Kylie McMullan is the founder of Finch Media, a virtual marketing and communications agency. She started the agency in order to design a work environment that provided opportunities for people who needed more flexibility, like parents, after seeing female colleagues treated poorly when they started families. Kylie realized that clients no longer worked standard hours or wanted to meet agencies at their offices and that as an agency, Finch Media needed to adapt.

Kylie, is work flexibility the only reason for introducing work from home policy at Finch Media? Many marketing agencies work on a project basis and need to keep overheads as low as possible.

I created Finch Media to challenge the norms of traditional agencies and working environments. The agency was started in order to design a work environment that provided opportunities for people who needed more flexibility, like parents or team members who needed to commute long hours every day to come to the office. Clients demanded flexibility too, asking us to meet at their offices instead of coming to our office. When I started in public relations, we often hosted clients for meetings and tea or lunch in our downtown boardroom – clients just don’t have time for that anymore and don’t want to deal with traffic and parking to come and meet with you. By having a remote team, we can be more responsive and because we pay less overhead, we can provide our services at a lower rate, while providing more flexibility to our team members.

When I started Finch Media, I noticed that many of my female friends often had to take a step back in their careers after having families instead of being able to keep advancing professionally while balancing their personal and family needs by having greater control over their own schedules. As a female-led agency, I wanted Finch Media to be an organization that promotes equity, inclusion, diversity and the advancement of women. To adopt an alternative approach, Finch Media is a virtual agency that offers flexible hours and a community of team members who are deadline-driven and results-orientated. Many of our team members are parents who need flexibility because of childcare or other passions like volunteering.

People appreciate flexible working for sure but are remote workers as loyal as in-office employees?

Our model attracts people who value flexibility, often because they are parents of young children and need to work around childcare arrangements. Having flexibility is a big motivator for them, and in turn, this makes them more loyal because they might not be offered the same flexibility at more traditional agencies or work environments. An example of this is Finch Media’s Account Manager who works part-time, during the daytime, at Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network, an organization that supports people with disabilities to live good lives in the community. The highly irregular hours required to do that volunteer work wouldn’t be possible without the flexibility offered by Finch Media in terms of work schedule.

It's amazing that Finch Media encourages volunteering. However, flexible working may have a downside. Are remote workers as productive as their peers working a standard 9 to 5 schedule?

I think remote workers are way more productive than office workers! In a typical 9-5 pm office there are constant distractions. There are people interrupting you, inefficient meetings, loud noises, and so it can be hard to focus and do any deep thinking and problem-solving. This is especially true now that so many office spaces are designed in line with the open space concept. It can be really hard to block out all the noise and distractions around you and focus when you don’t have a dedicated office with a door. When I worked in an office, whenever I had to get something that was more challenging done, I would work from home, so as not to be interrupted.

Furthermore, with housing costs in major urban centers being so high, employees are having to commute farther, which means they’re in the car when they could be doing other things and arriving at work already exhausted from battling traffic. By eliminating commuting times, team members are less stressed and more productive. Finally, many teams are based across the globe, which means telephone meetings can happen anytime throughout the day. The trade-off for having to be constantly connected should be flexibility.

Of course, there are potential distractions working remotely too, so if you're going to be successful working from home you need a defined space set-up that's quiet and separate from your family and home life. You also need to be pretty disciplined and self-motivated since you don’t have a boss looking over your shoulder in the same way as in an office environment. Also, you need to guard your time pretty selfishly if you work from home. When you have a flexible schedule, it’s easy to have a lot of little tasks, like letting in the plumber or taking care of sick kids fall on your shoulders. Each item may seem small, but they can add up and start interfering with your goals and quality of work.

It seems that your team members are working flexible schedules of their own which is great when work-life balance is concerned but is it harder to manage remote teams? In a typical office environment, most team members come and leave at about the same time.

It's not easier or harder, it's just different to manage a remote team. With a remote team, you just need to be mindful that you don't have "face-time" and the opportunities for spontaneous small talks in order to build deeper relationships and have those unexpected “a-ha” moments. It’s important to use the technology available to try and create those relationships and moments with video-calls and instant messaging. You also do need to schedule some in-person meetings to build that connection, especially in the beginning of the working relationship. I also find that working remotely often works better for more senior experts that don't need as much day-to-day coaching as those team members who still at the beginning of their careers.

You mentioned that diversity, inclusion and work-life balance are at the core of Finch Media. Do remote working arrangements allow you to tap into a diverse talent pool?

Absolutely! By recruiting remote workers, we expand our talent pool exponentially. For one thing, it creates opportunities to hire working parents, often moms, who likely would have taken a step back from the workforce if it wasn't for the opportunity to have a flexible work arrangement. This is a powerful group of top talent to be able to tap into. Many companies are losing out on some of the most qualified candidates and keeping a lot of working parents out of the workforce or from progressing in their careers while their kids are young.

The remote working environment also makes geography irrelevant. It allows you to hire the best people no matter where they are located. We have a really talented practitioner who is currently on our team whose spouse is doing a medical residency in various remote communities. Traditionally, it would have been hard for her to work in this field while re-locating. With a remote work environment, she doesn't have to choose.