28 March 2019

What flexible working really means

Flexibility is one of the most in-demand qualities that workers value in their jobs. This can be in many forms, like flexible schedules, telecommuting, or flexible vacation scheduling. From afar, the idea can conjure up images of never changing out of your pajamas, or digital-nomading your way around the most instagram-able tropical islands. The reality, at least our reality, is simply a balance of integrating your work into the priorities of your life.

From the beginning, we have worked with flexible schedules and remote teams. Staying connected, sharing information, and working as a team isn’t difficult with the right mindset, and of course some helpful tools. (Who doesn’t love tools?) The tools and mindset go hand-in-hand with the people and processes: here’s a look at how we make our work work.

Where do we work?

Realistically, everywhere. We have 3 offices: one in Belgium and two in Spain. Each team member has their main office, where we usually work most of the week. But we love to hop between the other locations to visit our teammates and the great cities. (article continues below)

Walls of windows in our Almeria office give views to lots of greenery (and almost the beach)

The team in Brussels in the zone

Some of the team in our Madrid office

And of course, when we’re not in the office, we’re working from home. We work from home just under half the week, if and when we want to, coordinating with other team members. Our team comes from all over the world, so we also have another special policy: during certain holiday periods we can work remotely from our home countries. The biggest benefit is arguably the unspoken agreement to bring back local delicacies, keeping us rich in Girl Scout cookies from the US and German lebkuchen. (article continues below)

Javier's home office view sometimes is a nearby beach cafe

When working from home, Michel has a corner office

This is Astrid's view of Madrid from her home office

Alaina's home workspace keeps her connected to nature

And Tim's home office is a great hangout

Jeroen takes care of business while traveling (bonus point if you can identify his laptop background!)

Carlota spends family time with a view while working from home in Lisbon

Belgian souvenirs are always welcome in Madrid

How does it work?

The recipe for successful remote working isn’t one-size-fits-all, but we know what has worked for us.

  • Tools: It’s important to find the tools that work best for your teams. Like many organizations, we use Slack to quickly communicate, share company or department-wide information, and sure, share the occasional GIF. For meetings and even quick conversations, we use video conferencing. This supports clear communication and helps us to feel closer as a team. We use online shared storage (like Google Drive) for all company information, and collaborative planning tools. Making sure that all of our resources are accessible online, from HR processes to learning and development courses and feedback systems, cuts nearly all of the cords that would tie someone to a physical space.
  • Structure: How our teams and schedules are organized is another key factor. Keeping teams small (under 10, and ideally less than 5), allows direct communication and clear responsibility. A choice that we have made at Ariad is to work semi-remotely. We work about half the week from one of the offices, and the other half at home, when desired. For us this is a good blend of independence, flexibility, and community. And speaking of community...
  • IRL time: In and around each office, we often get together for different activities, from knowledge sharing events to charity runs and tapas nights, and the whole team comes together several times each year. No matter which office you call home, all new team members spend a week at our office in Almería, usually for the first part of our onboarding process, creating a shared experience and getting to know the team there.
  • Our people: The secret ingredient might be in each team member. Communication skills are crucial. Information is shared frequently in writing, so it is important to communicate effectively. We tend to have go-getter personalities, coming up with new ideas and often working on projects independently. And above all, we must trust each other.

Trust is an integral part of our team mentality. You need to rely on your teammates and coordinate with them, and you want to avoid the feeling of your work feeling like the proverbial tree falling in the woods: if none of your coworkers or leaders were around to witness it, did it really even happen? Of course, good communication and tools help avoid this kind of worry, but it depends a lot on the individuals involved too.

Why is remote and flexible work so important?

When you are used to adapting the way you work, it helps add flexibility to other parts of your life. Never being in a box can help you think outside of it--something we encourage! We will keep adapting to the preferences of our growing team, as well as the advantages technology lends in the future.