By Rich Brooks, President, flyte new media, Portland, Maine
My wife, Cybele, has an MBA, and an amazing head for details and numbers. I’ve always admired her business acumen. But even though I knew I could use someone with her skill set at my web design and Internet marketing firm, I was really hesitant to bring her on.
We were never the type of couple who could spend 24 hours a day together. She has a girls’ night out every week, and I have a boys’ night out. We thought that if we worked together every day, it would put a lot of extra stress on our relationship — but it’s turned out to be the best possible decision for our marriage.
Hiring my wife
I started flyte in 1997, and it’s grown to over half a million dollars in revenue, with eight employees.
I brought Cybele on two years ago, after she’d gotten burned out on her previous job. One of our project managers was leaving at the time, and we’d been outsourcing our bookkeeping, so we had a lot of work that would be a great fit for her managerial and accounting skills. I made her the marketing director, which didn’t involve taking anyone else’s position, but instead grouped together duties that had previously been handled by a range of people.
When I decided to bring her in, I knew it might be difficult for my existing staff, because any time you bring in a spouse, it changes the atmosphere and the office politics. I sat down with them, and told them what her role would be, and said that they could bring up any problems with me.
None of them have had any issues, as far as I can tell. Flyte is very flat in terms of hierarchy — no one is overseeing anyone else, and there’s a lot of collaboration. People go out of their way to support each other here.
To make the transition easier for both of us, Cybele and I worked out a couple of ground rules.
First and foremost, we agreed that she would leave flyte if things weren’t working out. It was more important to make sure that our marriage survived, so if the work relationship was creating problems between us, I could fire her or she could quit, and there wouldn’t be any hard feelings about it.
We also outlined our roles: I’m the boss at work, and she’s the boss at home. We talk things through a lot and like to make decisions together, but one of us needs to have final say. At the end of the day, I make the decisions in the office, and she’s in control when it comes to our two kids and home life.
Fighting in front of the children
Not long after Cybele started working at flyte, we had a big flare-up. I needed a quick estimate on something, and asked her to give me a ballpark quote off the top of her head. She wanted to go back to her office and research it for a few minutes. When I pushed her again to give me an estimate right then, she yelled at me and I was sure the whole office could hear her.
I asked her to close the door. Then I calmly told her that I knew yelling was expected at her previous job — that was how everyone communicated — but we had a “no yelling” policy here. It’s just not the vibe of the company.
I told her, “There’s no fighting in front of the children,” referring to the other employees, tongue firmly in cheek. Seeing us fight could crush their morale. They’d wonder if the company was failing, or if Cybele and I were getting a divorce.
She never yelled at me at work again after that, but it was a big shift from how she was used to communicating in the office.
Why it works for us
Before Cybele started working for me, her old boss pushed her to work 50 hours a week, and I needed to work 50 hours a week to keep building business for flyte. We were always having battles at home about who could pick our kids up from school, or how late we could work, so there was a lot of tension.
But when she came to work at flyte, she cut back to 30 or 35 hours a week, so now she can spend more time with the kids and do more cooking, which she loves. We can balance our responsibilities better, which has been really great for our relationship.
Now, she’s able to understand what I’m going through at the office. Likewise, I understand when she’s had a tougher day than I have. Sharing the work experience has helped us communicate better as a couple.
Hiring Cybele has really helped my business, too. I’m always concerned with making sure that people like me, but she’s more hard-nosed, and has firm processes when it comes to making fair decisions regarding our clients and employees. She was also responsible for bringing on two of our recent hires. Based on their experience, I probably wouldn’t have chosen them, but she explained her criteria to me and it turned out to be a great decision. We wouldn’t be doing as well as we are now without her.
A lot of people in situations like ours set up rules limiting how much they can talk about work while they’re at home, but we don’t. We both love our jobs, and we love the creative aspect of talking and brainstorming about all of our client projects. The only rule we have is that if one of us says, “Enough,” we change the subject.
Rich Brooks enjoys killing zombies and taking long walks on the beach when he’s not talking about search engine optimization and social media.
– As told to Kathryn Hawkins