How to build a thriving studio

illustrated I

Retain your staff by offering them the right balance of work and play.

01. Facilitate good communications

The biggest cause of workplace stress is poor communication and bad planning, says East. As a small business, those problems should in theory be easier to overcome than in a huge bureaucracy, but this won't happen automatically. You need to make the effort to be clear with your employees. "You need to ask difficult questions, be realistic about what's achievable, be willing to say you don't know (but can find out), and have good processes and workflows in place," says East. "Sort this out and most of the problems melt away." 

02. Keep working hours realistic

People working for small companies are often asked to work long hours, and often end up doing so, but that can be counterproductive, lowering productivity and encouraging staff churn. So how can you avoid too many late nights or weekends stuck in the office? "Once you're experienced enough to know how long things take, you set realistic timelines," Utber says. Then it's a case of communicating these timelines. "We find clients are very happy to let you take the lead on that, as long as you clearly tell them how long things will take. As a result, we very rarely work long hours."

03. Be flexible

With a small business, you generally have more freedom to be flexible with staff than large organisations with a rigid HR department. And this can go a long way to making employees happier and more productive. "So while we have regular office hours," says Cecere, "if you want to be home one day, you can do that. If you want to go to a coffee shop and work, you can do that. If your kid has a baseball game, go do that."

04. Offer remote working

Offering your staff the possibility of remote working is another way to keep them on side. Giansante offers two examples. "One lad at BGN is working a day or two a week, following the recent birth of his new baby. And our creative director has got small children, so he leaves at 5pm every day, but then he'll probably work 9 to 11pm at home. If you can fit work around people's lives, it can really make the difference to work-life balance."

05. Think about location

One of the worst things about being an employee is having a long or unpleasant commute, so minimising the negative effects of that can be a great way to improve employees' work-life balance. "We're always on the lookout for ways to improve the lives and livelihoods of our staff," says Cecere. "Regarding commuting, we chose to locate our offices where there is easy public transportation from all directions, free parking, the ability to cycle, and for an increasing number of our staff, the ability to walk to work."

06. Keep the hierarchy flat

One of the best ways to keep employees happy is to make them feel that as a business, you're all striving together, towards a common goal. There's no scientific method or step-by-step plan for making this happen, says Wade, but having a flat hierarchy can help. "At SteadyGo, we all had the same perks, staff and directors; we always kept things very flat as far as people were treated. And that led to a feeling of 'we're all in it to win it'."

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Tom May

Tom May is an award-winning journalist and editor specialising in design, photography and technology. Author of the Amazon #1 bestseller Great TED Talks: Creativity, published by Pavilion Books, Tom was previously editor of Professional Photography magazine, associate editor at Creative Bloq, and deputy editor at net magazine. Today, he is a regular contributor to Creative Bloq and its sister sites Digital Camera World, and Tech Radar. He also writes for Creative Boom and works on content marketing projects.