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The New Social Imperative of the Working Family: One Company’s Answer

Dr. Kasie Whitener doesn’t deal in time. Work with her company as a client or employee, and you will know from ‘go’ that she doesn’t sell, track, or worry with time. Instead she deals in results, deliverables, and intellectual capital.

But her work life wasn’t always like that. Five years ago, she was punching a time clock and begrudging every single tick. Her daughter spent more time in daycare than with her. Kasie’s work schedule conflicted with her husband’s and threatened to turn them into mere roommates. Time for herself was at the bottom of a too-long priority list. Worst of all, Kasie was often bored at work with little to challenge her for an entire 40-hour week.

So much of her time was being wasted.

Kasie needed balance. She needed to be challenged. She needed to redefine work in order to live the life she wanted. So Kasie resigned and took the leap into her own startup. At the heart of that startup is the promise that she doesn’t deal in time.

From its conception through its recent expansion, Kasie’s company is task- rather than time-driven. This allows Kasie and her team to manage their two worlds – work and family – without making apologies or asking permission. Once she tossed the idea of time, she was left with a uniquely constructed team: one that finds its members moving seamlessly from task to task and crossing traditional departmental borders.

She’s not the first entrepreneur to fashion a company that meets her specific needs. But she may be unusual in granting the same autonomy to her entire team. How can other business leaders take some of Kasie’s experience to change their own organizations?

As business leaders, we must redefine work.

In April of this year, the US Department of Labor revealed that less than 20% of married couples survive on one paycheck. No longer does mom run the home while dad builds the bank account. Now, mom or dad can receive the urgent text – grandma is sick, Sally’s in the principal’s office, Bobby fell from the monkey bars. The possibilities are infinite, very real, and always stressful.

Being asynchronous and remote gives Kasie and her team the freedom to work when they want and where they want. Kasie takes her daughter, now eight, to guitar and dance lessons after school. Summers are spent poolside, wifi hotspot at the ready. Friday afternoons in the fall, you’ll find her heading to Clemson for gameday.

Before you think Kasie is living a life of leisure and this lazy broad just didn’t want to work, read this: She gets the job done.

With freedom over her schedule, she is able to squeeze every minute out of her day. No longer must she sit at her desk “looking busy” as so many of us have done, or worse, unable to care for family because she’s out of PTO. She calls it the Knowledge Alternative to work; it’s a nod to the Knowledge Economy and the different style of engagement she and her team enjoy. It’s a model that works for her profession.

Hire people you trust.

Trust is critical in the Knowledge Alternative and not everyone who writes a resume is worthy. Some prospective hires lack the work ethic, loyalty, and dedication required for freedom. Removing the traditional constraints of the industrial work model means that your team must have the ability to self manage and the wisdom to know when work must come first. Just because she’s not counting hours doesn’t mean work doesn’t take hours to complete.

And, don’t overlook the learning curve while building trust. When Kasie first expanded her consultancy, her new team members required a few months to learn. Not only did they need to learn her methodology, but also her leadership style. They needed time to adjust to a work model with so much flexibility.

Know your company.

Often, when companies are faced with change, the first instinct is to give challenging new tasks to the most trusted manager or capable department. Unintentionally, a company’s best resources become dumping grounds. The result is overworked and overstressed team members. To meet the social imperative of truly balanced work life, ensure the task load across your company is balanced.

Spread the work in such a way that the team is excited about its projects and tasks. Nothing encourages procrastination more than undesirable work. Finding team members’ interests and skills and delivering the work assignments that keep them engaged will ensure their success. They’ll be motivated to engage and excited to participate in everything from marketing to revenue to reporting.

Build a fluid team.

Consider the fluidity of your department leaders. If you identify a department that would suffer if a certain manager left, train your other leaders to know what she knows. Develop not only a succession plan, but also lateral knowledge sharing which will protect your company when a trusted leader must take a leave of absence.

Kasie also avoided the dreaded single point of failure by hiring multifaceted team members. Her content editor has a master’s degree in education. The administrative specialist excels at networking events. Kasie chose training and research consultants with excellent writing skills. Therefore, when one consultant needs personal time, no area suffers.

And remember, no employee begins and ends with their job description. The work they do outside of the company is valuable, too. It builds community, feeds the soul, and develops skills that can be applied to work tasks beyond specific job descriptions. Learn how employees spend their non-work hours, invite them to share what they’re learning, and show you value their commitments outside of the office.

Building trusted, fluid, and balanced teams in a redefined work culture is the answer to the new social imperative of the working family.

For more on how Kasie Whitener and Clemson Road Creative are addressing the new social imperative through the unique work models in the Knowledge Alternative, follow them @ClemsonRoad, listen to their podcast, or read their blog.

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