Creating a hybrid work space at FreeAgent

View of the FreeAgent office including a flexible collaboration area with sofas and glass wall.

Hybrid working has been a fixture at FreeAgent from the very start. We’ve always had both in-office and distributed teams and have worked hard over the years to make sure that we can provide a great employee experience for everyone. 

There’s a lot that goes into making FreeAgent a great hybrid workplace: from inclusive meeting practices to a flexible and comfortable office space. 

Why do we encourage hybrid working?

Coming back to the office in 2021 after the Covid lockdowns, we knew that we’d missed the social connections and informal networks built in person. It’s extremely hard to recreate the relaxed interactions and social opportunities that come from office life - taking the lift, making tea and coffee, or chatting outside a meeting room. 

We’d also found that it’s easier to learn from our peers in person. It’s easier to see the impact you have on others, and easier to be curious and ask questions about someone else’s work or process. But there are also benefits to working from home. Many of us loved the additional flexibility that working from home brought and found it helped our work-life balance. 

"We have tried to learn the lessons of lockdown and balance these with the known benefits of people working together in the same place to create the best of both worlds," said Donald Lindsay, Chief People Officer. This has become our hybrid policy - working from the office for two days and having three flexible days, where individuals can choose whether they want to be in the office or at home. 

"Hybrid provides a really good balance for me," said Vicky Sinclair, Head of Product Design. "Being in the office allows the Product Design team to collaborate and explore different ideas, while also gathering for team lunches. Afterwards, our working-from-home days help us to focus and document the outcomes." 

How does our office support our working model?

Through 2023, we were all adjusting to the hybrid model, finding what worked and thinking about what we could improve to make everything work more smoothly. One of the decisions we made was to refurbish our office space in Edinburgh. 

Desks for all

One of the biggest changes was introducing bookable desks. Instead of having an assigned desk, people can book a desk for each day they’re in the office. People have been making the most of the increased flexibility, including Vicky’s team. "Booking different desks has let the Product Designers choose to sit together on design days or join their Product Management and Engineering partners when working on the product."

Our Office Manager, Becky Robertson, said: "It’s important to us that everyone has equal ownership of the office space, including our distributed workers who come to the office less regularly." For our February Hack Days, all our distributed workers who travelled in could book desks in advance and knew there was space for them.  

Beyond meeting rooms

We wanted the refurbished office space to work for each person through different tasks and meeting types. So you’ll find lots of different collaboration spaces, including meeting rooms, whiteboard walls, sofas, and pods for one to four people. 

Every pod has a built-in screen to help when dialling in someone from home and solid soundproofing. "The new one-person pods have been really popular so far, they’re excellent for taking one-to-one meetings but also are an ideal spot for uninterrupted concentration," said Becky. 

Social spaces

Our cafe space is now separated from the open plan office with translucent glass walls - to help you switch off when you’re not working.

Another in-office perk (and great opportunity to meet people outside your team) is lunch on a Friday. The menu changes each week and we often try to tie them into cultural celebrations. "We ordered baklava from a local business during Eid and got to introduce baklava to a few people who’d never eaten it before," said Becky. 

What about our people outside Scotland?

We’re not all hybrid workers at FreeAgent, and that means creating inclusive practices and spaces for distributed workers as well. About 30% of us aren’t based within commuting distance of the Edinburgh office and so we’ve had to deliberately build remote connections.

"Planning for remote employees is never an afterthought, we consider from the start how distributed workers can join in and feel part of any event or activity," said Donald. "I think hybrid working has helped as well, as everyone is more sensitive to their remote colleagues' experience."

There’s been a big focus on making hybrid meetings work for everyone. In the office refurbishment, all meeting rooms have been fitted with new technology including better cameras and screens. "It’s really clever, the system we have adapts to different sizes of meeting so that everyone is in frame," said Becky. "And the camera is at eye level so it feels more like those dialling in are in the room."

But inclusive meetings go deeper than that and sometimes that involves asking ourselves if we really need a meeting. It might be easier to collaborate with remote colleagues on Slack or within a document. If not, we’re all used to checking the in-meeting chat and watching for raised hands so that everyone is heard. 

It’s really important that everyone has a chance to socialise, even our distributed colleagues. There are four dates in the year where we encourage everyone to get together in Edinburgh: our two Hack Days, our Summer party and our Christmas party. If you’re not based locally, we pay for travel and accommodation on these dates to make these in-person connections possible. 

Join our office

If hybrid work at FreeAgent sounds like your kind of hybrid work, keep an eye on our vacancies. Or if you want to find out more about Life at FreeAgent, read our other blogs or take a look at our benefits.

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