eventually you become inured to it.

A recent SME report said 90% of people in the UK believe flexible working hours has boosted their productivity and 79% said being able to work remotely was a motivating influence. In another survey, Deloitte found 43% of millennials plan to leave their current jobs within two years. Amanda Murphy, Head of Commercial Banking at HSBC UK said: “Our research shows that for an overwhelming number of workers, a more flexible way of working is more motivating than financial incentives.”

And don’t think this sort of mentality is only applicable to young workers either. According to SME, the freedom to choose your hours is valued most by 35-44 year olds, compared to just 47% of millennials. This is to do with many people having young families and desiring a better work/home life balance. But beyond this, there are also huge benefits for increasing gender equality, people’s health, customer expectations and societal values – not to mention offsetting the negatives that come with retirement ages steadily rising.

Personally, being able to avoid the rush hour and worrying about whether I have enough holiday left has been a revelation. Most of my friends still can’t get their heads around Verve’s culture when I describe it to them, with a couple convinced I’m freelancing. Verve isn’t exactly what you’d call a normal company, but there’s no doubt in my mind more organisations should be adopting this model.

There are positive signs that this is starting to happen, especially within the tech start-up sector. A study by Manpower Group found that 83% of retail employees ranked greater control over their hours as the number one reason why they would take or stay in a job, whilst nearly 42% of managers across all industries believe flexibility is essential to organizational success.

Yet despite the growing evidence to support the benefits, less than a third of businesses allow this sort of autonomy. The sad fact is that, for the time being at least, there are still not many other companies that will let you work from home in your dressing gown, which – as bizarre as it may seem to some people – is exactly what you need to be at your best sometimes.

As Homer says: “I wake up relatively happy every morning. Then I interact with people and things start to change very quickly.” At least if any of us ever start to feel that way at Verve then we can go home and work from there instead. That’s something none of us should take for granted.

This post was written by Grant Barratt, Brand Design Lead at Verve and a passionate ambassador for working at home in your dressing gown.