Team autonomy benefits both business and people

Our autonomous, flexible workplace means that software developer Hagen Dittmer can take the time to be there for his family when they need him - no questions asked.

Aisling Smith·

Hagen traded freelancing to come work for Cliniko, but this didn’t mean a decrease in his freedom. In fact, the Cliniko work culture has actually created more flexibility in his life and time for his family. But our flexible work policies don’t just make life easier for employees like Hagen – they benefit Cliniko too. As a successful software company that’s been around for 11 years, we know a thing or two about good business decisions, and allowing flexible working is at the top of our list. If you care about your productivity at all, trust us, it’s a no-brainer!

Hagen joined the Cliniko development team (our talented technical wizards who keep Cliniko running smoothly and are continually improving the platform) in 2019. But he’d encountered Cliniko many times over the years from his freelancing work – his clients in allied health routinely needed help moving their clunky, ancient systems across. If you needed to migrate your clinic over to Cliniko, Hagen was your man! This occurred so frequently that Hagen eventually got on the radar of our founder, Joel, who flagged the idea of an in-house gig. Hagen was doing all this Cliniko work anyway, so why not come and work for the company? Although it was a tempting offer, Hagen was hesitant – he was earning well as a freelancer and had a stable roster of clients, so wasn’t keen to make a change.

But when Carrie, Hagen’s wife, started doing a master’s degree two days a week, the work-life dynamic in the household suddenly shifted. With two young daughters at home all the time (a third daughter came along later, at the beginning of this year) and a hectic seven-day work week, time became a vanishing resource. “I was knackered,” Hagen says. “I was working so hard Monday to Saturday, sometimes overnight for international customers, then trying to catch up with the admin on Sunday.” Around this time, Joel brought up the idea of an official job again. “And I thought, ‘you know what? Now the timing is right.’” The boundaries of a stable workplace suddenly looked pretty good!

So, Hagen joined the Cliniko team, basically doing the same thing he’d been doing as a freelancer – focusing on data transfers and helping practices migrate their systems across – except this time, he had the support of a team and the benefits of Cliniko’s flexible work arrangements. “Staff well-being isn’t something that’s viewed as secondary at Cliniko,” he notes. “Employees can’t be good at their jobs or perform to their best if they’re unhappy or unable to prioritise their own well-being.”

For Hagen, having flexibility at work turned out to be critical – just as he started his new role, his older brother was diagnosed with leukaemia. This meant treatments at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and an emotional rollercoaster of close-calls and complications. But the flexibility of the Cliniko workplace at least meant that Hagen could be there to support his brother – he could head to the hospital whenever he needed, no questions asked. “Not having to worry about what anyone else is going to think or feeling bad about being away from my desk is enormous,” Hagen says. “I can’t imagine how it would have worked otherwise. I’ve taken a lot of time because I needed that time, and my brother needed that time.” In exceptionally difficult circumstances, Hagen could genuinely put his family first and be there for his loved ones.

Outside of work, Hagen has his hobbies and interests – in his spare time, you’re likely to find him tending to an impressive collection of indoor plants, planning a camping trip, or under the bonnet of a car fixing something that’s gone amiss! But, these days, work and life mostly exist in tandem – occuring at the same time, in the same space. Especially when it comes to family. As Hagen says, “my family doesn’t really exist in the periphery of my day anymore. In the way that we work, [they’re] always around.”

Working constantly, Hagen adds, is “robo territory.” Yet modern work culture tends to demand it. Work becomes your hobby, friend, and passion – the busy centre of your world – with no space left for anything else. And when you do finally step away from the desk, there’s this nagging guilt that you should still be working or that you’re somehow letting people down.

This is obviously unhealthy for workers, but it’s also bad for business. Many businesses still mistakenly believe that employees must be tightly controlled to achieve productivity. Nothing could be further from the truth! We don’t work that way at Cliniko — in fact, our work culture is the exact opposite. And the results speak for themselves. The success of our flexible working is reflected in the number of our customers, the quality of what we produce (both our software and our customer support), and our profitability. But, the thing is, we’ve achieved all this because of our work culture — not despite it!

Our productivity is down to the fact that our team members show up to work fully focused on giving their very best. As Hagen says, “if something comes up, I can interrupt my schedule and stop work when I need to – deal with whatever requires my attention – and then get back to the desk, distraction free. So the hours that I do work, they’re really good hours. I’ll often find myself so wrapped up in what I’m doing, it’s time to get the kids before I even realise it!” Hagen finds that with the freedom to work how he wants, he’s got laser-focus on his tasks. “When I’m really in ‘the zone’ I’ll get multiple development changes and enhancements done in a few hours, and that’s a great feeling to end the day on.”

There are also other benefits to Hagen’s work, not directly related to development. Like many Cliniko team members, Hagen is often involved in chatting with customers over support issues. “I’ve definitely found in other jobs that when there’s personal stuff playing on your mind, it’s easy to become short or snappy with your colleagues or even customers!” he admits. “But at Cliniko if I’m handling support queries with customers, it’s refreshing to be able to interact with them having a genuinely clear mind.”

Author information

Aisling is a Melbourne-based writer and all around word nerd. When she isn't writing for Cliniko, she likes circus fitness, playing her cello, and eating dessert.

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