Out of Office, and Loving It

Why we give our staffers all the free time they need

Sometimes, the best way to help spark creativity in the office is to get out of it.

When I opened my inbox recently, I found the most perfect and creative pitch from a member of my team. But it was her out-of-office message that really impressed me. 

I'm OOO doing my best Law & Order impersonation #juryduty. Response time set to Bureaucratic Sloth. 

There have been other past favorites, including this one from a staffer last December: 

Sipping eggnog. Ignoring inbox. Wishing you and yours a happy holiday season.

Amen. 

At In Good Co, we are firm believers in our employees taking all the time they need for vacations, civic duties, yoga classes, overseeing play dates and celebrating holidays that matter to them, of course. 

You never know when or where inspiration will strike. 

Numerous studies in leading publications including Fast Company illustrate that for creative people, it's proving quite productive to be unproductive. Ideas more often than not come to us in the least expected places—in the shower, while daydreaming or taking a walk. 

That's one reason why we encourage the members of our collective to physically and mentally meander, to charge before they are forced to recharge—without apology, without excuses, and please, without the guilt. The designer who checks her email when she should be catching the next big wave is not going to return to the work fold as inspired as the copywriter-cum-pizza master who didn't even bother to take her phone charger to Naples. Or the mother who got to watch her daughter attempt a pirouette at her ballet recital instead of doing her own pirouettes to get there. 

I need my team to unplug, completely and unrepentantly. It's the surest way to guarantee that when they plug back in, their batteries will be fully charged. 

Recent research backs me up: Happier people make better workers. According to Forbes, one study found that happy employees are up to 20 percent more productive than unhappy ones. Even the markets take notice: The stock prices of Fortune's "100 Best Companies to Work for" rose twice as much as those companies who didn't make the list. Happiness is good for the bottom line.

Just peruse the world happiness indices. It's no accident that the Scandinavian countries always head the lists, with their flexible work schedules, state-funded childcare and substantial annual leaves. In these countries, work-life balance, increased levels of individual autonomy and even kindness are high predictors of happiness. They also top the list of countries that are the best in the world to do business in. 

Happiness and kindness are not attributes that have long been deemed essential by Madison Avenue. But as a 20-year industry veteran who has transformed agencies, created brands, pioneered experiences and inspired marketers at companies including Uniqlo, Anthropologie, Ralph Lauren, Google, Nike and Starbucks—I know they should be. 

At In Good Co, we're creating the industry in which we want to work to counter the all-too-toxic environments featured weekly in industry publications. Our Monday morning meetings are closer to group therapy sessions, clearing the mental decks for the work ahead. We've instituted a strong parental leave policy in addition to unlimited vacation and remote work. 

We don't even have a central home office. Instead, our seven full-time staffers work from places where they derive inspiration. Sure, the bills for Soho House and The Wing are higher than rent would be. But we are rethinking what agency life is and forging a new way of working that empowers and promotes creativity. 

As one of the few in the industry with B Corp status, our certification proves our dedication to improving society and the environment, not just our bottom line. 

Which is why, on Oct. 5, we'll be celebrating Do Something Nice Day. And it's not just because Jen Truc Kaplan, our head of client happiness, mandates that we do. We hope you'll join us. Any act of kindness, from something as painless as giving up your subway seat to a more time-committed day spent feeding the homeless or mentoring young designers, is bound to make someone smile and may just prove contagious. 

We are big believers in paying it forward. 

To quote songwriters Burt Bacharach and Hal David, what the world really needs now is love, sweet love. #MeToo, #MAGA, #TimesUp, #BlackLivesMatter and #NeverAgain make that all too clear. If hashtags are the new zeitgeist, we want to spearhead our own movement, starting with #unapologeticallyOOO. Kindness, after all, begins with the self. 

So, if you're trying to reach me or respond to this column, don't be alarmed if it takes me a few days to get back to you. I might just be "OOO at the playground absorbing life lessons." 

Franck V.

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Kirsten Ludwig
Kirsten Ludwig is founder and president of In Good Co.