The employees at Melbourne-based company Portable specialise in design and technology, and making a positive impact is at the heart of what they do – and it’s also the foundation of their company culture. The business was recently recognised on the 2022 AFR BOSS Best Places to Work list, coming 7th in its Top 10 for Professional Services from over 750 nominated organisations across Australia and New Zealand.
It’s a big achievement, especially considering the challenges faced by employers and employees over the past couple of years. But the company – which uses design and technology to narrow the gap between government and people who need government support – took this as an opportunity to invest in policies to support mental health leave, flexible and remote working, and robust professional development and feedback processes. And according to CEO and co-founder Andrew Apostola, the company will continue to build upon these solid workplace wellness foundations for years to come, ensuring a healthy and
Firstly, we're an agency, so we charge out our staff for time [meaning staff charge a cost per hour to provide their services]. However, during a work week, we allow for over a day for learning, leadership, engagement and general tasks – the majority of agencies in our space are driving for full billable utilisation of staff, which we found can be extremely challenging for our team. We also have a very flexible work culture, so our team members have high autonomy on their time, how they spend it and where they spend it from.
Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) are a foundation of any workplace, but we also introduce mental health days to help people to manage their wellbeing. I never think it's one single element when it comes to workplace wellbeing – it's the whole arrangement that creates a culture.
Things around the way we use the office and the way we work together. Do we want project teams sitting together? Or should we organise ourselves in discipline-based teams?
On the company culture side of things, we want to make sure people feel supported and heard. That they're very clear about what's expected of them, so that they can be empowered to have the accountability for that, to make sure that people are learning, and also to make sure that people are engaged in decision-making processes.
We now run annual engagement surveys, which drive how we approach people and underpins our strategy. As a result, there's been a lot of focus on role clarity over the past 12 months, so we're investing in articulating role outcomes and performance processes. While this might sound administrative, we find that it's these areas and programs that make the biggest impact. We're also now experimenting with the introduction of service-based teams to help drive greater clarity, wellbeing and autonomy, along with performance.
It's experimentation and then application that's really driving our approach to flexible working. We're asking leaders to come into the office two days a week and to try and encourage their teams to be in there on those same days. We might move toward having everyone in on the same day. But we’re trialling at this stage.
We now have our workforce spread across every state and territory of Australia, which we didn't have going into the pandemic, so we're having to experiment to solve real problems rather than hypothetical ones. How do we bring people together and maintain our culture when people are not only online but spread across the country? Let's find out, as opposed to setting up rules that just don't apply to our unique circumstances.
Prior to the pandemic, we had probably one staff member working partially remotely. We've used the pandemic as an opportunity to expand what this looks like. Early on, we were quick to move all of our workshop practices digitally, and we've been teaching the industry how to do this throughout the period.
So now we're remote, but we're exploring offices and cultural activities in different cities, flying people in for group activities and making changes to our travel policy to help enable connection to each other, not just our clients.
Every second Friday evening is set for social activities. While we were all remote working, we were doing things like finding ways to play Scattergories online and Pictionary by drawing on mirror boards. We did lots of trivia!
Now that we've opened up, we have drinks and get-togethers. We're also planning on rebooting the Portable Film Festival (our company originated the world's first fully digital film festival) as an annual celebration across the country. And we aim to be diverse about our celebrations and recognise cultures outside of typical western culture, so we have Eid celebrations for the end of Ramadan, and we celebrate Chinese New Year.