Most of our work involves promoting our clients through thought leadership and media coverage but occasionally we get approached to talk about ourselves too. With the news that over a third of employees have said they would resign if they were told to return to the office full-time and that home workers are happier and healthier than those who are confined to the traditional office setup – our managing director Ellen Widdup was asked to write for The i newspaper about how she has made the fully remote and flexible Satsuma a success. We respect that they have exclusive rights to the content so have tailored the article for the purposes of our blog.
We will start with how Satsuma came to be. I am a single mother to three neurodiverse children. They are amazing, intelligent, unique and hilarious – but they are also complex, challenging and make me tear my hair out on a daily basis.
Almost six years ago, my husband and I separated. I can only tell you one side of the story here but for me, this news came without warning or explanation.
And so I found myself devastated, alone and frightened, wondering what to do next.
They say “necessity is the mother of all invention”. It’s an interesting expression but my God, does it ring true.
Throughout history, women have been instrumental in inventing solutions to the stresses of everyday life. The dishwasher. The ironing board. The windscreen wiper. Central heating. The disposable nappy. They are faced with a problem and they find a way to overcome it.
Back then, I was managing the pressures of having to raise three small and complicated people, feed and clothe them and put a roof over our heads, while pulling on every resource, every ounce of resilience, every part of my being that was struggling to put one foot in front of the other, let alone make mac n’ cheese and help with the maths homework.
I was spending half the week juggling a part time job in an office and the rest as a stay at home mum after a 10-year stint as a national newspaper journalist. And, like to many other mums, my career had taken a major backseat to my husband’s after we had kids.
As a journalist, I had been overlooked for promotion during pregnancy, found the male-dominated sector lacking in empathy when one of my children was ill, battled the constraints of office-based hours around childcare, and had my entire wage swallowed up by nursery bills.
I was exhausted and constantly felt like I wasn’t giving 100% to my career or my children. Meanwhile, my husband trotted off to work each day and returned to dinner on the table. I still wonder what was overwhelming about this.
For some time after my divorce, I continued to juggle a low-paid permanent position with part time hours. But then Covid-19 hit and I reached absolute burnout.
Mothering during the pandemic been covered extensively, from issues of economic hardship to unbalanced caregiving responsibilities and a bulging mental load. But this reporting, while validating at times, did nothing for those of us struggling with the pent-up fury of non-stop work.
So I made a decision. I quit my job, and with financial backing from another amazing working mother who invested in the business, I launched Satsuma. My intention was to create something entirely unique using the talented workforce that simply did not fit the typical 9 to 5 hours.
I knew it would work for me. I could flex and fit my workload around the children. But what surprised me was how much it resonated with other mothers in the same boat. Incredible women with incredible talents who had just been displaced from their careers because they didn’t conform to the old-fashioned office mentality.
Two years on, we have a team of 14, providing fully integrated creative services. Eleven are women. They include the former comms lead for the Red Cross, the former Lifestyle Editor of the Express, an award-winning regional journalist, a published author and women who boast influencer status on social media.
Nine of us have kids. Four of us have children with special needs. Others manage caring responsibilities for elderly relatives. I could stop and ask why the burden of all these responsibilities so often fall on the shoulders of women.
But we all understand the pressures of childcare costs and it has become a no-brainer for a multitude of nuclear families for one parent to sacrifice their job to take on the full-time responsibility of looking after the kids. Whether we like it or not, this remains the remit of more women than men.
So instead, let’s explore why, if we take on these responsibilities, we have to compromise.
And that’s what we have done.
All our team work remotely, but they also work entirely flexibly. Contracted hours are adapted to suit their lives, allowing them to build work around other commitments that are equally important – like school assemblies, yoga classes, dentist and doctor appointments, dog walks, you name it.
You may well ask what challenges come with being this flexible. The truth is, I’ve faced none. We have systems in place to keep people informed of where we are and when, we communicate all day long through Skype and have joined-up calendars that make sure no meetings are booked in when people have personal appointments.
What’s more, our clients love it. We have found that because we are all online at different points during the day, we work even outside normal office hours, and we use channels they are familiar with, such as WhatsApp – which makes us constantly available to them.
We have never dropped the ball because we are used to juggling many – what woman isn’t?
And our methods have won us a a multitude of awards including Gold at the CIPR PRide awards for Best Small PR Consultancy of the Year, an award of excellence from the Institute of Internal Comms, Best New Business in the East Suffolk Business Awards and most recently a shortlisting for the national PRmoment awards.
If that doesn’t suggest we are doing something right, I don’t know what does.
I know our systems are not possible to replicate in all types of businesses. But I do think we have set the bar for what a real work-life balance should look like.
And, with inclusion and trust at the forefront, we have a team that works harder for our clients because they are happier and healthier than they have been in previous positions.