The first week of October was National Work Life Week, set up by the Working Families charity to promote work-life balance and employee well-being. To mark the occasion, Business Info discussed ‘radical flexibility’ with Paul Ashcroft and Garrick Jones, founders of global consulting and design business The Ludic Group
The Ludic Group, meaning playfulness, is an award-winning consultancy founded in 2004. It provides blue chip organisation’s like Coca Cola, Novartis and Barclays with digital transformation programs, engagement toolkits and next generation learning tools. It has revenues of circa £5 million and employs about 30 people including creatives, developers and administrative staff.
In addition to online learning and engagement tools, Ludic creates collaboration & learning spaces that combine technology, furniture and sliding, mobile walls. It can assemble these temporary pop-up structures on a client site or, for larger events, in a warehouse, hotel ballroom or other hired space. It has also created a number of permanent collaboration centres for clients such as University of Cambridge and Ernst & Young.
From the start, the two founders, Paul Ashcroft and Garrick Jones, wanted to create a different way of working. “We really wanted to design something with radical flexibility,” they said.
The company’s lawyers and accountants are office-based, but other employees tend to work from home or ‘third spaces’. For client meetings and programme planning and production, Ludic makes use of rentable spaces and clubs, notably the Hospital Club, which has restaurants, production facilities, TV studios and event spaces.
“We know how to create environments that promote collaboration and knowledge sharing,” explained Ashcroft. “We might go into a pretty boring looking environment and set up the facilities people need to work together – to document, to collaborate, to play, to work individually, to work in large teams. We work in that way with our clients too.”
Jones adds that one of the challenges the company has set itself over the last 10 years is to achieve the same results in an online environment that it gets from its physical events. To this end, it has developed a variety of online tools and apps, including a collaboration platform that allows users to build timelines together, to storyboard and do visual work together. These give staff a shared corporate workspace and sense of identity.
“Flexibility requires a number of different things to be present, like access to knowledge resources and communities, being able to very quickly access calendars and join up with people. We couldn’t find anything that had all of what we need to be best in class, so about eight years ago we started building it ourselves,” he said.
In addition, Ludic makes use of standard communication technologies like Skype and Zoom, program management tools, ERM solutions and other technology. But that, says Jones, is only half the story.
“Collaboration and flexibility is also about our culture, and we work very, very hard on that. We’ve got mothers who are working three days a week, we’ve got fathers who are looking after children, we’ve got single parents, we’ve got young people, we’ve got older people in our faculty. We have an incredibly diverse group of people we work with – artists and scientists. That’s part of our USP and our culture enables that,” he said.
“Everybody at Ludic writes their own contract and our focus is very much outcomes-based, rather than ‘cookie cutter’ process-based. We’re looking for clients to receive what they want. We don’t necessarily care too much about how they achieve it; just that they achieve it. That’s the most important thing.”
With his background in management consulting, Jones’s commitment to ‘radical flexibility’ is underpinned by a technocrat’s enthusiasm for modelling.
“We have a commitment to radical flexibility and then we have what we call our modelling language – that’s all of the principles and ways of working that underpin the DNA of our culture. We’re very disciplined about documenting, using and reproducing these thinking models. That produces a kind of coherence you wouldn’t get if you just bring people into an office,” he said.
Modelling for all Ludic events is recorded in a book, known internally as Alice in Wonderland. In a very visual way, it describes the eight factors involved in any project, including knowledge and research, project management and budget, process design, knowledge workers’ skill set, the learning requirements of the program, the aesthetic requirements of the program and the client’s requirements.
“The modelling language we use allows us to have a visual language that we’re able to send to our associates and networks around the world and very quickly develop a common sense of understanding and language. This shorthand allows us to work very flexibly together,” explained Jones.
As part of its culture, Ludic has regular ‘circle-ups’ or ‘virtual water-cooler moments’ where team members come together to share knowledge and discuss their needs. These are done online and in person.
“Because we don’t have an office, we need to replace it with things like our collaboration technology, the modelling language and knowledge-sharing. We also get together three times a year for frisbee and BBQs and events for whole families. In addition to regular virtual knowledge-sharing, team activities and so on, we build in this heartbeat of people actually coming together. People work remotely and we make sure they feel part of the team,” explained Ashcroft.
He and Jones concede that flexible working isn’t for all people, professions or organisations, but say it suits a project-based business like Ludic, especially as its employees tend to have talents and interests outside the workplace.
“Garrick is a musician. I write. Our team comes from a really diverse group,” he said. “Many of our team have super-skills; they are professional opera singers, actors, writers or gymnasts and they work alongside people who are academics or business content experts or scientists. We encourage people to bring ideas from what they do in their own lives into work because it makes us more interesting as a business. We didn’t want to invent another consulting business, we wanted to create something that was an intersection of art and design and business.”
Ashcroft adds that to maintain this culture, he and Jones work hard to avoid the pitfalls of modern ways of working. We actively avoid the 24-hour, always on culture. We tell people to go outside, to take a walk, to spend time with their children. We have to pay attention to this side of things, because we don’t have the luxury of bringing people into a central place on a daily basis,” he said.
Global talent pool
This philosophy has wide appeal and enables Ludic to draw from an extensive, global talent pool of more than 900 associates.
“We’re able to tap into a very diverse group of employees,” explained Jones. “People who are older, who have loads of experience but who may no longer want to work for a big organisation; mothers or fathers who are looking after kids at home; also younger people. Instead of trying to crowbar everybody into one cookie cutter, our diversity and flexibility allow us to pull in the skillset we need on an as-needs basis. You can’t have an old person on a six-week project full time, because they don’t want to do it and it doesn’t suit their lifestyle. However, they may have a range of functional skills that you can pull in one day a week or for a couple of hours a week. Our approach allows that; it extends the scope of people we’re able to work with.”
Ludic’s employees are not the only ones to benefit from this approach. Jones points out that the experience Ashcroft and he have in managing a disparate workforce and the tools they have put in place to create a community and maintain face-to-face interaction give Ludic a competitive advantage when dealing with large clients, many of which are very traditional and office-based.
“We’re winning awards for our SmartLearning platforms because we’re able to do it at scale and deliver a personalised experience, a very flexible experience for people,” he said. “We are getting results that are better than bringing people together face-to-face, because our platform is highly personalised and people can use it asynchronously on a Sunday evening when the children have gone to bed, and also be supported by online coaching and online virtual classrooms. The principles that we employ in the business are now moving into the way we deliver very large programs.”