Notes from Lithuania: What companies should mean when they say ‘flexible work’

When I began working at Leff, I was eager to carve a satisfying career path in graphic design. To an immigrant twenty-something (who tripped into the design world by sheer cosmic accident), this meant establishing solid footing in my field, making rent, and instilling flexibility in my life.

Through the snarl of the past few years, the standardization of remote work has become a silver lining. Hiring, onboarding, collaborating, critiquing, drafting, presenting, pitching, and even lunchtime gossiping have shifted to video calls, messaging platforms, and hyper-thorough work calendars. Our office ethos, fortified over three years of trial and error, is: work how you work best, so long as you do your best work.

I’ve committed to figuring out what that means for me: I’ve questioned my own workflows, tested new workspaces and hours, and begun to understand under which parameters I produce the best work.

For me, variety is everything. Not only does it expand my creativity but it also helps me achieve an ideal work-life balance. Sometimes that translates to going into the office and brainstorming with my team; other times it means staying home and spending every possible minute working on a design prototype; and still other times it means working in bursts, taking time to step back and refresh my perspective. Now, I set up my working days so that I can space everything out in a cadence that keeps me inspired, focused, and connected.

We use our Google workspaces to our advantage, and all project workflows are tagged and tracked, ready to be tackled when time zones allow. PTO can be used carefully and intentionally: the new year’s potential isn’t throttled by how many days I’m “allowed” to spend away from my laptop.

So when my mom decided to move back to Lithuania to pursue a medical degree, my first and only reaction was, “we’re going to need more suitcases” and not, “will I have enough PTO to see her, and will my boss approve it?” And my boss’s first and only reaction was, “Go do what you need to do!” Now, I’m writing this from my mom’s place in Lithuania, where I got to celebrate her acing her first semester with our entire family. My primary responsibility is to work fluidly within my teams and projects. The rest is flexible—including time zones.

This trust and flexibility have left me profoundly changed—especially having come from a job where my primary identity was (and I wish I were joking) an employee ID number rather than a name. Our entire Leff collective has blossomed through similar experiences, with everyone able to prioritize their lives outside of work just as much as within it. And the dynamic shifts almost constantly: as our lives ebb and flow, we need different work environments at different times. No one is compelled to work in any one arbitrary way.

Actually, the biggest shift in the past year has been the recalibration back to scheduling intentional in-person days. Our team is now located all over, including me, so there’s no pressure to set mandatory office hours, but we can expect a reason to want to be in the office if we’re local at least once a month, which is a huge distinction from a reason to dread going in for no reason. It may be a lunch to plan a large project, or a cocktail education hour, or a town hall meeting. Whatever the reason, the goal is to come together when we can do better work together than apart.

By prioritizing individuals over convention, we’ve grown without losing that sense of camaraderie, belonging, and fun. This is an approach—and a feeling—that I will take with me (and look for) throughout the rest of my career.

Cover art credit: original illustration by Ugnė Jurgaitytė

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