Ben Gateley is CEO of Charlie, the HR software taking the market by storm. They help to manage the entire employee lifecycle, from their first day to their last. As our new partners, Charlie will be offering Work.Life members exclusive discounts to their HR software and consultancy business – giving small businesses access to professional HR Advisors. Rather than us go on and go about how amazing we think they are, we thought we’d chat to Ben and let him tell you a bit more about Charlie and what they get up to.
Tell us a bit about yourself, what were you doing before you co-founded Charlie?
My co-founder Rob and I had been running a social media agency (bornsocial.co.uk) for five years, and through that experience had realised the importance of people to any organisation.
We felt like the products on the market at the time weren’t really helping us look after our people better – it just wasn’t up to scratch. As our company scaled beyond being able to sit around a single table, we struggled to manage and take care of our people in an effective way – and we know other businesses that were having the same issues.
So we founded Charlie to solve the problem for ourselves, and friends of ours who had run into the same issue trying to run their own companies.
What does CharlieHR offer and where did the idea (and name) come from?
At Charlie we believe that while building a company is hard, running one shouldn’t be. We want to help small businesses run, build and change their organisations through beautiful software and HR Advice. Our software provides companies with easy self-service holiday tracking, time-off management, bespoke perks for their employees, onboarding flows and everything else a small business needs to look after their people easily.
We wanted the name to be personable, human, and gender neutral. So the early team riffed around with different names a little, we eventually settled on Charlie.
Can you tell us more about your new HR Advice service? Why did you launch this new service and how is it going to benefit other businesses?
We’re a small business ourselves, and throughout our time have always needed access to qualified HR advisors to ensure we’re taking care of our team and following employment law correctly. However, we found that the services that already existed out there were old-school and not appropriate for a fast-growing business.
The amount of time and money that we’ve wasted when we got some difficult team member situations wrong was really frustrating because they could have been handled more efficiently and better if we’d had the right advice at the right time. For other businesses – they’ll be able to save time and money in the same, inevitable situations as their companies grow.
We’ve heard a lot about the benefits of having business partners when starting a new business. Why do you think this is?
Building a company is really hard, having someone on the journey with you, in my opinion, means you have a higher chance of success – because you have someone to lean on, talk to and spar with. Bouncing decisions and ideas off one another helps keep you grounded and gives you much-needed perspective when you’re having a hard day.
What’s a typical day at work for you? How often do you catch up with your fellow co-founders?
There is no typical day. My time is defined by what the team needs from me and what fires need fighting in the business ultimately.
Rob and I have two meetings every week, with a strict agenda to make sure we’re covering all aspects of the business. We’re very bad at it, but spending time together outside of work is really important to enhance the co-founder relationship.
How do you manage flexibility and trust with your employees at Charlie? Do you have any tips?
Trust should never be earned. When you hire someone, I think you should be very clear with them that they have your trust – they don’t need to earn it.. They should never feel they have to prove themselves to you. When it comes to flexibility – I don’t believe that people want a blank cheque, they want to have the autonomy to make their own decisions within a framework that has been laid out by the company.
For example, at Charlie, we tried out an unlimited holiday policy for 3 years. You would think (and we did too at the start), that having no limit on how much time-off could be taken in the year would mean people would take breaks whenever they felt tired, and be more productive at work overall. What we found though, was that without any sort of guidance on what was or wasn’t an appropriate amount of time off to take, our hard-working team didn’t end up taking nearly enough holiday. Now that we’ve switched to a generous, but numbered holiday allowance, our team are able to take the holidays they want without wondering if it’s all alright.
What is the one thing you think many businesses get wrong about HR?
I think lots of people get trapped in the loop of ‘reactive HR’. Instead of working on bigger picture things that will really affect the culture of the company and people’s experience of the workplace, many people dealing with HR are stuck chasing an ever-growing to-do list of repetitive admin. It is, of course, important to keep the business ticking over, but it will probably never have a larger impact than that on the people in your team like proactive HR will. It can be really hard to break out of that cycle, but it’s well worth the effort for people who are keen to make their business a great place to work and to move towards doing ‘great’ HR. It’s the difference between putting out small fires constantly, and going out and doing great stuff rather than waiting for problems to arise.
Is it just bigger companies that need HR software.
No, 5 people is the right size.
Thanks for letting us pick your brain today, now for the quick-fire round we ask all our interviewees…
Morning person or night own? Morning person
Favourite film? The Holiday
Summer or Winter? Winter – mountains!
Sweet or savoury? Savoury
Cats or dogs? Neither
Beach holiday or city break? City break
Last meal before being jetted off to a desert island? Scrambled eggs on sourdough toast.
Work.Life is proud to announce Charlie as its HR partner. Once signing up, all Work.Life members will receive a free month of their HR software – making events such as on-boarding, holiday and sick leave easy – as well as their new HR consultancy service. If you’re a Work.Life member and are interested in signing up, please talk to one of our wonderful Membership team who’ll be able to help you claim your exclusive discount!