How “Work Anywhere” works: a Q&A with Mayke Nagtegaal, COO of MessageBird

It’s been over three months since we announced MessageBird’s new “Work Anywhere” policy, and the feedback we’ve received has been encouraging, inspiring and exciting! (In case you missed it: our Birds now can choose where they set up their workspace — literally anywhere they want, as long as it’s in the same time zone as their team.)

We’re proud to be one of the first European companies to pioneer a global Work Anywhere initiative, and we’re happy to share how it’s going so far. To explain further, MessageBird’s COO Mayke Nagtegaal answers some of our most commonly asked questions on the daily realities of Work Anywhere.

How did the idea of a Work Anywhere policy come about?

Back in March 2020 when the Dutch government first announced a coronavirus lockdown, we successfully transitioned our global teams to fully remote working in under 24 hours. Fast forward a few months and we started to ask ourselves, “Why should remote working only be possible in a pandemic?”

We brainstormed how an indefinite Work Anywhere policy could shape up; we then finessed it, finalized it, and officially announced it to our teams at the end of August. Ultimately, the shift was a decision to double-down on a culture of enablement, trust and respect. With over 50 nationalities, 8 office locations and more than 350 people, our Birds span a diverse range of life circumstances, values and working styles. We understand that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to support our colleagues throughout the various stages of their lives. But as a company, we can assist them by creating experiences, advancing careers and helping them to establish a work-life balance.  

How does Work Anywhere work in day-to-day practice?

The Work Anywhere policy creates flexibility for our Birds around when and where they work, because they know best what they need to get their jobs done. We don’t expect our Birds to commute daily to our offices during traditional working hours, and we prefer they have dinner with their families and friends. Work Anywhere redefines schedules — and the stresses associated with them — allowing for work and life to happen where and how you want them to. This could mean coding on a beach, taking calls while visiting family abroad, or coming into the office (when it is safe to again). “Anywhere” truly means anywhere, because we believe our employees deserve this freedom. The only caveat is that you must be in the regional time zone of your respective office hub. 

How do you track your employees’ working hours?

We don’t focus on clocked hours — we focus on “full-time” impact. Traditional “9 to 6” mentalities just don’t jive with us. Sometimes we work late nights or early mornings, because we’re a global company and business never stops. But that’s why we introduced the 80/20 rule, which gives each Bird the flexibility to manage their working time without it being at the expense of their personal life. The rule is simple — it means 80% of Birds’ daily working hours must overlap with their line manager and colleagues (and to ensure a healthy working environment and positive collaboration, Birds must still be in the same regional time zone as their respective office hub). Beyond that, Birds can adapt their schedules to best suit their lifestyles. This also allows us to focus more on output instead of “logging” hours behind an office desk. It really makes me smile when I hear of people doing workouts during the day, or I speak to someone while they’re on their way to pick their kids up from school.  

What is your guiding principle when dealing with your global workforce?

Look, life happens — we can all relate to that! And as an employer, we don’t want to make our employees’ lives more difficult. The real power of Work Anywhere comes in collaboration with our “Life Happens” mantra, which is a commitment to supporting each of our employees on an individual basis. The point here is flexibility over strict guidelines. Whether it’s moving abroad, building a home, starting a family or coping with difficult moments that we’ll all inevitably face, we’re committed to working through this together with our Birds, to find the best solutions for them and our company. Instead of defaulting to inflexible policies or procedures, we leverage a tailored approach to coping with life’s moments. This works for us because we always assume positive intent — but we also expect Birds to take ownership in the work they do and the responsibilities they carry.  

What does Work Anywhere mean for you, from a personal perspective?

I’m a relatively new mother to my daughter, Sara (1.5) and son, Max (5 months). Becoming a mom has been a significant shift in both my personal and professional lives, as I try to strike the right balance between parenting and running a business. The 80/20 rule has allowed me to adapt my schedule and have a more hands-on role with my kids at certain points in the week, and be able to focus on MessageBird during off-peak hours. People know I don’t answer calls or Slack messages between 6:00 and 7:30 p.m. because that’s my quality time with my family where I catch-up with my partner, eat dinner, and feed and bathe my kids. These moments are important to me and it feels great that people respect my personal needs here. And of course, the same “Life Happens” mantra applies to my MessageBird duties. If “shit hits the fan” or if this time slot is the only space in our busy calendars that works for the broader group, I will also adjust my schedule to make sure I’m there. Ultimately, I believe that as a parent, a partner and a person, making the most out of your career doesn’t mean that you have to put your personal life on hold! And it’s this belief that we’re committed to turning into a reality for our Birds.