It's the work-life conundrum we're talking about this time at SuperPod: The no-filter MSP show with Andrew Moon. After running a successful MSP company for over a decade, Andrew founded Orange Nomad to help MSPs, small businesses and entrepreneurs bridge the gap between strategy and execution. Andrew is also a serial entrepreneur who's been running successful businesses since the young age of eight. Yes, you read that right. With a long career like his, he's seen a lot on his journey to finding his work-life balance. Here's what he had to say about common misconceptions around the topic and how MSPs can adopt better practices to create a great workplace.
MSPs and the taboo of taking a break
Andrew draws a sharp comparison between the pre-iPhone era and the current tech-dependent world to highlight the changes in the MSP industry. As the dependence on the internet for business grows everywhere, the need for IT service players is now more than ever. Besides, the sheer 24/7 nature of the IT industry has led to unrealistic client expectations for MSPs to meet. Clients have a low tolerance for downtime or issues and push for instant fixes. This ultimately results in MSPs crunching and doubling down on their already demanding work hours.
It comes as no surprise that people from the channel work without taking breaks—they do so; because the market demands it. But remember that you can only push yourself so far without taking a break to recharge; you either stop yourself and take a break, or your body forces you to take one.
Untenable expectations: The thief of joy
The first step to a balanced work-life culture starts with setting reasonable client expectations. It can be tempting to overpromise to high-profile clients and get them to sign a contract. But it's important for MSP owners to remember that they hold equal responsibility for their employees as well.
Driving teams on a revenue-based goal is acceptable, but the goal shouldn't come at the cost of your employees' well-being. When you're negotiating terms, ensure reasonable working hours and after-hour commitments, with plenty of room for team bonding and recreation.
The E's of work-life balance
Your culture needs three things to work in tandem to create harmony—expectations, education, and empathy. Andrew draws insights from his decade-long career experiences to establish the importance of this framework. If your employees clearly understand your expectations and the client's expectations, they can plan their schedule accordingly. When you proactively educate your colleagues on the importance of maintaining a balance, they start to normalize the concept of self-care and mental well-being. The better they feel, the better they perform. When you start to imbibe empathy in your culture code, you'll see empathy being reflected in the service you offer to your clients.
But talking about empathy only from an MSP owner's perspective is just not enough, especially when it is the clients who demand more work. Andrew states that people who own MSPs are generally tech-savvy introverts who want nothing more than delivering a great customer experience to their clients. So, when a client starts to say: "Oh, but you've always done that for free, now you want me to wait until Monday to get it done?", they back out from taking a more employee-friendly stance. But, covid has turned the tables for everybody. People are a lot more empathetic and it presents MSP owners with a new chance to re-align the business towards the employee.
The hiring dilemma
Andrew cites another pattern he's observed over time in the way MSP hires. MSPs prefer people who are in it for the long run— people who they can rely upon and trust owing to the complexity of the tech and the plethora of clients they handle. But this bias keeps MSPs from looking at fresh talent that can provide value to your business. This means that MSP owners end up doing the heavy lifting on their own. Andrew once hired someone who previously worked at a hotel front to manage HR tasks. Well, if empathy and the ability to work under fire is what you excel in a role, then why not? It is much easier to teach about how a tool is used than to teach how to handle people.
People solve people problems
One of the most common mistakes MSP owners make is to throw money at tools hoping it'd help people feel better about their work. Sure, an OKR tool helps plan work better, but it is no match for the quality time your employees spend with their loved ones. Work-life balance is a tricky concept, and is by no means easy to achieve. But you'll be surprised at the impact little decisions like a 40 hour work week, mandatory mental health breaks can have on your MSP's success.
Set the right expectations, take care of the people who work to bring your vision to life, and be a little more empathetic in every decision you take. Work-Life balance will take care of itself!