Over the last two years, the pandemic forced a shift to more remote and flexible working practices. Whilst we might be seeing a “return to normal”, some companies are choosing to stick with some of their remote and flexible working practices to attract and retain talented employees. Reath is one of these companies – we are a female-led Edinburgh based software company that specialises in helping companies deploy packaging reuse models.

At Reath, we use an intuitive working practice. If you haven’t heard of intuitive working, it’s a way of working that respects our individual fluctuations in focus, energy, and physical and mental health. Instead of working Monday to Friday, nine to five, we trust our team members to work when they work best, whilst also responding to the important needs of a young business.

There are many benefits to working in this way. Firstly, it allows us to attract talented people from a wide range of backgrounds. A truly inclusive workplace needs to acknowledge that not everyone can commit to normal working practices. If we have this limitation, then we’re missing out on hiring people who may not be able to work for large continuous blocks of time. This could be due to parental or care commitments, health issues or neurodivergence. By being flexible about our working practices, we can attract talent from a wider background, which will increase the diversity of thought in our products and services. We’ve already seen this increase in the number of women applying to our roles, especially compared to more traditional roles.

Additionally, intuitive working allows our team members more freedom to do more of the things they enjoy without feeling like it’s crammed in. This might mean going to the local gym during a quiet period when everyone else is working or participating in their local community or activism groups. This freedom allows team members to be happier, more fulfilled and energised.

If team members are working when they’re energised, this also means that we get higher quality work. Instead of sitting at a desk because they feel they have to, they can take breathing space and come back to the problem later, often giving a better result and wasting less overall time.

We’ve found three key ingredients for our intuitive working practice: trust, good communication and experimentation.

We trust that everyone will work to their full potential every day, but we know that potential is not static and will fluctuate. This means we need to trust the team to be honest about their energy levels and what they can commit to in order to ensure they don’t let the team down. This means that we can trust the team to deliver whilst also being flexible. If you don’t develop this trust early, you’ll create unnecessary stress and not get the desired results or fail to meet commitments.

Intuitive working means people are working different hours, making good communication critical to our success. To ensure that we communicate well, we have a few key touchpoints for planning and syncing the team during the week. These meetings might change times to support our flexibility, but we always make sure they happen.

Outwith this, we try to keep a lot of our communication written via Slack conversations and documentation in Notion. By keeping our communication written, information sharing is more deliberate and doesn’t depend on who happens to be in the same room or social group, which has traditionally held back marginalised groups such as women from being able to progress in their careers. Intuitive working helps encourage this more inclusive style of communication. Additionally, knowing whether or not someone is available to work on an issue is still important, so we communicate a lot through Slack statuses to keep people informed about our availability. It might seem like a small step, but it’s very visible and easy to do. 

Most of the Reath team members had previously worked Monday to Friday and nine to five jobs that required us to be present at a desk and keep a very close eye on the time we spent on tasks. Moving to this model means unlearning a whole lifetime of embedded understanding about what “work” means. Experimentation has been key to helping us to challenge this status quo.

To help encourage us to try out different working styles, one of our key results for this quarter was for everyone to experiment with their working practices to help figure out what works for them. Making it a key result for the organisation showed people that we were serious about it and gave them the permission to try out anything they wanted. If it went well, they could stick with their new working practices, and if it didn’t – well, it was just an experiment, and we could try another one! 

Our intuitive working practice has been a great success and a model we intend to continue using in the future. As a small team of six people, we’re delivering an industry-leading product and leaving space for all of the other joys in our lives. Intuitive working has enabled us to create a diverse team and supports us rather than slows us down.

Kimberley McCann is the lead software developer at Reath