They say mothers have the entrepreneurial edge, and it’s plain to see why. So much is riding on it. Lifestyle, family, time with the kids, flexibility, freedom. Very valuable things! The last two would come to be a driving force in my business aspirations.
After commuting heavily pregnant with morning sickness all the way to Sydney from the Central Coast for most of my pregnancy, with a toddler at home, like many mums I was of the mindset ‘something’s got to give’.
I had some flexibility working from home one day per week and counting some of my commute as work time (and this was ten years ago!) which I’d negotiated during salary discussions. However, the commute was taxing, and for me this sort of life—limited flexibility, long commute, growing family—simply wasn’t sustainable.
I’d escaped Sydney many years before and was never giving up Avoca Beach as my home. It’s a wonderful community and town and I’m grateful to live there. So, I took leave to have my baby and, confident that I could create flexibility and freedom for myself and others, decided not to go back.
In June 2010 I sent a tweet launching my social media and online community management business, Quiip. Just ten days later, one of the largest ad agencies in the world called to respond to a proactive email I’d sent them. ’Do you offer 24/7 community management?’
‘Sure!’ I declared, as I stood in the driveway of my home with my three-week-old baby in his capsule and my toddler in the car. Let’s face it, sleep was a distant memory.
The next day the agency confirmed the client was the Australian Federal Government. We’d be handling engagement for a campaign targeting teens and focusing on changing behaviours that lead to domestic violence. I hired 12 people, and the project started 48 hours later. We went on to work on this incredible project for four years, which paved the way for my company to focus on high-risk and sensitive subject matter. We also deeply care about using social media as a force for positive change.
Leasing an office and having a physical presence never made sense to me given we work online. I’m also an introvert by nature, and being in a loud, crowded office with people around me all day is the antithesis of a productive environment for me. Also, my key drivers of flexibility and freedom didn’t gel with an office. I wanted to offer these to everyone I worked with—not just myself. Being constrained by geography or time was an outdated model. So, I chose to embrace what I’ve called ‘radical flexibility’.
Quiip is entirely ‘distributed’—this is our preferred term to ‘remote’ which conjures up staff being away from the action! Radical flexibility means work where and when it suits. Staff don’t need to ask for permission to sleep-in, work at night, go to a school assembly or travel the world. We had one staff member live in 20 countries in 20 months. Staff can choose when to work to their best states of flow—which again makes sense from an efficiency and efficacy stand point.
I strive to be an empathetic and compassionate employer to my team of up to 20, and I acknowledge as an employer I’m in a position to have real impact on the quality of life of my team. Work and life are not separate, nor are they balanced, they are blended. Each year we ask staff about what they’d like to achieve professionally, but also personally. It might be as simple as meditating more, studying a language, an overseas trip or saving a deposit for a house. All goals that we can help and encourage our team to achieve.
For the last three years I’ve been a single parent, which of course comes with its own set of challenges. But like business I asked: ‘How can this be done differently?’ My ex and I decided to keep the kids in one family home and we (the adults) switch out on our nights ‘off’ to create stability and consistency for the kids. We’re about 18-months into this arrangement and it’s been fantastic. Although my car has become somewhat of a second wardrobe!
Next year my company turns 10 and it’s a great time to reflect on what we’ve all achieved, but also look at how we can continue to advocate and drive the conversation around radical flexibility and the future of workplace practices that better support not only parents, but everyone in achieving better work-life blend.
Written by Alison Michalk. Alison is CEO and Founder of Quiip, a global leader in online community management and moderation services, B Corp and finalist in B&T’s People & Culture award; and co-founder of Swarm, the world’s first online community management conference.