We live in an age where work emails are there in your pocket, walking down the beach with you and your family on a Sunday. ‘Work’ is accessible all day, every day and despite our phones having an ‘off’ button, we just don’t seem to use it. It encroaches upon our personal time. It’s a 24/7 restless and impatient world; one that expects a reply within the hour, no matter the hour. The phrase “never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life” has never been so significant.

We, at made, decided to do things differently; we decided to question the norm of the ‘9-5’ regime and we set about cutting out all the waste within our business…

The more we set about researching wellbeing and productivity, the more we realised that others were making it far too complicated; ‘unlimited holiday’ and ‘flexible hours’ are being used today to give employees a sense of choice and freedom, but step back and you realise that by not setting a blanket expectation, these are simply adding the weight of responsibility and stress that comes from having to make serious operational decisions for yourself and from blurring the line between work and home – something freelancers struggle with daily. As for pool tables and in-house bars, they simply encourage people to stay at work longer, not working!

This is where ‘Lagom’ comes in; it’s a Swedish word meaning ‘just the right amount’ – not too much, not too little. It comes from the phrase ‘lagom är bäst’ meaning ‘the right amount is best’. But it is more than a word; it is a behaviour, a mindset, an operational framework. It’s a contemporary idea that we think U.K businesses could prosper from embracing.

What I love about this very Scandinavian concept is that it’s not about making big changes, but rather making improvements to the small things which make a big difference. In a business environment, it means working out what the ‘right amount’ of everything is – working hours, communications, marketing spend, meetings, holiday, staff numbers etc.

We first reviewed how long we wasted a day chatting, checking social media, being distracted by others, arranging meetings, feeling tired, and so on, and it was an incredible amount of time. We realised that most people only accomplish around 6 hours of actual ‘work’ in the usual 8 hour day – so why were we conforming to the 9-5?

Now, don’t get me wrong, we had to do more than just let everyone leave at 4 pm! We had to implement a strict working structure, including 1.5 hours of pure focus time (which we’ve coined ‘red time’) in the morning and 1.5 hours in the afternoon. In this time, we all switch our emails off, we don’t hold meetings or speak to each other; we get on with a predetermined solo task. This quiet environment ensures our team are as productive and efficient as possible in short, effective bursts. At the end of each red time, we have ‘fika’ – what the Swedish call a ‘coffee break with friends’ – to stretch and give our eyes, brains and bodies a break.

We all enjoy an hour lunch at midday, no excuses, so we have time to refresh our thoughts, take a break from our screens, meet friends, go shopping, relax and talk with one another if we so choose. It’s amazing how much deeper our communication and relationships have become since cutting out the usual daytime ‘chit-chat’.

‘Amber time’ is the other 1 hour in the morning and 1 hour in the afternoon. This is the time to arrange meetings and work collaboratively whilst still respecting each other’s focus (headphones on is a dead giveaway that someone’s on a roll).

We call this framework ‘rigid flexibility’ because it is an organised structure that allows us to be productive enough to leave work an hour earlier than most of the U.K. With more direct focus, tasks are being completed in less time thanks to no distractions from phones or our colleagues, and to a better standard. We break at the right times meaning no one is working on an empty stomach or dehydrated. Our eyes are given enough of a rest from our screens and we are encouraged to get up and move. We also know how our days are structured meaning our minds are subconsciously less cluttered; there is less temptation to stray from the tasks ahead and waste time given we know we will be able to relax in fika time, lunchtime or after work.

It’s not just our work hours that have become more Lagom; the office is looking and feeling fresher and more sustainable, our new branding and logo embody a simple, effective and clean design, our service is effortless and our processes are smooth. Thanks to the concept of ‘Lagom’, made has a brighter, happier, more effective team with far less waste and a heightened sense of value. We believe the key to well-being is not about designing ways to have fun at work, but to find sustainable ways to be outside of work; we recognise that having a private life is important and openly encourage it in return for just 6 hours of productivity. After all, we all want to ‘make a life’ so that we can enjoy ‘making a living’.

 

 

 

Transcript

Joe Glover:
Hello and welcome to the Marketing Meetup podcast. My name is Joe Glover, and I’m super grateful for you being here today. Today we are going to hear from Emily West, from Made. Emily discusses the concept of Lagom, which is all about finding just the right amount of something. And specifically, she’s talking about it in the context of the workday and the number of hours people work. This is a really, really, really, really, really, really fascinating subject, and I just love the way that Emily came across and used work hours as the example, but then also made it very clear that this can be applied to other places in people’s lives. And how Lagom is actually a lifestyle choice, it’s not just a theory that can be applied to one specific thing.Joe Glover:
I’m going to let Emily discuss the rest of Lagom and explain how they’ve applied it in their marketing agency. But I know that I came away from this talk just really inspired. And it’s also going to be something that I’m going to try and pick up as part of my working practice, because I think the way that she explains the benefits to the lifestyle and also productivity and efficiency, they’re all really important concepts. But they’re all things that we don’t think about enough day to day. But I think they could really benefit us if we do.Joe Glover:
There’s two things to do before I pass you over to the podcast, or the content, Emily. The first is to give a huge big thank you to Barry from Bravo Marketing. Bravo Marketing are all about marketing with results through great and creative content. Barry’s just a top guy, he’s been winning some big contracts recently. I hope you don’t mind me saying that, Barry, but there are some seriously impressive clients. So, please go and check out Bravo Marketing at bravomarketing.co.uk. Barry’s a great guy, and I know that you’d love working with him.Joe Glover:
The second bit is just to say everything from the marketing meetup is at themarketingmeetup.com. There’s blog posts, there’s a podcast, there’s jobs, there’s the newsletter. I’m really putting my heart and soul into the newsletter at the moment, as much as everything else, but the newsletter in particular. If you want to get that, head to themarketingmeetup.com/newsletter. And there’s just so much there.Joe Glover:
So, without further ado, please listen to the wonderful Emily West.

 

Emily West:
It’s recording, great. This isn’t a talk about gender marketing, really sorry about that. But it’s going to be better, so it’s fine. My name is Emily, I work for Made agency. We are a creative design and marketing agency based in Norwich. We are based on Alfred Place, so we like to say we’re based next to the Lamb Inn, but most people know us as above the fish and chip shop.

Emily West:
A little bit about me first, obviously my background is … to give you some context, I’ve been employed and self employed, which is very important for this talk I think. Both in the financial and the creative sectors, mainly in development, business development and sales. But I started at Made in September 2017. My career has spanned from lots and lots of different things, but I used to work on a cruise ship. Now, if anyone’s been on a cruise, lucky you, they are fabulous. But, I have to say if you work on a cruise ship it is 24/7, so I’m used to working long, long hours. And it’s exhausting.

Emily West:
So, when I joined Made in 2017, I joined pretty much on the same day as our director, Mark Merrywest. He stepped up from non exec to director of Made. And Made in 2017 looked something like this. Very red, a bit chaotic. Not really the design and marketing agency you might have in your head, especially not what we are today. We had noticed there were some issues, and what Mark and I wanted to do is to address those issues and work out how to actually overcome those issues.

Emily West:
We had a low efficiency of projects, our quality was low and failing, and and falling every day. We had a relatively low morale and mindset, and that was not due to our employees not enjoying the work that they do, but there was something wrong with the agency, there was something that needed to change within the agency.

Emily West:
There was no focus on external marketing and for a marketing agency, I’m sure Mark won’t mind me saying this, but that’s pretty bad. And there was no leadership involvement. The leaders at the time were fantastic, but they had their fingers in a lot of pies, and they were doing a lot of different things. So, they were putting less focus on our agency. And there were a lot of people doing their own thing, there wasn’t really a one team together moving forward as a team.

Emily West:
So, we knew something needed to change. Not least of all, the bright red wall in the office. So, what did we change? We changed pretty much everything, and we changed it I think for the better. Now, we changed our operations. We looked at how we did things and why we did things, and whether we could make them quicker and smarter. We looked at lean systems thinking, we looked at addressing all of our processes and making sure that they were quicker, easier, and much more efficient. We looked at our leadership, we have a now flattened structure in our leadership. And we’ve given the responsibility to our team to work for themselves, but work for the team as opposed to just themselves as well.

Emily West:
We changed our organizational culture, our working hours were one of those, which is why I’m here today. And we gave our marketing more of a focus. So, as you can see, we look a lot nicer now, we look more like a designer marketing agency. Our environment and our physical work space changed dramatically, and there’s been a lot of research into working environment. But as you can see, it’s a lot brighter, it’s a lot fresher. We introduced more plans, more natural light. It’s a much nicer place to work, and it’s less chaotic.

Emily West:
We also looked at our service marketing and our consumer needs. And we really did a lot of research into who we wanted to market to and why. And we looked at our brand. Now, our brand, as anyone knows, a business’s brand is very, very important. It’s not just your logo, it is about who you are, who you want to be, and who you’re marketing to. And that’s where Lagom or Lagom comes from.

Emily West:
Now, Lagom is a Swedish ethos. It means not too much, not too little, just right. It means looking at everything and working out, I suppose, a quantity of how much you’re doing, what you’re doing, and why. Lagom flows through everything we do. It’s not just about your six hour working day. It’s not just that we work for six hours. It flows through absolutely everything we do at the agency.

Emily West:
Working hours is just one of those things, as I said. Six hours a day, we worked out that that was just the right amount of working time to get the most amount of productivity from our team. But I’ll touch on that in a second. Project operations, customer interactions, internal communications, decision making. How much time is the right amount for any of those things? How much customer interaction? How much time should you spend talking to your clients? How much emphasis should you put on your marketing? How much time should you spend talking to each other in the team? How much time should you spend workshopping and researching?

Emily West:
We literally looked at everything we do and worked out what the right amount of time for these things were. And the reason is, productivity and efficiency, and also wellbeing. Now, we work in a very different way to a lot of companies across the UK, across the world to be honest with you. We start our day at 8:45 and we work until 4:15. Fantastic, we work six hours a day, that sounds absolutely brilliant. And a lot of companies have come to us and said, “We definitely couldn’t manage to fit everything in six hours a day.” I challenge that.

Emily West:
From 8:45 we have a standup meeting where we all know what each other are doing. We all know what tasks we’ve got. It’s a very quick standup meeting, very efficient. And at nine O’Clock we then have our concentration time. This is where it gets very library rules like. But nine O’Clock until 10:30 we have a time of productivity. That’s an hour and a half where we each have our tasks that we’re doing for the day, and that might be coding something as a developer, designing a particular leaflet for a designer. Or it might be writing articles, et cetera.

Emily West:
That hour and a half we are not allowed to speak to each other. I say we’re not allowed, like a school, but we’re not allowed to speak to each other. We turn our emails off. We don’t disturb each other. And the point is not to distract each other. Now, distraction is a massive word in this ethos. We try not to distract each other for an hour and a half. At 10:30, as you can imagine, an hour and a half of productivity and focused working we need a break. We get up, have a stretch, and have Fika. Again, another Swedish ethos, which is basically tea and cake with friends and colleagues.

Emily West:
And at 10:30 we get up, have a stretch, make a cup of tea. Just recharge. We then sit down again at 10:30, 10:45 and until 12 O’Clock we have another hour and a bit of work. Now, lots of people put their headphones on, and they still want to be productive. But that is a time when we arrange meetings, we collaborate a little bit more. We’re allowed to talk to each other, we can reply to emails, and such.

Emily West:
So, it’s an hour and a half of focus, and then another hour and something of some more collaborative time. Then at 12 O’Clock we close the doors to the studio, we lock the doors. We don’t let anyone sit their desks and eat their lunch. It’s the worst thing you can do in a work environment. I see people smirking, so you obviously do it. But 12 until one O’Clock, that’s an hour of lunchtime. And that has been fantastic. We all do that collaboratively together. And that means that we don’t make people sit together in the studio, we have a nice area where they can sit together. But they can go and do whatever they need to do. They can go for lunch outside, they can go for a walk, meet friends. Or sit together and eat lunch together. And it’s absolutely unbelievable how much we’ve learnt about each other in those hours of lunch break.

Emily West:
And it’s lovely, because a lot of other companies have more of a collaborative time the whole time. And there they speak to their colleagues and they might get snippets of information about people, but it’s very much top level information. Whereas this hour is lovely because we sit down, we don’t talk about work, and we get to know each other much, much better.

Emily West:
Now, one O’Clock we’re all back at our desks ready for another hour and a half of productivity. We sit there with our headphones on, as I said we don’t really speak to each other. We are focused, we don’t distract each other. It’s about respecting other people’s focus time. And then at half past two, another Fika time. There’s a lot of cake at Made. And then it means that we can then leave at around quarter past four.

Emily West:
So, we put our tools down at four O’Clock and we leave at quarter past four. Now, this is what we call rigid flexibility. And we could not do six hours of work per day if we did not have those rigid times and those productivity times. The point is, how much time do you spend at work, be honest with yourselves here, how much time do you spend at work not working? Social media, chatting to each other, a colleague coming over just asking you a quick questions. How long does it take you then to come back and focus on what you’re actually doing? It’s actually quite a lot of time, sometimes up to 20 minutes can be spent trying to focus on you’re doing again.

Emily West:
That time, when you add it up over a year, is a lot of time. Times however many people you’ve got in your company, it’s a lot of time wasted. What we’ve tried to do is basically get rid of all the wasted time, focus on that productivity. And therefore give back time to our employees. Therefore, they can leave at quarter past four, and they then can do whatever they like in their own time.

Emily West:
Lots of our employees have children. You can go shopping, they can then arrange doctor’s appointments and things like that. Usually they couldn’t do that unless they’d have to take a day off work, or half a day. But they are able to have flexible working time with those, still the same productivity.

Emily West:
So, we keep our meetings short. We have no gimmicks as I put here, no slides, bars, or pool tables. Apologies if I offend anyone here, but they’re an absolute load of rubbish. A lot of companies tend to tack on these wellbeing initiatives, like, “Oh, we’ve got pool tables and bars, and we can drink together after work.” Fantastic, but what you’re doing is you’re keeping people at work, not working. Why would you do that? Who wants to do that? You might get on with your work colleagues, but go and spend time with them out of work. When you’re in work, you work. When you’re out of work, you have fun. And that’s basically the ethos summed up.

Emily West:
So, we have now a calm working environment. The Swedes are all about that calm ethos. Everything is thought about, everything is calm. Everything is efficient. We don’t really have deadlines, lots of people go, “Uh, no deadlines, how do you do that? Surely you have clients wanting things?” Well, we think that deadlines add extra stress and extra pressure. What we’ve done instead is work out and from experience work out how long things take to finish, or to complete. And then we set those expectations to the client. We don’t put those expectations on our employees shoulders. So, we don’t say to our employees, “You need to get this done by Friday.” Okay, sometimes our boss does, but he means it in a good way.

Emily West:
But what we don’t do is we don’t say, “You need to finish this by Friday.” If they haven’t finished it, they’re stressing, they feel like they need to stay longer. You’re not getting the most productive work out of those people. So, instead we take that away from them and saying, “We roughly think it’s going to be about three days.” And we ask them as long as they’re working as productively as possible, we know that they couldn’t have worked any harder. And therefore if we’ve estimated it wrong, that’s our problem, not our employees. And therefore it takes a lot of pressure and a lot of stress off of their shoulders.

Emily West:
We also have team events, lunches, and charity days. So, we try and do our bit again for charity. And all of that, again, reflects on our relationships in our agency. So, what’s our result been? Well, fantastic. We’ve now been trialing it … I say trialing it, we trialed it for three weeks, this is where Joe’s got the word experiment from, it’s definitely not an experiment. We’ve been having it for a year and a half and it’s absolutely fantastic, and we cannot recommend it enough.

Emily West:
We now have one team who are pulling together. We are one agency, we all know where we’re going, we all know where we are. And we work together very, very well. We’ve got a very much higher efficiency on our processes, on our projects. We are as productive for six hours as we are for eight. And that’s the thing. I think a lot of people come to me and say, “Well, if you’re working as hard as you can for six, why not still make it eight, and then you can get more work done?” It doesn’t work like that. If you’ve done some research you’ll know that your brain can only concentrate for a certain amount of time. And what we’re saying is six hours is the right amount of time. If you can give productive work for six hours, great, that’s all we ask for, and that’s all we need.

Emily West:
High motivation innovation. Our employees absolutely love this ethos, and have really, really grasped it really well. Our quality is continuously improving because our efficiency is improving. We’ve never ever been busier, and that’s very, very true. Our clients are all on board, and again it’s about setting those expectations. They understand what working hours we have, they understand why we do it. And they love us for it. So, they are never constantly coming back and asking us, “Well why haven’t you emailed me back before 10 O’Clock or 10:30?” It doesn’t happen, they just expect 10:30 to get a reply. To be honest with you most of the time they don’t even realize that we haven’t replied until 10:30. Nothing is that urgent that it can’t wait.

Emily West:
Much easier to recruit, obviously you put six hours on an advert and everyone wants to work with you. But it really has been part of brand. Now we, as I said, rebranded, we changed everything about our company. And it is very much part of our ethos and what we believe in. And that, as you know as marketers is absolutely crucial to your brand and your marketing. So, there were a lot of people wanting to work with us for what we believe in. And again, we’ve got a happier and a better rested team. And rested is important as well, it’s about getting the time away from work to be able to enjoy work while you’re there. A lot of the time I know my partner finishes at sometimes seven O’Clock, and he’s still constantly thinking about work when he’s home, and he doesn’t switch off.

Emily West:
Now, probably all of you know that feeling of trying to switch off, and maybe you can’t. But this means that you can, you’ve got time to switch off. And therefore actually you’re excited about getting to work the next day. So, what would I say to you as marketers, as business owners? Key take aways. It is definitely a different and happier way of working. Different is the key, doesn’t mean to say it’s worn.g different, most people are quite scared of that word, but it’s not a bad word. Quality over quantity is a massive thing for us now. The quality of our work has increased 10 fold. Before e were just worried about getting the work out there, and now we actually stop and think about what’s right, and the right amount of quality.

Emily West:
We attract good people and talent, which everyone in Norwich knows is crucial, because there’s a lot of talent that is born in Norwich, and then it just disappears to London or afar. So, it’s really, really great that we’re nurturing talent in Norfolk. Your culture is part of your brand, you already know this, but your brand is you and what you believe in. Your culture is really, really important, and your staff are the most important part of your business. So, why not keep them happy? And it would work for any company. I see people going, “Not sure, not sure.” But we challenge you, come and speak to us, and we will try and show you a different way of thinking about it.

Emily West:
Now, the Swedes actually started it off in Healthcare. And if they can do it in Healthcare, why can they not do it in other businesses? Healthcare is a 24/7 business, and yes they had to employ more people. Is that such a bad thing? But they found that their care was better, the quality of care was better, everyone was happier. Patients were happier, people were happier. And it really, really worked for them. So, the Swedes rolled it out across other businesses in Sweden.

Emily West:
What I would say is that don’t just go down to six hours and stay doing things how you’re already doing things. If you want to give it a go, you really need those quiet, productive times. You can’t say, “Right, we’re going to carry on as we are, but we’ll just cut them down to six hours.” Trust me, it won’t work. So, you do need those quiet, productive times in order to get the most out of the productivity of your team.

Emily West:
Everyone should be on board. If you’re going to do it, tell your team and your staff why you’re doing it. Give them a reason and also give them a reward. What you’re doing is you’re asking for six hours of productive time, and giving them reward that they can go home at quarter past four. Go with it, just give it a go. But, what I would say is that it does take three months to make it more of a habit. It does actually, it’s really difficult to get into. As a business development manager my job is to speak to clients, communication. And what I found really difficult was to turn my emails off until half past 10. It did not seem normal to me at all.

Emily West:
But if you go with it and you really make it a habit, and people around you are all in the same boat, and they all are pushing you to do those times, it becomes a habit. So, you know that at 10:30 you look at your watch and you think okay, it’s time to relax. And everyone is doing it at the same time. And that’s one thing I will point out as well is that a lot of companies say that they’re flexible times, and they have some people starting at six and some people starting at nine. The reason that we all do it together is so that we all know where each other are, and we all can respect each others productivity and quiet times.

Emily West:
So, for example between nine and half ten if you can imagine other people coming in and working at different times, it’s not going to work. What we do is we all do it together. And the main take away is to think differently. Now, who said you have to work nine till five? Who is making you working until eight O’Clock at night? Is it the expectations that your employers are giving you? Is it your expectations that you need to work harder? What is it that is making you work more hours than you probably should? And actually, you probably are not being as productive in those extra hours as you might be in those six.

Emily West:
So, challenge it. Ask yourself why you’re doing these things, and who says that you should. Some key reading for you, if you like to have a bit of a read, Mark’s two favorite key readings are at the top. It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work, and Drive. And then my favorite, which is a little bit more girly, is Lagom, The Swedish Art of Living a Balanced Happy Life, by Niki Brantmark.

Emily West:
Again, Lagom isn’t just work based, it actually goes through everything in life. For example on our Fika times we’re making tea and you think, “Right, how much is the right amount of milk in my tea?” The Lagom amount. Not too much, not too little, just right. And you wait, you’ll be thinking about this now, and everything you do will start to be, “Am I doing just the right amount? Am I doing too much, too little?” If you do just the right amount, it’s great, perfect, you’ve accomplished it.

Emily West:
So, I will leave you with a quote, because I’m aware that Joe will be kicking me out. We think mistakenly that success is the result of the amount of time we put in at work instead of the quality of time we put in at work. Now, Lagom and the six hour working day, as I said, is just a one part of the ethos that we think about when we’re looking at our agency. It is about the efficiency, the productivity, the wellbeing. It is about our people and how we work, and why we do what we do. And at the end of the day life is fantastic, we spend most of it at work, so we may as well be as productive as possible, and then spend the rest with our family and friends. Thank you very much.