What We Get Wrong About Work


What We Get Wrong About Work

June 16, 2021

…and How Good Words Is Making It Right

In 2015, I was exhausted. 

At the time, I was working as the sole technical writer in a traditional, full-time role at a startup. Like many startups, the company took great pride in their “work hard, play hard” culture. They demanded that employees commute to an office, work 10- to 12-hour days, eat meals together, and dedicate their social time to their colleagues. 

I was the only person at the company in my role, yet the leadership team insisted that I commute to an office to sit at a desk for 50 to 60 hours a week, even if I spent a whole day heads-down writing documentation without speaking to another person. When I asked for flexibility to work from home occasionally, the leadership team responded with a firm and final “Absolutely not!” 

They insisted that working long hours, crammed together in a physical office, was vital to the company’s culture. Meanwhile, I was on the brink of burnout, and my coworkers with children, caregiving responsibilities, and long commutes were leaving the company in droves. I understood the leadership team’s desires for community and togetherness in theory, but it didn’t seem like the rigidity they imposed made the company better in practice

My roles at other companies weren’t much better. At larger companies, our days were crammed with meetings that left us with little time to manage our own schedules to get work done. Managers often pressured us to take on projects outside our job descriptions, snuffing out any whiff of work-life balance. When coworkers needed to reduce their working hours to take care of young children or aging parents, managers gave them an impossible choice: either work 40 hours and deal with the strain, or quit and lose their income source and benefits. There was no in between.

Good Words Works Differently

After two years at the startup, I quit. Call me a renegade, but I knew there had to be a more humane approach to our relationship with work. I launched Good Words in 2016, and I brought my radical ideas with me. 

Here at Good Words, providing opportunities for flexible work is one of our top priorities. It’s so important to us, in fact, that we codified it in our company values:

We believe that everyone does their best work under different circumstances. We strive to create a flexible work environment where everyone feels empowered to work where, when, and in the ways that are most effective for them as individuals. We empower our employees to take on new challenges, find opportunities that excite and interest them, and learn new skills to improve their craft, all while respecting their individual work-life boundaries.

Unfortunately, I’m not the only member of the Good Words team who has faced these challenges. “I was still in burnout when I left full-time employment,” says Naomi, a developer documentation consultant on our team. Now, she works 30 hours a week from Vancouver, BC, and spends her time outside work attending school and spending time with her partner. “I have time to work and take care of myself. After I started [flexible work], I recovered and now live a life full of vitality.”

Flexible work has become a hot topic recently because of the coronavirus pandemic, but this idea is nothing new. “I chose flexible work over 35 years ago when I became a parent, and chose a more active, hands-on approach to support my child’s education,” shares Claudia, Good Words’ marketing and editing consultant who works half-time from the San Francisco Bay Area. 

Flexible work is a gift that has kept on giving for Claudia’s whole family: “When my mother needed care to stay in her home, I was able to take my work with me to her house in another city to give her the support she needed. When my daughter became a first-time mother, my flexible work schedule allowed me to show up for her during those critical first days of life with an infant. And I’ve been able to show up to take care of my granddaughter during a pandemic.” 

How Do We Do It?

Our employees work from anywhere. More than half of our staff work part time. Our consultants use their flexible schedules to take care of family, jetset around the world, or take care of their health. So how do we do it? 

  • Employees decide. We give our consultants the autonomy to decide how many hours per week they work and where they work from. Our employees work remotely from around the world, and almost half of them work half-time. We allow our employees to scale their hours up and down as their needs change.
  • A consent-based approach to work. We never assign our employees to projects outside their job descriptions or make them work extra hours without their explicit permission. 
  • An obsession with boundaries. We’re obsessed with our employees’ work-life boundaries, and we don’t cross them. We encourage and empower our employees to tell us what those boundaries are and how we can best support them. 
  • Lots of trust. We trust our employees to get their work done well and on time in the ways that work best for them. As long as they get their work done to our high standards, we don’t care how they make the magic happen.

Unorthodox? Perhaps, but our employees (and our bottom line!) are happier and more productive than ever. Most of all, I’m proud that Good Words is leading the way in our quest toward a happier, healthier, and more versatile approach to work. 

How does your company leverage flexible work? Let us know what you think in the comments below.👇

Have questions for Good Words? We’d love to hear from you.

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