Or, Being a Flexible Baby Mama Girl Boss
By Tori Thomas
Meet Briley! This eight pound bundle joined Harrison, my husband, and I on May 30, 2017. Preparing for a newborn is challenging. Add a move to a new city and running a growing business, the challenge exacerbates. It's tempting to act like these life-changes will not affect Circa. But every business owner knows that life and work are one in the same. Preparing for Briley's arrival gave Laura and I the opportunity to look at our business, our values and ask ourselves how we can do better.
Someone told me that deciding who to marry should be the easiest decision you ever make. Since business partnerships are often compared to marriages—requiring mutual admiration, similar focus, and corresponding ideals—presumably that decision should be easy, too. For me, forming a partnership with Laura was like that: it felt obvious and, shockingly, simple.
I first met Laura in 2009. Her portfolio, with clients like Real Simple, Chronicle Books, and American Songwriter magazine, was something I dreamed about in design school. While her work was excellent, what was equally impressive to me was her ability to calmly manage projects and clients while simultaneously raising her six-month old baby. (She might protest the calm factor, but I was doing a lot of babysitting during this time, and I can assure you that she and her household ranked high on the composure scale.) Observing her gave me hope that the theoretical work/life balance was possible.
When Laura and I formed Circa Design, we knew that flexibility was essential for our success as partners. It took us another two years to realize that it was equally important for our clients and employees. It was then that we formalized our principle of effective flexibility. Effective flexibility prioritizes personal responsibility and adaptability over rigid rules. It means taking the initiative to get work done efficiently, on time, and with excellence; giving clients complete confidence in Circa.
Being flexible with our clients allows us to work with anyone from a small start-up to a Fortune 100 company. It removes superficial limitations and gives our team the ability to find answers beyond the constraining yes or no. If our client needs an impromptu presentation, we can make it happen. If the brand identity we developed needs to unexpectedly pivot directions, we can help.
For employees, the principle of effective flexibility encourages us to use technology and processes that save time, which can then be used in productive or meaningful ways. For instance, we recently implemented a flexible hour policy. Our designers know what is expected of them and so long as they are meeting those expectations, they are welcome to take off whatever time they need. Laura and I understand that the success of our business depends on our team having the same initiative and consequently the same freedom as us.
All this feels especially appropriate as I sit here working while simultaneously feeding my two-week old baby in my new home (of three weeks) in Kalamazoo, Michigan. When I approached Laura with these two major life events—pregnancy and relocation—her response was to find a solution. She demonstrated the principle of effective flexibility, yet again, confirming why choosing to be partners was such an easy decision.
To allow me to find the new cadence of raising a child, I am taking three months leave. At the end of August, I will continue as partner and creative director with Circa working remotely from Kalamazoo, Michigan. Needless to say, these next three months will be ones of transition for me and for the company. We invite our clients to give us candid feedback on how we are doing and how we can improve. (This invitation always stands, but is especially important during this period of change.)
Holding Briley, typing up this note, I am so grateful to have a partner and a business that both challenges and encourages me to be the best designer, mother, wife, and individual that I can be. Though the nouns might differ, I hope Circa promotes the same challenge and encouragement for each of our designers, interns, and clients.