Work/Life Balance as a Business Strategy
Success through flexibility may best define the approach adopted by Point B, a premier professional services firm with a workforce spread across seven U.S. cities and a 2007 Top Small Workplace. With consulting focused on project leadership and execution, the company operates without any defined home office, and telecommuting allows associates to handle local clients with an intimacy and familiarity that have made them stand out from their competitors.
Founded in 1995, Point B was the brainchild of three professionals who wanted more from life than what work with a traditional consulting firm had allowed them. According to Managing Director Rick Warter, who has been with the company for nine years and oversees Point B's central U.S. operations, the original founders, Jim Hodge, Tim Jenkins and Darran Littlefield, were thrilled with their previous work and clients, but saw family time getting short changed and outside passions falling to the wayside. Warter says they challenged themselves to cut a new path, asking "Why can't we create a business that helps enrich people's lives?"
Things may have become more formalized over time, but client focus and integrity remain inseparable from a comprehensive approach to work/life balance. All associates attend a course titled "Realizing Your Point B," in which they are asked to define what exactly they want out of work. "There is no pre-defined career path," explains Senior Associate Kevin Mackey. "It's up to me find the sweet spot where my passions and our clients' needs converge."
Warter explains that the company is "really more productive and more effective when asking people what they want work to look like." As long as there's good business sense to have things shaped the way associates envision, Warter says they'll go ahead with it.
And unlike most consulting firms, which are often defined by extreme work hours and long periods away from home, travel is not a requirement at Point B, where employees define their own schedules. "Burnout is definitely a threat in the consulting industry," admits Senior Associate Jay Parks. After his experiences with other firms, Parks says he needed a change. "I'd done my time as a road warrior and I was very interested in spending time at home," he says. A three-year veteran of Point B, Parks has become an evangelist of the company's model of providing local consultants for local clients.
Point B's approach to billable hours is another departure from the norm. Warter loves approaching a client and telling them that they've completed a project, despite being contracted for another month. "We try to build that trust and build that relationship so that when they do need help, we're the first people they reach out to," he says.
Additionally, associates get calls from Point B's leadership if they work more than their expected number of hours per month – "Not to say thanks for the additional revenue," as Parks says he was accustomed to at other firms, "but to see if everything was okay and if there was anything that could be done to reduce my workload going forward." Thus, a "sustainable lifestyle" remains at the heart of operations at Point B.
Ensuring that new hires have strong passions beyond Point B is one secret to keeping this whole balancing act going. "Honestly, I think it's best for our clients," Warter says. "When people have interests outside of work, it leads them to make sure that they're being as efficient as possible at work." Whether it's climbing mountains, making quilts, coaching little league or being involved in their church, "it all helps them to provide their own balance," he says.
To this end, each market boasts a "Culture Director," who organizes events locally to keep people feeling connected, while also acting "almost as the 'soul' of the market," according to Warter – making sure that whenever Point B acts, they can always look back and make sure it felt right.
This focus on retaining an ideal work/life balance is great for employees, but how does the company benefit? They certainly do when you consider retention. Point B boasts an attrition rate of 6 percent in an industry that sees 23 percent on average. Warter advises that if you want people to work for your business for 10 or 20 years, the different stages in their life will mean they're going to need different things out of their work.
Point B's workforce embodies the definition of a distributed network, and keeping this culture strong and effective, particularly with growth into new cities, has required the right technology to keep everyone connected. A comprehensive intranet based heavily on SharePoint, knowledge searches and blogging accomplishes this while providing access to a constantly evolving, real world road-tested knowledge repository.
Continuing to keep a pulse on the culture is perhaps the highest priority at Point B as it expands. As the company works on getting each new market properly established, Warter says they work to maintain a central Point B culture while letting each market define its own character. "It takes a little while to understand the personality of a city and the people that live there," he says. A 50-year-old in Portland, for instance, may want something different than a 20-year-old in Denver, and Point B is ready to meet them wherever they stand.
It all comes down to remaining open. "Be true to your core culture," says Warter. "Then understand the nuances you need to adjust."
Company: Point B
Web site: www.pointb.com
Industry: Professional services
Location: Seattle, WA
Number of Employees: 375
Sales: $80 million