Seven things I've learned building one of Scotland’s most flexible workplaces

Atto's Head of Employee Experience, Karen Henderson, explains how flexibility can be your company’s superpower.
Published on
September 5, 2022
Karen Henderson, Head of Employee Experience
Finance & Fintech

If you're not familiar with Atto, we're a global fintech founded in Edinburgh, Scotland. I think we have an important story to share about our ongoing journey to becoming one of the world’s most flexible employers, and how flexibility can be your company’s superpower.

Both Scotland and the wider UK are incredibly competitive markets for tech talent in the credit and risk sector. In that respect, Atto punches far above its weight. As our revenues continue to show strong growth, our workforce is growing, too, and we've been thrilled to welcome some of the most outstanding fintech minds to our team.

To us, it's clear – because our team have told us – our unique advantage is that we offer a 100% flexible workplace culture.

We’re a UK headquartered company with our leadership team based here, but we’re also fully remote, with our people located across Bulgaria, Estonia, South Africa and Nigeria. Our team includes avid sportspeople who organise their work hours around training. Some of our people take “work-cations” that let them combine tourism and work, for months at a time, in new countries.

Our people have found uniquely satisfying ways to balance their work and personal lives, and we’re proud to have been named one of Scotland's Top 10 Flexible Employers two years running.

Why so flexible?

Why have we put flexibility at the heart of our business? The real question is, why would any company not do so? Following the pandemic, employees have been under unprecedented strain. They now know that there are options to the ways in which they work, and they’re voting with their feet.

Across industries, people are more assured about what they expect from an employer and their policies. New surveys are proving what we suspected: flexibility is now more valued than salary. According to a 2021 survey of more than 5,000 knowledge workers in five countries, 59% of respondents said flexibility and autonomy meant more to them than financial reward. Clearly, companies must think creatively about to support their people and encourage their best work.

We went all-flexible during the pandemic, phasing out our central offices and rolling out the technology and the HR policies to go 100% remote. Our difference is that we didn’t roll it all back when restrictions eased. We never enforced a hybrid model with an obligatory number of in-office days.

This was the right move, and that’s become even clearer from watching other companies who did impose rigid, back-to-work hybrid models – many of them have lost great people as a result.

What about in-person contact for employees?

We haven’t forgotten the value to the business or our people from meeting in person. We hold regular gatherings where our team can get together, network and socialise. These all-hands meet-ups are funded by the company and give all our people the option to come to Edinburgh.

We give lots of notice, so everyone can make the adjustments for home and life, attend, and be fully present. Meeting colleagues is an important re-charge, and it builds that all-important sense of purpose across our company.

Making the list: Scotland’s Top 10 Flexible Employers

Following our second year making Scotland’s Top 10 Flexible Employers, we figured it was the perfect time to talk more about what flexibility means at Atto. We ran a new communications and education initiative called the Seven Truths about Flexibility. To create the truths, we consulted widely with our people, including our leadership and team members who’ve been especially creative with flexibility. We also researched the market, consulted thought leaders in flexible work cultures, and absorbed the lessons learned.

Our seven flexible truths

Flexible conversations

We don’t hide our flexibility – we’re vocal and transparent about it and discuss it with candidates. New hires enjoy flexibility from the start and are never asked to justify the need.

Flexible learning

We equip and upskill managers and leaders to learn to lead from a place of trust, including recognising any of their learned behaviours or biases around flexibility.

Flexible technology

We use technologies including Outlook and Slack to enable high visibility and high productivity. We encourage a culture of calendar sharing. Teams decide collaboratively on the schedule for group meetings and events.

Flexible paperwork

Contracts contain weekly minimum expected hours but no set daily core hours: they may have adjusted working hours, may be condensed, part-time, or job-sharing arrangements. To demonstrate trust from day one, we’ve removed probation periods.

Flexible locations

Our people may live and work wherever they can remain productive and healthy. Our agreement with We Work offices globally gives them the option to explore the world and still earn and contribute.

Flexible relationships

We designed our flexible working for the majority. Some team members may struggle with the trust equation and make mis-steps at first. But we’ll work with them and all our team to make flexibility work. The choice to work flexibly won’t be removed, even if other team members stumble.

Flexible gatherings

Our semi-annual team gatherings and ad-hoc individual team meetings provide a recharge and a change from the day-to-day. When colleagues meet, it provides fuel for the tank.


Documenting our flexibility like this is an important step. It holds us accountable. It also makes ‘flexibility’ real – it’s not a nebulous term that our people hear, without being sure what it means for them.

We want our people to be truly fulfilled working here, because it helps make us a strong, resilient, high-performing business. Since going fully flexible, we’ve seen that our people not only provide more discretionary effort, they also become vocal advocates of the business. A significant portion of Atto’s new business now comes from referrals from our own team members.

What’s becoming clear is that flexibility is the enabler of our performance and the engine for our growth. That’s because people give their best when they’re happy. Our Employer Net Promoter Scores, drawn from our weekly Office Vibe internal pulse, shows that Atto strongly outperforms our industry benchmark, with an ENPS of almost double the average for financial and services companies. That’s the kind of result that can power us to the next stage of growth, and beyond.

The real question for leadership teams everywhere is this: can you afford not to embrace flexibility? It could make all the difference to retaining your best people, and reaching your full potential.

Karen Henderson is Head of Employee Experience at Atto

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