The Blackbird Collective from Berlin helps startups and medium-sized companies hire the right people. Blackbird was founded in 2015 by Artur Kos. Since then, the Blackbird Collective has grown to 9 employees, who all work 4 days (or fewer) a week, regardless of location and with fixed contracts. We talked with Artur about this special arrangement, new life and work models, and Blackbird’s vision.
What were your motivations to found Blackbird? What is your vision?
I left my last office job because I felt it was taking too much of my time and there was so much more to do out there. Since then, I’ve been looking for a more sustainable model for myself. At first, I worked as a freelancer and tried different models. Not being attached to work via an office means that the more productive you are, the less time you need to work. A significant amount of time spent by employees at work is just wasted hours. They sit there because they have to. Sounds obvious to most of us who have lived in the office, but managers and decision-makers are afraid to say it out loud. After reading several books and blogs about the ideology of work, the idea of the 4-day week inspired me. The next big step was to give my first employee the same freedom. Since then, I’ve wanted to show with Blackbird that other working models are possible and feasible. Because a general rethinking is urgently needed. Many recent studies show that we get sick and dissatisfied. And companies would also benefit from change: people who can work more flexibly are happier and more motivated. Flexible job opportunities also lead to a higher commitment. There is less fluctuation and illness-related failure. Innovation and productivity increase. We often receive very positive feedback from our customers about the commitment of our team. And personally, I’m happy about each and every employee who either does not have to commute anymore, who can care more for their family, or who simply has more time to devote to other projects or hobbies. These are the little moments that motivate me to continue.
This quote is at the top of your website: “You don’t need to make work your life to do a great job.” What conditions do employees need to do a good job?
Employees need trust and transparency, all information accessible to everyone, with no KPIs to create competition between colleagues. When people feel valued and treated fairly, most want to do well. Giving confidence is a very powerful tool. Guidance through fear is no longer up to date and can be done away with. We can openly say what we think. That takes a lot of pressure off the team. We can also say, for example, that recruiting is just a job and not a dream job. This is in contrast to the current trend that you have to love your job. Nevertheless, we work absolutely professionally and do our best – also because we know that our private life has at least the same value. None of us has to sacrifice 50–60 hours a week for work. Being able to work independently (including in terms of time and location) generates high commitment. We all like to take responsibility for our work. For that, mutual trust is definitely the key.
You are currently renovating your own farm in Brandenburg. Two other Blackbird employees live in villages in Brandenburg and Saxony. Does this look like the working world of the future to you? That we can work from anywhere?
Maybe not all of them, but many jobs could be much more flexible if we just dared to try. This would allow employers to access a larger pool of potential employees. In addition, you can currently feel the tendency that young people want to move out of cities again. Rising rents, bad air, very little nature – not everyone wants to live like that. But what stops many of them is their job – the compulsion to sit in an office. In the end, it is capital that decides where we live, and capital is concentrated in cities. At the same time, flexibilization and locational independence could yield many great results, including at the social level: a healthier society, mixed and vibrant villages, less commuter traffic and so on. We need more entrepreneurs who face up to this responsibility and transform the world of work.
What does a company look like to you that is prepared for the “working world of tomorrow”?
Today, it’s no longer about fruit bowls and foosball tables. In the meantime, companies have to give more consideration to satisfying (potential) employees. Time is the new money. Companies should not forget that today. Unfortunately, the thought that more hours (and attendance) also means more productivity is firmly anchored in many minds. We optimize ourselves to do more, instead of questioning the system and designing it to fit our lives. There are countless studies showing that people cannot be creative and productive for 8 hours a day. We need more courage and more common sense.
What opportunities do you see in the current change? Keywords: New Work & Digitalization
At the moment, we are all still working too much, and we are caught up in purely economic-growth thinking. I hope that digitalization will finally free us from this and gain more freedom for employees. Hopefully, digitalization will also help companies become more democratic and distribute profit more fairly.
Thank you for the exciting interview!