Brand.L is an agency for brand staging from Munich. In January 2018 they introduced their new flexible working (time) model in a test phase. From the rigid system to the variable model. More confidence, less control. That sounded so exciting that we talked with Managing Director Thomas Brandl about the outcome of this experiment and how things are going now.
Since the beginning of 2018, you have a new working time model at Brand.L that you’ve tested extensively. Employees can now independently decide when and where they want to work. What experiences have you had with it? What positive and negative changes have taken place?
The new working time model – we call it the “work–life–dance concept” – was introduced in January 2018 for an initial trial period of six months. The basic idea is a self-responsible division of your working time and place of work depending on the current workload and upcoming project dates. All this is based on mutual trust. In short: anyone can work when and where they want, as long as the result is right. This sounds easier than it actually was. The working culture of a defined job and regular working hours on the basis of an agreed hourly effort was strongly present in almost all employees and it took time for it to be resolved.
As a positive change, it can be said in any case that, since the change, there’s been even more concentrated and effective work, and usually without time pressure. In addition, you can figure out when your efficiency personally peaks and then work during those hours, and not because it’s been dictated by the clock. If the employee has good time management, this is rewarded by more free time. In periods with high demand, however, it is easier to work overtime. We want to promote more joie de vivre, efficient work and the reduction of stress. I don’t have to rush to get to the supermarket by 7 pm (in Bavaria the shops are only open until 8 pm); I can also go swimming on a Wednesday and I can work at home when my child is in bed with a cold.
The fear that team spirit could suffer from this concept has not been confirmed. Even if not all employees are physically present today, there is enough room for social interaction and spontaneous meetings for lunch. The office will continue to serve as a hub to preserve the social aspect as well and employees can still go out for after-work beers with colleagues.
Why are you changing the working time regulation? How did that happen? And how did you work before?
Like many other agencies, we worked with a core working time from 9:00 to 18:00. The advertising and event industry is heavily influenced by project assignments. This results in repeated phases with high workload, and sometimes you just want to spontaneously work late into the night. Event professionals are also often working on the weekend. This creates a lot of overtime. However, the reduction of these overtime hours was often “tedious” because it always had to be planned and justified, and so quieter days were hardly used as compensation.
The problem: due to required attendance, it’s not possible to effectively divide your work. You have few opportunities to use “lighter” load days and spontaneously take a day off or shorten one. Likewise, you don’t have the opportunity to spontaneously take personal time for yourself (for example, for sports, shopping, housework …). And if you did, then you always had to justify it to colleagues or supervisors.
However, we wanted to offer our own individual working time model, which does justice to the work involved and at the same time becomes economically efficient for the agency. Fast and effective work should be rewarded. The work–life–dance concept thus creates a win–win situation for employees and employers. The working time model meets individual needs and at the same time enables efficient work both personally and for the team.
And what about the “dance office?”
First of all, we have to go into more detail about the term “home office.” Home office means you do not work in the office, but rather at a different location. This can be at home or on the road. It is important that you are always available for customers and colleagues, check your e-mails, work on your project and can be reached spontaneously for meetings, be it by telephone or video. Home office cannot serve as compensation or free time.
Dance office means free time. In this case, the employee does not necessarily have to be reachable and can switch off their mobile phone accordingly. It is also up to them whether they should check and respond to e-mails or not. This time is thus treated as a free working day or holiday. However, there must be the possibility of still reaching the employee in a timely manner and, for urgent reasons, of carrying out a necessary action. This is distinct from vacation, where the employee can be completely separated from work.
The transition from home office to dance office is very fluid and must be determined by each employee on their own responsibility. (Example: In the current project situation, if it’s important for the customer to be reachable, then I cannot switch to the dance office mode). Dance office compensates for overtime, after-shifts and weekend events.
What role does New Work play in your agency?
So far, we have not dealt with the term “New Work,” but our concept is quite similar to the concept of self-employment, leisure time and more space for creative work. The reason for the change in our working time model has little or nothing to do with “current trends or changes.” Our aim was to question established structures and change them to our own agency-specific needs.
What else is there to say: why work–life–dance?
You might not know, but we had a wall tattoo in our office space in the hallway: “Do not walk, dance.” This was our motto, so to speak, to go through the day in a lively way. Even though this has since been painted over and our premises have been given a new coat of paint, it remained in our heads.
Of course, work–life balance was at the beginning of our thoughts on the new working time model and was an important topic, but it felt a bit “over-done” somehow. So, we opted for “work–life–dance,” which is actually a nice way to bring work and leisure into harmony.
Thank you for the interview!