Let’s talk about flex

Image by Joshua Miranda from Pixabay 

As a seasoned home worker (10 years plus!), it won’t surprise you to hear that my ears pricked up at a Radio 4 Programme last week week (Positive Thinking) which considered whether or not working from home might catch on in a post-coronavirus world.

While enforced remote working in a pandemic is not flexible working (for many it is more about simple survival, at home, during a crisis, while trying to work!) but it has started some big conversations.

Against the advice of many, I set up SoLo eleven years ago to offer a fully remote and flexible working environment. I’ve seen first-hand the benefits of a remote model and called for smart businesses to join the flexible working revolution many times.

But I was interested to hear on the programme than a study has been done that proves what I know anecdotally to be true: that working from home increases productivity.

Thank you, Nick Bloom, Professor of Economics at Stanford University, California. Nick published a study of a Chinese travel company, Ctrip, that looked at the benefits of its working from home policies. The study found that a random sample of 1,000 employees were 13% more productive working from home than they were in an office – 9% of this was from working more minutes per shift (fewer breaks and sick days) and 4% from more calls per minute (a quieter and more convenient working environment). After the 9 month trial, over half of the home-working employees opted to return to the office – having fallen foul to the 3 great enemies: fridge, bed and TV – while the others continued working from home: this led to the gains from WFH almost doubling to 22%.

If there is one silver lining of the COVID pandemic, I desperately hope that employers reconsider the benefits of working from home – not just to the employee, but also for their business. Through productivity, staff retention and the ability to recruit  some of the best talent going (much of which happens not to be able to commit to the 9-5 grind for whatever reason – parenthood, caring responsibilities, anxiety, age…), the benefits of home workers are clear. Indeed, they are assets.  

Sure, working from home does not suit all sectors, all jobs, or all people. In our business, for example, while planners and strategist can work from home just fine, things get trickier with collaborative disciplines like creative.

There is also wellbeing to consider. As the mother of two 30-something advertising boys, I noted that for the “family” version, lockdown has delivered benefits (and challenges!), but for the DINKy it has been hard socially. Isolation and loneliness have been a theme for many during this enforced period of working from home, and many will be desperate to get back to an office.

But the conversation has started to be had, and for that – if nothing else – I am grateful to COVID. Let us keep up the dialogue about work being about what you do, not where you do it; about working to live, not living to work; and about putting people and their lives at the heart of what business does. 

Steph is Champion of Change Winner in the Management Today Inspiring Women in Business Awards

On 4 June, Steph was one of 21 inspiring women recognised at the Management Today Inspiring Women in Business Awards.

The Awards celebrate talented, visionary and ground-breaking businesswomen of all ages, at every level and across all sectors. Steph was recognised in the Championing Change category, honouring those making dynamic and brave changes within their workplace or industry.

The award is the fourth win for SoLo in 2020. Earlier this year Steph was recognised at the Timewise 2020 Power 50 Awards and in Campaign Magazine’s Female Frontier list; while SoLo was shortlisted in two categories in the 6th Annual Better Society Awards.

The judges applauded SoLo for disrupting the traditional and often harsh ‘bleed-to-succeed’ advertising agency model. They also praised us for being one of the only Community Interest Companies in the business (investing 50% of profit in social value projects) and our inclusive, remote working model which offers flexibility and work-life balance to mums, carers and OAPs. 

Steph says:

“It’s wonderful to be recognised by so many organisations for our unique business model and hope that I have inspired others to understand that business should be a balance of reward and rewarding. Applause goes particularly to my team and the clients who have come on this journey with me.”

Read more about Steph’s brave vision for Social & Local and where it all began.

See who joined Steph on the Management Today Inspiring Women in Business Winners List

Boots, buttercups and being human (further reflections of a Mad Man in Furlough)

Image by Annette Meyer from Pixabay 

Yesterday I pootled up to Nottingham’s University Park to take a walk around the beautiful Lake at its centre. I’ve been there numerous times but never fail to be awe struck by its natural and built beauty endowed by philanthropist, Jesse Boot (of Boots chemist), in the early part of the 20th Century. (Once upon a time businessmen knew that whilst their purpose was to create profit this came with an equally important obligation to create employment and social improvement. You can of course rely on me to stick the boot in!

Half way around the Lake I met (at a suitable distance) a local family – mum, dad, three young children. They admired my dog and the children played with her for a moment or two whilst their parents and I shared our lives in a nutshell. One of the children, a small girl of around four, headed towards me with a bunch of daisies and buttercups in her hand as a gift. I stepped aside but suggested she popped them on the grass where I could pick up safely and take a closer look and of course, check whether or not I liked butter (we agreed that I did). We smiled at each other, wished well, and went our separate ways with a memory of a shared moment and a simple kindness.

Half a Lake further and Molls (the dog) took a fancy to a middle aged man sitting on a bench with his bike propped beside him. He’d clearly done a few laps and was tucking into a container of cut fruit. He stopped to welcome Molly and to give me a smile. “Well done, Change4Life?” I remarked, which ignited a conversation about middle aged fitness regimes and a few laughs before he told me to keep safe as we walked on.

I travel these paths regularly, and have done for many years now, but right now it’s different. Deprived of simple day to day communication with others outside of our lockdown group, I am finding a particular pleasure in a face-to-face conversation with a fellow human being – just for the sake of it and just to wish each other well.

During London 2012 there was a mood of great excitement. Weird things happened, people started to chat to each other at random. It had never happened before on the London tube, and everyone was talking about a lasting legacy.  Yet, how quickly we all stopped, reverted to familiar behaviours; folded back into ourselves once the Games were over. Everyone, but me, that is – I still smile and chatter to people on the tube, though I know that most consider this weird.

Let’s hope beyond Covid-19 we don’t lose ourselves in ourselves again. For my own part, I intend to pursue being weird. I hope others may do the same. 

Action: Talk to someone you don’t know today and wish them good health.

Reflections of a Mad Man in Furlough

This morning I decided to trot my dog Molly into the City as my diary is clear.

I had heard on the grapevine that a small Italian Coffee Shop (aptly called Solo Grano) was open for business and was dying for a pukka Cappuccino and as the sun was already blazing at 8.30am wanted to imagine myself in Athens as I should have been had it not been for lockdown.

The City was quiet except for a lonesome street-dweller and a clutch of construction workers pressing on with the development of City Centre flats and student accommodation. The City was clean and bright, its ancient mix of medieval (think Robin Hood) and Victorian splendour standing proud in the morning sunshine.

I’d clocked the little independent Italian coffee shop opening about a year ago, but had never visited. Perhaps habitually I was attuned to grabbing a Costa from the large soul-less café on the corner or worse going for the dispensed version at Sainsbury’s Local. This morning was different – they were closed. Social distancing observed, I bought my coffee for £2.25 (same price as Costa) served by the smiling (and rather good looking) young Roman at Solo Grano – a small wrapped biscuit (nod to our wonderful client the Food Standards Agency) placed beside it and vowed to reward his endeavours by becoming a loyal and returning customer. 

Wondering about in Market Square almost alone other than the local mad MOD (now 75) driving his 3 wheeler version of a Vespa through the fountains fully adorned with badges, St. Georges flags and multiple other paraphernalia, I looked about.

The once heaving big corporate retail brands – Debenhams, New Look, Burton/Dorothy Perkins, Primark, Costa, Starbucks, Café Nero – were closed and empty, their large windows plastered with tacky discount posters, their displays a season old, the goods uninviting.

I wondered (and hoped) that beyond COVID and subject to some real common sense on behalf of the Council in terms of business rates, and taking advantage of all these emerging new flats, now might be the big moment for a resurgence of the Independent and family owned business able to flex and be versatile in times of crisis bringing back truly differentiated service with personality and individualism to the citizens of our City.   I’m in.

SoLo coronavirus update

Image by Miguel Á. Padriñán from Pixabay 

We hope you are safe and keeping well. Life is a roller coaster for all of us right now, as we wonder how the next few weeks and months will develop.

At SoLo, we’re operating our usual remote model to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe, whilst also staying focused on delivering for our clients.

We’ve been working ‘remotely’ since we founded (nearly 9 years ago now!) and we’re geared up to deliver our work from our desks. We can run planned face-to-face work digitally and are happy to give guidance if you have any questions on how this can work.

Remote working can be a little lonely at times. If you are ever looking for a bit of company you’re always welcome to pop into our virtual office (we’ll send a link!) for a cuppa and a chat. 


SoLo’s Guide to effective remote working

SoLo’s virtual office in action 

Are you working from home for the first time? At Social & Local, we’re seasoned remote workers (nearly 9 years now and counting!) Here are five things we have found make home-working work best.

  1. Create a dedicated workspace: Find somewhere to work that’s free from the interruptions of home life. There’s nothing more distracting than an unmade bed in the corner of your eye or a washing machine bleeping for attention. Even if you don’t have the luxury of a home study, a pop-up desk in a corner of a room can work better than the kitchen table or sofa because it demarks a space that’s solely about work. This helps you to focus on work during worktime and then escape it when you’re done.
  2. Connect (digitally) with colleagues: Make time to connect with colleagues – at SoLo we have a virtual Skype “office” – a daily Skype meeting which we log into for the day to connect with colleagues, foster teamwork and keep loneliness at bay. Regular, scheduled catch-ups over the phone or in the Virtual Office provide opportunities to exchange information informally and regularly, keeping work efficient and focused and ensuring the team is working seamlessly together.
  3. Take regular desk breaks: Create some structure and routine for your day. 8 hours alone at your desk can be a daunting prospect. Research shows that we’re better working in short, intense bursts. That’s why you’ll often find Steph on an 11 o’clock dog walk and Jess making her lunch to the backdrop of the World At 1. Give yourself a structure which includes short regular breaks and schedule a brisk walk if you can. You’ll probably sit more than usual and may need to make time to move. Remote meetings are usually shorter too – another bonus of home-working!
  4. Dress for the day: Though some might relish the chance to stay in PJs all day, we find it helps to get your head into ‘work mode’ by dressing appropriately… Not necessarily in a power suit, but somewhere in between. Being dressed ‘for work’ can help create the distinction between work and home, when there isn’t a commute to do that for you.
  5. Meal plan: Fill your fridge with goodies so that you can make yourself a nutritious lunch. Without the joys of Pret or Itsu on the office doorstep, a few tasty ingredients can quickly be fashioned into a healthy lunch to refuel for the afternoon ahead. Smashed avocado and poached eggs on toast is a team favourite, as well as a selection of weird and wonderful salads.

Remote working can be a little lonely at times. If you are ever looking for a bit of company you’re always welcome to pop into our virtual office (we’ll send a link!) for a cuppa and a chat. 


Millennial Life – boiled down to 5 key things

Image by Hebi B. from Pixabay

Millennials – born between 1980 and 2000 – are both the 20th century’s last generation and its first truly digital one. We spoke to eight millennials from across the UK and boiled down what they told us to 5 key things. 

  1. They are time poor – living away from friends and family (but trying to keep up with them) and working for companies that don’t give them flexibility (which generations behind them will demand as they come of age), Millennials are struggling to fit it all in. Companies would do well to recognize this. As a generation, millennials are conscientious and given trust/flexibility, will deliver for their employers.
  2. They are financially stretched – living with mortgages and lifestyles to keep up with, they are more stretched than the generation above (cheaper lifestyles) and below (no desire to own property). This impacts their ability to live out their values. So, while they might talk the climate change or human rights walks, they aren’t all walking the walk.
  3. Though they have a strong sense of the world’s problems, they feel inert to solve them – probably because of points (1) and (2) above – time and money. This leads to feelings of guilt, compounded by worry that the generations above and below them don’t share their ethical and environmental values.
  4. Brands and organisations could benefit from this complex sense of inertia, guilt and social conscience by making it easy for millennials to behave ethically. Removing some of the burden of solving the world’s problems with products and services that can help them do the right thing, could prove financially and socially rewarding.
  5. Whilst marketers are quick to invest in social media, they need to ask themselves whether it is always the right channel for reaching millennials. Many millennials are scathing about social media and marketeers should approach with caution.


5 things you should know about Adrian Hosford, Non-Executive Director

  1. People and pets: My wife Hilary, 3 grown children Dan, Zara & Anna and 5 grandchildren Alma, Heidi, Rose, Max & Robin.
  2. Favourite (communications) campaign: Strange to say, one of mine – but I was just the Client – the genius was the late David Abbott who created BT’s “It’s good to talk”. Brilliant because it captured the essence of the brand, a fundamental insight, a big profound idea built on a universal truth and a compelling call to action. Solid evidence proved it worked beyond our wildest expectations, helping to change the culture and behaviour of a nation and the bottom line.
  3. Quote to live by: It’s not what happens to you that matters but how you respond – we always have options
  4. Something we don’t know about you: I once lived on the Thames for a damp year
  5. Why the Social Life Matters: People work best when they achieve a balance in their life that works with their priorities and preferences. Judge on their output not the input.


#SocialLife #socialbusiness #social&local 

5 things: society’s biggest issues, according to millennials

Image by stokpic from Pixabay 

Millennials – born between 1980 and 2000 – are both the 20th century’s last generation and its first truly digital one. We spoke to eight millennials from across the UK to find out how they want to live, what stops them, what they view as the biggest issues facing society, and what they think of the generations before and after them. 

  1. Unease around narrowing world views and increasing intolerance for other people’s beliefs is of high concern. One Londoner told us: “Tolerance for differing views is changing and becoming much more extreme. This is linked to people feeling that their opinion can be equal to a FACT.” A participant from Scotland said: “I think we are becoming more isolationist and people are retreating into their own tribes. It’s happening everywhere. There is a lot of division about most issues; a lot of misunderstanding”. C, 32, from Leamington Spa said: “The demonization of groups of people [is a massive problem] with media like the Sun failing to humanise groups of people – trashing immigrants and asylum seekers and Labour voters – we need to get passed this – we are going backwards.”
  2. The gulf between rich and poor was mentioned by a few respondents as one of the biggest issues facing society now, both reflecting and creating this division of opinion and inability to see things from other perspectives.
  3. Climate change (unsurprisingly) rides high as one of the biggest issues the world currently faces (according to millennials), with concern around denial and the amount of education required to turn the issue around.
  4. Social care was also raised, with worry about our unwillingness to look after one another: “There is a considerable unwillingness for volunteering and with a whole generation spending not saving and having fewer children I envisage a pinch point of a big, top heavy population, without the volunteers to help keep going – unless there is significant rebalancing” (M, 32, Manchester).
  5. Inertia, guilt and paralysis are stopping people from being able to act: “I think that the biggest issue is that people don’t know how to make a difference – we have the conscious awareness, but people don’t think they can impact on this and so feel guilty.”

Steph honoured in Timewise Power 50 Awards in hat trick of awards success for SoLo




Steph has been named in the 2020 Power 50 awards: a roll call of 50 powerful executives in the UK – who all happen to work part-time or flexibly.

The award completes a hat trick of awards success for Social & Local, with Stephanie recently named as one of 50 Female Frontier honourees by industry-leading brand, Campaign magazine; and  Social & Local being shortlisted in two categories in the 6th Annual Better Society Awards.

The 2020 Timewise Power 50 Awards have been compiled by Timewise, a flexible working consultancy, following a nationwide search. Co-founders Karen Mattison MBE and Emma Stewart MBE publish a fresh list annually, in order to prove ‘what’s possible’ when you work part time or flexibly.

Steph says:

“What an honour to be recongised for this award, thank you Timewise.

“I set up Social & Local following redundancy from an advertising firm in 2011. At 55 and female I knew there was no future for me in the advertising world. I started to build a vision for the first social advertising business. Witnessing the poor treatment of people in the industry – from terribly-paid, over worked managers to discriminated-against pregnant women, I wanted to do things differently.

“Social & Local was designed to put people at its heart. The idea didn’t float with everybody at the time, but this award just goes to show that the world is finally changing – in favour or more flexible, humane working practices. I hope what I have shown in my own small way is that doing the right thing by your people goes hand in hand with business success.”

Flexible hiring and working practices are integral to SoLo. The entire team works flexibly and remotely to suit their lifestyles. A ‘virtual’ Skype office and good communication between colleagues about when and where they are working ensures that deadlines are hit, and client needs met.

For Steph, this means starting early (6am) with a morning break to walk her dog and visit her husband in his Nursing Home. Others work around the school run and into the evening, maximising time with their children. The result is fulfilled, creative, diligent, professional staff and happy, retained clients.

Timewise co-founder and judge Karen Mattison MBE, who led the initiative from the start says:

Success doesn’t come in one shape or size. With 9 in 10 people wanting or needing flexibility in their next job – it is vital we find and showcase modern day role models to aspire to. Stephanie is blazing a trail – all whilst working part-time or flexibly. Achieving serious success, in less days. Not only proving that it can be done – but how. The Timewise Power 50 exists to award innovation like this. Every person who tells their story openly, helps to make change happen.”