Nicole Stephens, co-founder of The Recruitment Specialists, has a family and responsibilities. So do her employees. Which is why she hasn’t just built a business on flexi-time, it thrives on it like you wouldn’t believe.
The world is changing – employees and business owners alike are looking for greater flexibility in their work hours, and find better work life balance. But many businesses are slow to change, while some are outright suspicious of flexi-time’s efficacy.
Which is why you should be taking notes from Nicole Stephens. Her company consists of four women who all operate on flexitime , it’s been profitable since day one, and it’s hauling in the cash.
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What makes this company even more out of the ordinary is that there’s no central hub, there’s no basic salary, targets are low, and commission ranges from 50% to 60%.
Nicole Stephens (Berlin), co-founder of TRS, explains how she and her business partner Sally Kuschke (Mossel Bay) and their two recruitment agents (Durban and Tokai) make it work.
When an article changes everything
“An article by Richard Branson explaining that time is the new money really resonated with me. There are many talented women who are forced to choose between family responsibilities and having a fulfilling career because existing business formats can’t accommodate their needs. And it’s not just mothers: People whose peak performance times happen outside of the nine to five, or those with long commutes.
“I was pregnant with my first child when we founded TRS and it was with the intention to create a business that provided us founders and employees with freedom and flexibility,” says Stephens.
Understanding flexi-time and making it work
“The key factor in making flexi-time work in your business is ensuring you pick the right people. My business partner has an amazing energy and she’s strong where I’m not, and together we were able to identify others to work for us.
The theory behind successful flexti-time, says Stephens, is respect and empowerment. “We don’t micromanage, and we offer really high commissions – between 50% and 60% of every rand they bring in – because we respect our employees time as much as they respect ours.”
How do you make money with low targets and free reign on work hours?
“Targets anywhere else are often really high and create stress and demand. We deliberately set low targets because of the personality types we hire. They’re self-starters, have outstanding work ethic, and are over achievers – we just give them the tools and the space to build their own businesses.
"The incentive to meet their target is that we’ll pay for their expenses if they meet it, they’ll pay for expenses if they don’t, but because there’s no basic salary either, they set the pace for how much to achieve on a monthly basis based on how much they need and want to be paid.”
“We’ve made some recruitment mistakes in the past because it takes a specific personality to make flexi-time work. Some people need a lot more support than others – they need the office space, and to have meetings, face-time, and so on in order to be their most productive.
"Nevertheless, community is really important too, even if there’s no central office and staff are driven, ambitious and responsible. We have Skype chats almost daily, sometimes we’ve sat at our desks having lunch together or a cup of coffee and a catch up. It’s important to be able to flow from work to life in one conversation and support each other. The result is a really positive work environment that’s conducive to work.”
On being able to get hold of each other
“You don’t need an office for that,” laughs Stephens. “We use Skype, Whatsapp, cell phones, and email, and all of our roles are clearly defined. I do the finances, negotiations for contracts and putting out fires, Sally does the marketing and advertising, and placements are individual projects that our agents work on from start to finish. If they have a problem, they know which one of us to contact.
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"As for the flexi-time, we’re fortunate that there’s no problem that can’t wait an hour, and if it really can’t wait we can make a plan to be available. It’s also important not to try juggle work and life because one of the two will come off short.
"In the day I get three hours of work time while my youngest sleeps and the other is at school, and then I work in the evening when they’re asleep. For the agents it’s a little different – they understand the need for professionalism and a quiet space while working, so they manage their responsibilities around that.”
How to get flexi-tie right, from the start
- You should hire for flexi-time rather than retrofit
- Ensure the candidate has the right personality traits to work without support or supervision
- Have a 6-month or longer probation period. You can’t know who you’re hiring simply from a few interviews
- Be very selective and trust your gut. Develop your own red flags to help narrow down your candidates
- Be clear about your expectations for the new hire, and what you want to achieve in the business
- Your employees are your business, so pick right and show your appreciation for their work.