Elly Oldenbourg and Sabine Georg © Andreas Rentz/Getty Images
SabElly – that’s Elly Oldenbourg and Sabine Georg, who are in a Creative Agency Manager tandem at Google Germany. Sabine and Elly told us in an interview how they found each other, what makes them enthusiastic about job sharing, and how they organize their everyday work in the tandem. They also give a few tips on how working flexibly can function and explain why you should worry much less about the issues of close teamwork and the possible slowdown of your corporate career.
Welcome, Elly and Sabine. You work as a creative agency manager in a job-sharing position at Google. How did that happen? How did you find each other for a tandem?
Sabine: I had been playing with the idea of going part-time since completing my Systemic Coach training, which started in May 2016. I had actually discussed this idea with my manager but not in any concrete way – more like a “loose plan” … Then, sometime in January 2017, Elly contacted me to see if I would be willing to do a job share with her. Knowing what added value Elly would bring to our (Creative Agency) team, and also because I – in addition to many objective reasons – had a great desire to work with her since she is a great person, I immediately said YES!
Elly: I had a different path, but had to make similar choices along the way. After deciding to work part-time, I talked openly with my managers, mentors and HR about it. After many brain teasers, someone tipped me off that Sabine was considering going part-time. I always liked Sabine and her work, as well as her team (with whom I was already in contact anyway, because it was a relevant content-related advancement for me) – and so it ended up being a wonderfully happy coincidence for us. Our manager also brought an open mindset from the beginning and supported the idea – and so it went very quickly when we made a concrete proposal with responsibilities, timing, frequency of coordination, and so on.
“Life is short, and so is my work week: I work Monday through Wednesdays only. For urgent matters please contact my job share … at our joint e-mail address: ….” – This is your signature, which we think is great. Tell me, what are your motivations for working less?
Elly: In addition to my training as a coach in 2014/15, I have had some dramatic experiences in my life, both awful and beautiful (for example, the birth of our son). The collective intentional and unintentional experiences have made me ask profound questions – and from there you land very quickly on the subject of time and how to give value to your time. It is a very individual question, but also a very worthwhile one – because life is short! And this resulted in my side job as a coach & organizer of meaningful events, engaging in various training programs (not for the slip of paper but rather for the sake of interest!), attempts as an author, the pursuit of hobbies (a very underrated pastime!) and last but not least: time as a relaxed mom with our son. I did not think before that the gain in quality of life would actually be so great. In my case, I had, above all, a much higher inner serenity and outer calm; that is, the conscious handling of everyone and everything in my life – and, in turn, a higher commitment, freshness and focus when I work in my corporate job.
Sabine: I always say: I have Fridays free to be free to conquer new fields (sorry, for slightly overstressing the FREE part). Room for new learning experiences, but also just to make room for ‘nothing.’ Just to be there and see how I feel.
Although I work less with Google, I use the 20% that was free for things like teaching (at Miami Ad School) or coaching. And also to sleep, relax, take walks or short trips, etc. – for “me time,” so to speak.
You guys gave me one e-mail address – how does that work? And how do you organize yourselves otherwise?
Elly: There are two important things in the job share:
First, that it works well between the two partners; and second, that it works for everyone who works with us.
This involves reducing the complexity of working with us to a minimum. A common e-mail address achieves exactly that: internal and external contacts do not have to worry about whom to write to in order to get an answer. An e-mail to SabElly is enough – and we coordinate who reacts.
Sabine: We are both very communicative and well organized. We talk about anything and everything. Sitting next to each other and sharing with each other, SabElly very quickly becomes a living thing – not just a formal construct!
How do you divide your tasks? In what ways do you tick similarly? Where are you different?
Sabine: … that starts with purely external differences: Elly is dark-haired, I’m blond. She’s new to the Creative Agency team, I’ve been in it right from the start and have been in the role for five years. Elly can do yoga, not me. I always like to use the analogy of an “arranged marriage”: there’s more rationality than romance in the game. But a lot of respect and sympathy. We are very transparent and honest with each other and give each other feedback. Always at eye level and always appreciative. This is important because SabElly is new and an experimental “work in progress.” We are similar in our communication, approach and the speed with which we work. We are – I can proudly say – very effective. An important point is the division of work. We take care of some projects and agencies together or give workshops together. At the same time, each of us has our own portfolio of agencies and areas of expertise – we are still two individuals…
Elly: Perfectly described. I would like to underline that the division of certain tasks / partners actually has enough room to go in depth; you do not have to vote on all the nitty gritty topics – but you can.
What are the biggest benefits, but perhaps also challenges, for your colleagues and supervisors? And how did they react to your working model?
Sabine: For us, our manager, and the team, it’s win-win-win. There’s one more person on the team (= Elly), with more skills and an additional resource – that not only pays off well for the employer, but you can say – the bill goes to everyone, and the whole model is just good. It helps internally and externally, since we get more done.
Colleagues have reacted very positively and are very interested. Questions include: “What works well with your job share? What do you have to pay attention to? Etc.” and you feel that it is of great general interest.
For our manager, it means, among other things, one more staff discussion (we speak one-on-one). In addition to the usual one-on-ones, we now have a one-on-two, so to speak, every week. A little more effort for all of us, as more agreements are needed. But worth it!
Elly: One big advantage for me personally is: I always have sparring partners on the side – in our case, even a coach – which is really great for your own learning curve. So, I don’t have to read presentations or important e-mails 10x, rather maybe only 2x, because 4 eyes have just dealt with it.
The big advantage for everyone who works with us is this: there is always someone to reach, there are no communication gaps. That’s also the biggest difference compared to working part-time without a partner, where I have observed that colleagues feel like they have to hunt someone down for e-mails / appointments even more than usual.
How do your appraisal interviews proceed and are you individually evaluated?
Sabine: Google has a strong feedback culture and there is hardly any meeting, be it internal or external, where we are not asked to get feedback and give feedback. As far as staff appraisals are concerned, we also have a fairly high frequency – there is a conversation with the manager every second week.
Since our job share, Elly and I have not only one-on-ones with our manager, but also one-on-twos, so to speak, where the “SabElly Duo” discusses what we are working on with the team boss. At least once a year, there is a large performance review, in which one receives not only the manager feedback but also feedback from colleagues (“peer reviews”). All these reviews and discussions are very transparent because everyone knows what the goals are and what we are judged on. Google is trying to bring in not only transparency, but also objectivity. It uses “Prove it with Data” to prevent, as far as possible, evaluations based only on impressions and gut feeling. As far as our rating is concerned, we are two people and work on quite different projects. So, we are also rated as individuals. Nevertheless, the “we two are one” always resonates, because we are SabElly and it is absolutely assessed how well we tackle the job share. The combined result yields an overall grade per person.
Elly: Worrying about an “unfair” rating and potential career slowdown is, in my experience, the biggest concern of people thinking about a job share. This is not only a shame in terms of the individual question of a good quality of life, but it’s also unnecessary in terms of the evaluation of their own work.
Because as Sabine says: each of us job sharing partners is of course also an individual with individual projects and goals. In addition, there are also common goals. And both are rated, which then results in an overall grade for each individual.
In this respect: yes, for part of the job in the job share, both are evaluated together as a team, and thus there is a certain dependency. But in which team setting is it not the case that dependencies exist? For us, this is simply “formalized.”
If you ask yourself the question about a different, perhaps more sustainable, working model, then I can honestly only flippantly address this concern: “Get over it” … and invite you to break through the long-ingrained paradigm that success and recognition can only be achieved by going it alone.
What do you think is important for flexible working to succeed? Do you have any tips?
Elly: First of all, ciao ego! There’s no room for a push-and-shove mentality, not even a little bit. And this is a very big opportunity for us Corporate Monkeys (and generally for our society)! In co-creation, more is clearly better than being a lone warrior.
Sabine: Have a clear idea in advance of how you would like to shape your part time and job share. Create transparency about “what is the motivation?” And above all: talk a lot and follow the motto: “you cannot over-communicate”. Openly talk about everything: expectations, disappointments, and wishes; quickly address and respond to any feedback.
Please complete the following sentence: “To me, job sharing means…”
Sabine: … a profit on all sides: more room for growth. Professional, personal – Win: Win!
Elly: – I could not have put it better. Thank you, Sabine!
Thank you for the great interview and the insights. We wish you continued success!