Series A start-ups are full of classic stereotypes. From “hustle culture” to being on-call 24/7, there are definitely a vast number of voices out there claiming that working for a company in its early stages means sacrificing everything else life has to offer. And it would be disingenuous of me to discount all of these clichés. Working for a Series A start-up doesn’t compare to going on a yoga retreat. Instead, it can mean context-switching multiple times a day, working to strict deadlines, and seeing the passion to bring your idea into reality quickly crossing the line into pressure to succeed.
Simultaneously it’s also a thrill of a ride, as you build from scratch, watch your vision materialise, and work with incredible people whose careers accelerate at a speed unlikely to be seen at larger businesses. And ultimately, the success of a start-up comes down to its people. They are the life force of the company, and making sure they are happy and able to do their best work is crucial.
I see a lot of writing on this topic, particularly from larger companies with the cash to splash on well-being initiatives. But as a Series A start-up, still early on its journey, what can we do better to help our employees achieve more work-life balance? Here I’d like to share some of the small steps we’ve taken to improve this at Conduktor and the impact it's had on our team.
Conduktor was born slap bang in the middle of Covid, where remote working had to be the norm. As we have grown as a business though we have developed our London HQ and transitioned to a hybrid way of working, splitting our time between a couple of days in the office and a few days working remotely a week.
The primary reason for this transition for us has been for the benefit of our culture. Through making sure our people receive regular face time, with me, my co-founder Stéphane, their managers, and other team members we’ve witnessed a huge boost in our team’s happiness levels. Having the opportunity to foster stronger team bonds, and increase innovation and creativity through spontaneous discussion has had a hugely positive impact.
On top of this, promoting a culture of trust, and not micromanaging people’s whereabouts, has also contributed to this success. Although we love seeing our people face to face we’re not going to start asking them to clock in and out as they manage their own time.
Remembering we’re all human#
We have to remember this. Sometimes the problem most affecting work-life balance is not work itself but personal issues or challenges. These exist for everyone, and we don’t expect our people to be robots. It's simply not realistic for people to always “leave their problems at the door”.
One of our core values is “we speak the truth” which for us has been a guiding principle since day one. We admire feedback and transparency and taking this on board when it comes to ensuring better work-life balance and employee well-being is vital.
So far we have focused on two extremely impactful initiatives. Firstly, we have been working on strategies to develop open lines of communication between managers and team members. Encouraging our leaders to build relationships with their teams to forge trust and improve their skills in this area has been an important step. Secondly, we have set up many other channels through which employees can leave their feedback. We conduct engagement interviews with all team members where we ask for their honest views on company operations and we send out quarterly “pulse” surveys. We also have an open format for anonymous questions at all company all-hands sessions.
In short, the more opportunities we provide for people to be able to share their thoughts, feelings, and experiences provide numerous ways to further improve work-life balance for our team at large.
Focusing on collaboration#
Another of our core values is “we collaborate”. In my opinion, this value is fundamental to Conduktor’s success so far. Without strong collaboration, even the most talented individuals won’t get far on their own.
In practice, I think it’s hugely important for work-life balance in particular as great collaboration to me means lending an ear when needed, recognising when colleagues need an extra helping hand, or simply taking stress off each other when working towards a deadline or common goal.
I also believe in order to promote successful collaboration between teams you have to leave room for fun. Whether it's free weekly team lunches, sociable events outside of work, or team competitions, there are multiple ways to bring fun into work on a daily basis.
It’s also not something that I think should be exclusive to employees working hybrid. Every year we bring all of our team members, hybrid or remote, together to have fun in person through a company offsite. The theme of our latest offsite was collaboration, and giving our entire team a renewed sense of energy, purpose and motivation by bringing them together and simply having some fun as a team. (Find out more about our 2023 company offsite, in my blog post Key Learnings from our 2023 offsite.)
Last but definitely not least, it's often difficult for start-ups to compete with some of the perks and benefits of larger companies. However, one benefit we felt was essential to set up from the get-go was comprehensive medical insurance for all employees no matter their location.
Burnout, stress, personal challenges, or the cost, inaccessibility and waiting lists of free medical care can all take their toll on mental well-being and work-life balance for employees. Taking that burden off them by providing private medical care, both with physical and mental health coverage has innumerable benefits to helping team members achieve a better quality of life, and in turn an easier work-life balance. At Conduktor we currently use SafetyWing to make this happen.
Though we are far from perfect and we still have a lot to learn in this area, I think it's important to recognise the steps start-ups can take at this stage and the ones we are implementing on our journey so far. Embedding a focus on work-life balance into this early stage, and having these conversations from the outset is vital for employee wellbeing.
As the next steps for Conduktor, I look forward to seeing how we develop in this area, how we push ourselves to do better, and being a part of the evolution of our well-being benefits as we grow.
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