Part 4/6: Investing in People at Out of Eden
Like any ethical business, Out of Eden places a premium on people, as well as profit and planet. Not just the people we work for – our customers – but everyone who works here. Out of Eden provides everything you’d expect from a business that values its workers, from a fair wage and the opportunity to progress across the company to a no work on the weekend policy that allows everyone enough time at home to stay happy, healthy and motivated. But it’s the culture of cooperation, trust and sharing that underpins everything we do at our workplace above and beyond our actual work that makes our business culture stand out.
It’s why our fridges and kitchen cupboards are stocked with sauces, condiments, milk, teabags and other essential items for anyone who needs them and why our management team brings in cake for everyone – all 80 plus of us – to share when one of us has a birthday. It’s why some of us bring in harvested fruit and vegetables or jams we’ve made and leave them in the kitchen areas as gifts for anyone who wants them while others bring in magazines and popular journals for others to enjoy during break-time. And it’s why we divvy up those jobs best done when everyone pitches in: things like cleaning up the kitchen area after use rather than leaving a mess for someone else to tidy up, tearing paper labels away from any plastics being batched and baled for recycling, and putting teabags and coffee grounds in the compostable bin.
All this makes for a welcome surprise to those of us who’ve come from more conventional working environments or corporate roles. Maria, our Operations Manager, joined us in 2016 and still relishes being ‘involved in everything. Septic tanks. Waste Collection. Sweeping the yard. Cleaning out the fridge. Everyone mucks in. I’ve never been in an organisation like this.’ Reflecting on the recent installation of a new conveyer belt down the middle of the room for the Packing Department, Maria comments:
There’s no decision made here without a proper and full discussion. Everyone’s opinion must be heard. In this case, we adjusted the height of the conveyer belt from 75 cm to 66 cm after checking what measurements were most comfortable for everyone. The workforce was engaged in every aspect of the planning.
You are what you wear
The above group photograph from our About Us page shows all of us – team members, co-founders and directors alike – as one big non-hierarchical team, together from our Out of Eden burgundy clothed tops to our black trousered, skirted and shoed toes.
For businesses as for schools, wearing a uniform helps to create a sense of fairness, equity and belonging. They save us time in the morning when there’s no need to worry about what to put on and they save us money when more expensive clothes from our personal wardrobes aren’t damaged at work. They inevitably limit the expression of individuality, but as a statement of company identity, they’re well worth some sacrifice to style.
That said, recently, there have been some subtle changes to our dress code. Rumour has it that our new MD Mike Gannon doesn’t think burgundy is his colour, as he always seems to wear black. Whether it’s because of this or last year’s feedback in the team member survey, we now enjoy a choice of hoodies and zipped jackets in black as well as burgundy that allows us to keep wearing the team colours while expressing ourselves a little.
But our uniform story doesn’t end here. All worn out items of uniform are brought to work, where we remove and discard all patches and labels showing the Out of Eden logo, and put the remaining fabric in a pile for recycling. This fabric has been donated to charities such as Barnado’s for cutting up as dusters and refashioned as dog blankets for a nearby animal-rescue centre.
In short, whether we’re wearing it, or done and dusted with it, our uniform says something about who we are. Underscoring solidarity and equality in the first instance and consideration for the environment and the others in the second, it reveals the care ethic for people and environment that is core to our business.
Getting there and carshare
How we come to work is equally revealing. We work and most of us live in a remote part of Cumbria in one of the remoter parts of England where public transport is infrequent and expensive, and the car has become the main way to get around. We also work in the wettest county in England.
This being the case, it’d be no surprise if most of us came to work by car. Whereas in the past, many of us walked to work from homes in nearby Kirkby Stephen, these days, as the company grows, some of us have to come from further afield. With a small site and limited space to develop that site, finding car park spaces for new team members could have become a major headache. Yet today, our carpark has just 30 spaces for a workforce of 80 plus and many of these are empty thanks to the enthusiastic participation of 75 per cent of us in Out of Eden’s car-share and walk/cycle to work scheme.
Here’s how it works. Any member of staff who walks or cycles to work is awarded 6 minutes’ worth of paid holiday for every journey made. In total, 12 minutes per day can be accrued in this way, adding up to an extra full week’s holiday for a full-time team member over the course of a year. Car-sharers benefit too, garnering three minutes per journey or six minutes per day. Dropping off a colleague earns them 1.5 mins each way. It all adds up to hours and days off or additional pay, depending on what the team member prefers.
Given that private car transport accounts for over 10 per cent of total CO2 emissions in the UK the environment is the number one winner of a scheme like this. For us, there are also the direct health benefits for our team members of walking or cycling to work. Team members save money car sharing too. Maria, who like other newbies is travelling in from relatively farther afield says:
I used to do 20,000 miles a year before coming to work at Out of Eden. Car-sharing means that I’m now doing just 8,000 miles. In practical terms this means, I’ll be paying less in car insurance when I buy my next car and I spend less on petrol every week. But there are other benefits too. With three of us car-sharing and no one wanting to be kept waiting, we have to stick to a schedule to be in for 8 o’clock and out at 5. This gets me home for 6, leaving me time to go to the gym, or fit in some yoga. It all adds up to a terrific work/life balance. Everyone talks about this, and increasingly, companies are invested in it. What we’re saying about it at Out of Eden isn’t so different perhaps. Just we’re rather good at it.
Investors in People
Since 2005, we have been signed up to Investors in People (IIP), an internationally recognised accreditation scheme for people management that defines what it takes to lead, support and manage people for sustained success.
The IIP’s maturity model considers three essential principles – leadership, support and improvement. Organisations are judged to be at the developed, established, advanced or high performing stage in terms of how successful they are in leading and inspiring the people within them to live by their values and examples by empowering and involving them; how well they manage team members’ performance with recognition and reward given for high performance and effort taken to ensure that work is structured; and whether they are nurturing team members’ capabilities, delivering continuous improvement and creating sustainable success.
So how mature are we? After successful reviews in 2008 and 2015, we are delighted to be able to say that we are have retained our Silver status to 2021, and have progressed to established level.
Meet (some) of the team
At the most basic level, IIP is about how well we retain staff, and whether they feel enabled, developed and empowered during their time here. It’s about people like Judith, in accounts, our longest serving member of staff. Judith has been with us since the day in the year 2000 when she became one of Out of Eden’s first team members, joining co-founders Janet and Ian in the converted milking shed from which they launched the company. She worked 2-6 hours per week in the early days – slotting in her role as book keeper around the children who were her priority. Then as now, Judith kept our accounts on track, while mucking in to do anything and everything needed to get orders out on time and keep things shipshape.
It’s also about Alex. There were 35 people at Out of Eden when Alex joined our purchasing division some 10 years ago. Her retail and merchandising background helped her to make easy work of our stock control and in recent years, she’s been looking after our European, Asian and UK supply chains while mentoring Charlotte to work with our international buyers.
Then there’s Charlotte, one of our ‘home-grown’ team members, currently sourcing textiles from Europe and the Far East. During the eight years she’s been with us, she has worked in compliance on safety data and on quality control, in addition to assisting Alex in purchasing for the past four years. Says Charlotte, ‘Out of Eden put me through college, giving me Wednesdays off to do a Procurement and Supply course in Darlington from September 2016 to July 2017. I’d heard about this course during a negotiation course I’d been enrolled on by Out of Eden.
I’ve learned a great deal from my studies, as well as from Alex, who has been a great mentor. Now I’m even mentoring others.
Getting there together
Like any business, Out of Eden relies on very nice, & friendly people with great skills to get the job done. Our main focus has always been about providing problem-solving products for our customers. We are now strengthening that focus by involving team members in an innovation journey for the company that will build our capacity to do this for many years ahead. New Product Champion groups introduced by Alex and Mike are about getting ideas from every team member over the course of the year for new products or new services and new ways of working. We are also engaging more and more with our customers and receiving around 40 great new product ideas a month. People are our best asset, and it’s our team members who will help us best meet the business challenges of the future.