Updated: Jul 18, 2018
We only have one life. What do you want to do with this one life? [i] Incredible frustration can hit those who realise they are not spending their one life on the right things in the right way. Powerlessness and disillusion can follow if they think that working full time is the only choice they have, especially if they long for a different balance. But what if there was a solution? Not a theoretical one. A real one.
When it comes to part-time working arrangements, Germany compares favourably with other European countries, with only the Netherlands having more part time workers [ii]. However, in the past 10 years, the percentage of part time workers increased by a measly 1% from 23% to 24% [iii], and in that population the imbalance between men and women has remained identical, with 45% of women being employed part-time and less than 9% of men.
Germany has a male dominated work culture, and the status attached to having a full-time job means that men hesitate to seek part-time employment, fearing it may damage their career. The presumed stigmata associated to part-time working for men also means that they are less likely to be open to HR about their wishes. And there starts the Tandemploy adventure.
I met cofounders Jana Tepe and Anna Kaiser for the first time in 2017. We had a talk about their business and at the time, Tandemploy was already quite a looker. A trendy start-up having racked no less than 18 awards in the past 4 years, two female co-founders, an innovative proposition and enough cash to fund its growth. I met them again in July 2018, and Tandemploy had not just doubled in size, it had matured in a beautiful way.
Anna and Jana met through work. Jana worked at recruitment agency i-potentials from 2011 and Anna joined the following year. One day they received a tandem application on one of the jobs they were advertising. A tandem (or job-share) is a team of two applying together to one full time position. They thought that if they could industrialise in a smart way the facilitation of tandem applications, they could shake the old full-time job model and bring about social innovation.
Tandemploy started as an open platform allowing job-sharers to find one another based on profile requirement and aspiration, and together apply for full-time jobs. But it veered very quickly to proposing workforce matching services inside large companies seeking a way to introduce flexibility in their workforce.
“A rigid male-dominated job market really hurts diversity and businesses, and German HR teams in large companies often do not really know by which end they can approach this problem”
says Jana. Tandemploy offered its clients an in-house job-sharing platform at first, which then evolved into a full-blown agility platform. As Anna puts it:
“The digitization of the economy has not just disrupted industries. It completely redefines the way businesses work, the old hierarchic structures are ill-fitted to a networked workforce.”
“Workforce agility is not something you can make, you need to create the conditions for it.”
adds Jana. By allowing workers to find themselves a replacement, project collaborators, a job-sharing partner, a mentor, someone or somewhere to do a job rotation, Tandemploy makes workforce agility appear as an emergent, spontaneous and self-regulated phenomenon. HR is there to moderate the process and make sure it is followed and supported by proper work agreements.
On the business side, the case for Tandemploy is nothing less than tackling the profound transformation of society in the same way it has started: from the consumer up. The two founders report that their conversations often take place at board level. Board members realise that the networked society is ushering new norms of behaviour. But management, immersed in the day to day operations, often lack this depth of understanding, and seldom knows how to approach the problem.
On the human side it’s all about time. Tandemploy, critically, is not a platform that saves you time. It’s a platform that gives you the possibility to do with your time what you desire, unimpeded by social norms or prejudices. For those who doubt that this really is something new, consider this simple fact: 9 out of 10 customers of Tandemploy who have adopted job-sharing end up having mostly 120% to 150% FTEs. Job sharing does not mean a half a job for each, many job-sharing partners work around 32h.
Organisations adopting this sort of flexible conception of work do not only end up with more satisfied employees, they experience a much more resilient workforce. Partners tend to naturally complement one another, make agreements for vacations, cover one another when sick. Job sharing workers will actively search for a replacement if their tandem is going on maternity leave. An engaged employee is not only one who feels part of the adventure, but also someone who has lots of freedom in defining how the adventure will play out.
Anna and Jana advocate a vision where everyone has the possibility of allocating their time to what they believe really makes a difference in their life. “What do you want to do with this one life?” asks their manifesto.
And naturally Anna and Jana are themselves a tandem. Of course, as entrepreneurs they job-share a gruelling role. But by working 40h weekly each, they grace Tandemploy with an 80-hour-a-week CEO that can be in two places at the same time! Not a bad deal for them, a seriously good deal for Tandemploy!
“I don’t recall ever having to work on holidays since starting Tandemploy”
says Anna. Anna and Jana have become solid friends in the past 5 years. They have elaborated small rituals that allow them to continuously share information on each other’s activities, as a complement of the daily Slack or WhatsApp feeds. Anna tackles sales, finance and strategy, Jana does marketing, product and HR, but they easily cover one another when required, and they experience frequent implicit knowledge.
“After sharing our heads (and hearts) so much and so often, there are moments where we just know what the other is thinking right before she says it.”
Because after all, job sharing is also that, someone that will make the most arduous budget meeting the occasion of a pleasant moment of companionship. And isn’t that one of the best gifts of life?
Jana studied communications and economics in Münster Germany and Enschede (Netherlands), and worked during her studies in HR and marketing related roles. After graduation in 2011, she joined i-potentials, a recruitment agency specialised in digital workers and the start-up world. She is cofounder of Tandemploy since 2013.
Anna studied education In Passau to become a teacher. Entrepreneur at heart, she went on to cofound an alternative school in Bavaria, and an online shop for winter sport equipment. She joined i-potentials in April 2012, and cofounded Tandemploy in 2013.
Anna and Jana both live and work in Berlin. They have received many honours and awards, and were most recently jointly nominated in the Edition F award “25 women who revolutionize our society”.
[i] Tandemploy Manifesto.
[ii] Source: CBS: Central Bureau for the Statistics - The Netherlands has the highest rate of part-timers in Europe