The illustration agency embracing flexible work
Jon Cockley is the cofounder of the fully remote illustration agency Handsome Frank. He shares why his company has been working remotely for the past 10 years.
Jon Cockley has no plans to move his agency to an office. After successfully working remotely for 10 years, he no longer finds it necessary: “We’ve always embraced technology to help us with this side of the business and things have become even easier over time.”
Rewind back 10 years, the idea to set up an illustration agency started in the pub. Cofounders and cousins, Jon and Tom, decided it was a fitting tribute to name the agency after their grandfather Frank. Their grandfather’s name reflects the family ties they strive to keep within their company. Today Handsome Frank represents 37 illustrators across five continents. They’ve worked with some of the biggest brands and agencies in advertising, design and publishing, including Nike, Penguin, Apple, The New Yorker and Google.
According to Jon, one of the reasons why illustration agencies still have offices in London is the quick access to clients. But Jon doesn’t see that as a reason to not work remotely. The close knit team is located in Brighton, London and Cambridge and they are happy to meet with clients in London when necessary. But working flexibly has allowed them to easily work with clients and illustrators all over the world. “It’s very common for a project to take place across three or more time zones, depending on the location or the illustrator. Our job is to be flexible with timings and schedules, but our location is less important.” says Jon.
“As long as we have wifi and a laptop, we can work from anywhere.”
As the team has been working remotely from the beginning, they quickly identified the solutions needed for good remote collaboration. “Finding the right software and systems was the key. Once we’d established what tools we needed for our business things were pretty straightforward.” says Jon. “Communication is also key, keeping everyone in the loop and making sure no one misses out on a conversation that might help or affect them.”
Jon points out that trust and motivation within the team is crucial. “You have to trust your staff to work hard and get their job done without anyone in the room.” says Jon. “We are also keen to encourage our team to work flexible hours, take breaks and exercise during the working day. It’s really important.”
A dedicated workspace in his home has made a big personal difference. “Yes, I’m to say that after 7 years of working in bedrooms, kitchens, dining rooms etc. I finally got a dedicated office space. I think it’s hugely important for mental health and wellbeing. If you work from home full time, you need to be able to close the door on work and walk away from it at the end of the day.” says Jon. “I’m much happier now that I don’t have a laptop next to me on the sofa all evening.”
One of the major drivers for working flexibly is being with family. The thought of missing out on his children’s upbringings was a big motivator for Jon. “The catalyst for me was becoming a Dad. I can remember when my son was born and I had to return to work (and a commute) after just two weeks paternity leave. I couldn’t get my head around how much I was going to miss out on. That for me was the spark behind wanting to start my own business and work remotely.”
Working flexibly has brought a lot of joy in Jon’s life “I feel that it’s helped my relationships with friends and family. Being available to meet with people, or drop in and help someone in need is great.” says Jon. “I also think working remotely has made me a healthier person. I have the chance to exercise during the day and I’ve become a keen runner and cyclist. I’m a great believer that problems seem infinitely more solvable after 30 minutes exercise.”
When Jon’s not with his family or exercising, he can be found in record stores listening to music or seeking out and trying unique new styles of beer by independent breweries.
“My preparation for a video call is a finely tuned three part process. Tidy the office (at least the part on camera. Sort my hair (or grab a hat) and I ALWAYS make a cup of tea!”
Visit Handsome Frank’s website here