Sophie Kelly, CEO of The Barbarian Group
Courtesy of The Barbarian Group
By Sophie Kelly
October 22, 2015

MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: What is the biggest leadership lesson you’ve learned in the past year? is written by Sophie Kelly, CEO of The Barbarian Group.

The biggest lesson I have learned in the past year relates to talent: how to find the best, how to motivate, how to incentivize and how to provide flexibility in a time when we are all connected 24/7. In short, figuring out how to make new ways of working pay off for our talent and for our company’s bottom line. It’s no secret we are in the middle of a seismic shift in the workplace. According to a Quartz article, approximately 40% of the United States workforce will be freeelancers by 2020. We don’t need to wait for the future though; success has already started to look different, and it no longer means being chained to a desk all day.

Today, employees require progressive and adjustable work arrangements to accommodate for their various situations. From global specialists to remote workers and new parents, each individual requires something different to succeed. I’ve learned that leaders must be flexible and willing to change the rules of engagement, in order to continue attracting top talent and move their business forward.

At the Barbarian Group’s New York office, we have a “superdesk” also known as the world’s largest desk at 4,400 square feet that seats all 125 employees. The idea behind a desk that seats everyone is creating an atmosphere where collaboration isn’t just welcome, it’s a requisite. You need to use collaboration to arrive at new, innovative, and unique solutions and ideas. It’s how you create a revolutionary company, and it starts with your office space.

See also: The reason so many executives fail at leading teams

Our home office is in New York, but due to the nature and types of business challenges we solve for our clients, we have employees who operate from multiple time zones. This allows us to tap into niche skill sets, particularly in the realm of coding. We even have employees that once worked from the office but now work remotely for personal reasons: family, relationships, etc. Because they proved themselves indispensable to the team, I was willing to be flexible and do whatever it took to make them stay.

I’m not saying there is a one-sized-fits-all approach, but in order to retain top talent sometimes creativity is required from the employer. And just as much flexibility is required from the employee. Working autonomously requires a certain personality type; a self-starter who can take direction and use technology as a multiplier to succeed. In return, we meet our staff halfway and provide the necessary infrastructure employees need to reach their goals — from hangouts to off-site meetings to collaborative software, like Slack.

Within the last year, we’ve had quite a few new parents which has required additional sensitivity to their individual needs. Becoming a parent is a huge, life-changing event, and I believe a modern workplace needs to be empathetic to remain highly operational. For example, our San Francisco-tech director who works from home has very different requirements than our NYC-based full-time account director, who is also a new parent. To help make things a bit easier, we offer generous maternity and paternity leave and flexible hours for employees.

Additionally, we recruit globally. Our clients are from around the world, and our thinking needs to reflect that. For example, one of our developers has come to work with us from Amsterdam for 18 months. His outside knowledge and understanding has strengthened the agency immensely. A variety of perspectives is necessary for success which is why we have also hired media and distribution strategists from Mumbai, creatives from Sweden and account managers from Korea.

Finally, it is important to note that in many industries work inevitably bleeds into life and vice versa. As a leader, I’ve recognized that one of my many duties is to empower the high performers be be productive and achieve a holistic life. Our company strives to give our talent the tools and empathy that inspires and enables them to create truly awesome work despite outside constraints. So even though not all of our employees can sit at the “superdesk”, they are still excited to come to work.

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