It is often said that for new activities, or functions to unfold and grow, old structures must first fall apart in order to rebuild a stronger foundation. When such structures do dissolve, so the aphorism goes, one must then make room for the new in our lives, by letting go of that which no longer serves us.
These considerations have become profoundly true in today’s working world, a world in the grip of a once in a century global pandemic. And certainly Covid-19 has produced a crisis in workforce the world over, demanding a new way of looking at how many of us will earn a living. In the UK alone, unemployment benefits have surged to 2.7 million and with millions of people furloughed, those on zero-hours contracts but not getting shifts, or people on temporary unpaid leave from a job, the situation is set to grow worse.
It was not, however, a global pandemic that spurred Dave and Sophie Smallwood to form Roleshare, a smart matching site for shared roles that provides an easy-to-use platform for part-time workers to match mutual skillsets to full-time roles. In 2017, David was studying for an Executive MBA qualification at London Business School, during which time Sophie, then pregnant, was wondering how she would manage being a deeply present parent and a top-performer in her demanding role at Facebook. The solution – sharing a role. It therefore proved to be the arrival of a new baby, and a desire for sustainable career growth, which presented the couple with the hard fact that there was not a single outlet, network or site that provided a suitable destination for job sharing.
It was these, wholly familiar work-a-day set of circumstances – a situation familiar to couples and growing families around the world - that provided the fertile ground for the creation of what could be the next workplace revolution. Roleshare isn’t just about providing talent flexibility and fitting in more life in the work/life balance, Roleshare is also out to prove that there is a strong potential for productivity increases when a job is shared.
“While I was doing the MBA at LBS I came across this idea that diverse and inclusive businesses are more innovative and I already knew there was demand to share jobs,” says Dave. “It occurred to us that if you can solve this side of the equation, which is helping two people to get the flexibility that they want, you could also solve another side of the equation for companies, which is increasing diversity, increasing innovation – in short, that proving that two people in a role is better for creativity and productivity. Two heads are better than one.”
This thought was developed further when Dave took a class taught by LBS Professor Lynda Gratton which led to a discussion about the work and career preferences of Millennials. “Millennials want to move around and do lots of little jobs, growing their experiences and perspectives in an organic way as opposed to harnessing themselves to a single career journey.”
In March 2020, Professor Gratton agreed to champion and the company which is now enjoying the support of London Business School’s incubator programme run by the Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
As ever, communications is of key importance, and Dave is pleased that, for now at least, word of mouth, the support of LBS, and the publication of two national newspaper articles, is helping to spread the word. Sophie and Dave point out that while around 40% of Fortune 100 companies typically offer job sharing as a perk, less than 3% of their employees actually do it, so clearly more could be done to promote the concept, with businesses and people benefitting from the wider value in terms of attracting greater diversity and talents into the workplace, not to mention fortifying wellbeing and mental health. In addition, the journey the Smallwoods are on continues to produce more and more value and depth. “Roleshare offers the opportunity to help enrich the workforce, by growing diversity and addressing such long-standing issues as gender imbalances,” says Dave.