This week, Small Business editor Caitlin Sykes talks to business owners about flexible working.

Richard Poole is a co-owner of GrownUps, an online lifestyle magazine and social club, with daily brain training. The business has a team of six, who all work in different locations and on flexible hours.

How did you come to have a business where staff work so flexibly?

We're coming up for 10 years old and we've been through quite a few different structures. We've had our current structure, with six of us working flexibly and in different locations, for a couple of years now and it does seem to work.

My business partner lives slightly out of Auckland, and sometimes it was taking him an hour-and-a-half to get to and from work each way, so that was one reason for starting the conversation. But ultimately it came down to the bottom line. We're always looking at that month to month, and we got to a point where we were asking 'how can we do this better?' We used to have a team of staff working in an office, and I don't think we were that productive - part of that had to do with the location of the office itself, but it didn't really hum. So we thought 'let's get rid of the office', and we focused on dividing up the roles in the company differently so we could have more specialists than generalists.


We've found it a real win-win because we're working with people who are real specialists in their particular area, and they can't believe they get to do their work in such a flexible way around the other things that are going on in their lives. It's enabled us to work with some really cool people, and it's also helped us manage costs better and boost profitability.

How does being in different locations and working at different times work on a practical level?

At this stage my business partner and I meet once a week and we speak daily. And as a team we're all in contact daily in some form or another. Most of the time we're online all the time, but because our team are mostly mums who work part time, they'll often work around young children sleeping, or dropping off and picking up older children from school or activities. So there's the expectation that sometimes things might not get done that second but at some time during the day everything that needs to be done will be done - even if it's post dinner once the kids are in bed.

Does everyone work from home?

Mostly, but to be honest I don't always know where everyone is and it doesn't really matter.

Personally I work in the office of another business that's very entrepreneurial and I absolutely love it. I did work from home a couple of days a week last year, and I probably didn't realise how much I missed being around people. We are looking at bringing more of us into this space on a part time basis, so everyone can have a couple of days together if they want. We currently do meet together occasionally as a team in person, but that's just once every three months.

What kind of tools or systems help make these flexible arrangements work?

We use Skype, instant messaging, email or we pick up the phone. We really only use a couple of other systems collectively for information sharing and they're quite basic, and because we're an online-only business provided we've got internet access most things can be kept on track. Our approach is the simpler the better.

How have you found people who will fit in with this flexible culture?

We've been lucky that we've found everyone through family, friends or our wider networks. People who are drawn to working this way tend to be quite similar in terms of what they're looking for in their lifestyle and their attitude to work, so in a way the culture is self-perpetuating. And because we all have a deep understanding of how each other works, we also look out for each other. They'll be the first to tell me 'enough is enough, step away from the email'.