This message—that employers need to offer more than superficial perks if they truly want to create a great place of work—struck a chord.
We used to be the company with the ping pong table and the beer fridge (and a dart board). The ping pong table lost out to desk space years ago. We kept the dart board and the fridge was stocked when we need it.
Fast-forward a few years, and we've become a fully remote company. The central office is no more. So what kind of business are we now?
Well, we’re now the kind of business that offers remote work to all, paid sabbaticals, flexible hours and all sorts of other things. They didn’t all arrive overnight. Often a single employee will ask if we’re open to something. If we are, we then have to consider if it’s scalable across the whole team and viable long term. We’ve always tried to be open about this process.
Flexible hours, for example, was a benefit that derived directly from a team member becoming a new parent and wanting to start earlier in the morning to help out more at home in the afternoon (that person was me). Not wanting one rule for directors and another for staff, we felt it right to offer the flex to everyone.
Our experience is that our staff value this empathic, honest approach to change, and sincere interest in their wellbeing, far more than they mourn the loss of any toys.
So, since we’re recruiting again, we thought it might be a good time to take stock of everything we feel makes Ten4 a great place of work, starting with the culture that underpins everything else.
A culture of openness, listening and learning
Everything after this first point is a result of us listening to our staff, learning from each other, being open to new ideas and adapting. We have the same structure as many organisations: from owners and directors to interns and everything in between. But we’re conscious not to let seniority or tenure get in the way of good ideas. A recent hire said it well:
“Ten4 feels non-hierarchical; everyone’s opinion is considered and we’re all aware that we can learn from everyone on the team no matter their role.”
Remote working and flexible hours
We already had a few people working remotely pre-pandemic, but like many other organisations, our move to offering remote for everyone was accelerated in early 2020. It’s the biggest change to our modus operandi in over 20 years, but it stuck. In fact, the studio became so peripheral to our working that in the Summer of 2023 we handed back the keys.
Since going remote our team is more diverse (duh — London isn’t for everyone). People are more able to live how and where they want to live. And they’re happier. It’s hard to argue against that.
We also want people to choose when they work. Our core hours are 10:00-16:30. Outside that window people can decide when they start and finish. We expect everyone to work a full week and to complete their assigned tasks. But we also know that the school run exists, and some people have regular therapy sessions, or want to learn Italian, or play in a dodgeball team.
The benefits of remote work and flexible hours bear out in research, too. In Envoy’s Return to the Workplace Report 63% of respondents said the flexibility to work when and how they want was the workplace benefit that empowered them the most. It certainly seems that way for our team.
If you can lead a fuller, less stressful, happier life with a bit of flex, it works for us.
Regular socials and occasional coworking
With remote work, the social element of work has changed. Where we used to join each other for a stroll around the block at lunch, or get a quick drink after work, we now spend much more time isolated from colleagues. To redress, we organise monthly socials in work time for us to get together and reconnect. We also meet up at coworking facilities from time to time, if project work requires, and sometimes even if it doesn't.
Rotating teams organise different events each month against a generous budget. We’re conscious about inclusion, so we don’t focus socials around alcohol (I mean, we often end up in a cosy pub — but it’s always preceded by something more wholesome, active or intellectually stimulating).
Professional development budgets
Conferences, books, training, exhibitions … they all add up. We offer an annual professional development budget of £1000 to every member of staff to help them build their skills, confidence and understanding of our industry.
Home office budgets
If people choose to work from home, we offer everyone a budget to help them make their space as comfortable as possible. All tech and peripherals are covered as standard. Beyond that it might be a better chair, some calming plants or a designer desk … whatever helps them feel more professional and purposeful.
Cycle to work scheme
It’s astonishing when someone joins us and says their previous employer didn’t offer their employees the cycle to work scheme, because we’ve lost count of how many bikes we’ve helped buy. It’s better for the environment, better for health and wellbeing and better for your bank balance. A real no-brainer
We reward long service with a two-month paid sabbatical, which can be taken in whole or in parts at any time after 7 years of employment. People often use it to take extended and far-flung travel breaks. Andy, who joined us as a graduate in 2012 used his time to learn organic farming processes on a Shropshire smallholding.
One to ones
This has become such a core aspect of our working that—like the cycle to work scheme—we’re always sorry if new employees say it wasn’t a thing at their previous job. We make sure every member of staff speaks with a Director regularly—usually once a month—to talk about their career, any frustrations, blockers, challenges, wins and ambitions.
From the horse’s mouth
Before writing this article I asked the team if they could give me some pointers on how they feel/what they like about Ten4. Most of the above mirrors that feedback, and here’s some direct quotes, to prove I’m not making it up.
“Ten4 are open & honest with the whole team when it comes to updates, new business and budgets. But also open to learning, to adapting and to trying something different if it’s going to improve our flow or output.”
“It isn't a case of ‘build it quickly, get it out the door, and move on to the next project’. It is about thinking and planning carefully, building it right, building it to last, and building long-term relationships with clients. This is how I want to work. I want to be an important part of a team, not a small cog in a large machine that is easily replaced.”
“I think the biggest difference is that you actually meant it. I feel like for a lot of places, they say these things, but it is more of lip service, you know? They say they are doing all these things because they know they should be doing them, not because they actually are. Honestly, I am still blown away by how welcoming everyone is, and how quickly I felt part of the team”
“Great personal support: there’s a lot of effort put in by the team to make sure everyone is having a good time, is growing on a professional level and has the flexibility to combine this with their personal lives”
“The focus on building a strong and friendly team that works well together and supports one another. Everyone has their own knowledge and strengths, and their opinions are respected and taken on board.”
Getting back to that original tweet about enabling people to “do their best work and enjoy life”, the most important lesson we’ve learned is that we must be open to change. Personal circumstances, technological advances, and yes, global pandemics, all play their part in shaping the way we work.
Creating a culture of empathy and having the spirit to act on it can take time, but once you get going it’s an exciting path to be on. Even if we don’t know precisely where it’s headed.