These 2 Bold Women Turned Their Greatest Workplace Struggle Into A Company

Wednesday, July 18, 2018


Justin Biels 
By Justin Biel, trends editor at Grow Wire

In short:

  • After a fateful meeting, Anna Auerbach and Annie Dean cofounded Werk to make work schedules more conducive to women’s lifestyles.
  • Their business is the expert in flex-work schedules, offering a product called FlexMatch to address what its founders call the “flexibility gap.”
  • Through flexible work scheduling, Werk aims to redefine the way we think about employment.

When two people meet at just the right time, powerful ideas can take shape.

That’s how it went for Anna Auerbach and Annie Dean as cofounders of Werk, a company that’s pioneering the concept of flex-work schedules.

The Werk story started in 2015, when Dean was considering a career shift and asked her professional network to connect her with “the smartest women they knew.” The group introduced her to Auerbach, and during their first conversation, the women realized they had lots in common. Both were highly educated with experience in demanding fields. Dean was a corporate attorney on Wall Street, and Auerbach was the COO of a community building and advising firm.

“We hit it off immediately,” Dean told Grow Wire. “I knew there was enough synergy for us to start something together.”

The women, both of whom are also mothers, arrived at a hard conclusion: 


The workplace is NOT designed for women’s success.


In terms of career growth, women in corporate America face myriad challenges: a lower chance of getting promoted, struggle for equal pay, discrimination during pregnancy and lack of maternity leave time, to name a few.

Auerbach noticed the gender gap in senior leadership during her time at McKinsey & Co.

“My incoming class was fifty-fifty, men and women,” she said. “But when I looked up, it was only five percent women [in executive roles].”

Dean, meanwhile, struggled with scheduling when she came back to her law firm after maternity leave.

“I returned to working sixteen hours a day in a single location while trying to raise a young child,” she said. “But due to the lack of access to flexibility, my productivity took a sharp decline, and I wasn't able to contribute what I knew I was capable of.”

Auerbach (L) and Dean launched Werk in 2016. (Credit: Facebook/Werk) Auerbach and Dean

The “flexibility gap” problem

Auerbach had considered women’s workplace challenges for quite some time. And instead of fixing the existing work structure, she wanted to create a different one.

She and Dean concluded the primary problem was a lack of flexible work schedules.

The duo commissioned research studies that showed U.S. employees wanted more flexible work scheduling options, but employers weren’t meeting demand. The study found 96 percent of the workforce needs some form of flexibility, yet only 42 percent have access to it. And only 19 percent have access to a range of ways to shake up their schedules.

This statistical discrepancy is what Werk calls the "flexibility gap." The gap leads to all kinds of problems for companies, including an inability to retain female and minority talent, productivity drops, high turnover and employee burnout.

Auerbach and Dean’s study found the flexibility gap is more prominent for women, only 34 percent of whom have access to the flexibility they need. However, it was clear that both genders could benefit from a new work-scheduling paradigm. 


Werk’s time-bending solution

Werk addresses the flexibility gap with a product called FlexMatch. The system assigns workers a “flextype,” which is a description of their ideal work style based on individual needs. Then, at the corporate level, FlexMatch helps employers incorporate changes to help employees work on more efficient schedules.

Werk identified six flextypes, which employees learn after taking an online quiz.

  • DeskPlus workers perform best when they spend only a portion of their time in the company office.
  • PartTime workers do best when they organize their schedules to include fewer working hours without losing the benefits of a full-time career track.
  • MicroAgility workers need freedom to make small adjustments to their daily schedules.
  • TimeShift workers are early birds, night owls or anyone who doesn’t fit the usual nine-to-five schedule.
  • TravelLite workers benefit from reducing their travel requirements at work.
  • Remote workers work best outside the office.

Auerbach’s own life is an example of flextypes in action. As a DeskPlus worker, she performs best from an office but prefers the ability to work from another location some of the time. DeskPlus workers often vary their location to cut down commutes, increase creativity and manage personal needs.

Dean’s main flextype, meanwhile, is MicroAgility because she depends on making micro-adjustments to her schedule as the parent of a son with special needs.

"MicroAgility lets me tend to personal matters swiftly, preventing them from becoming major work-life disruptions,” Dean said. “And that ultimately means I’m able to spend more time in the office.”

To find your flextype, take Werk’s free flexibility quiz.

Werk is all about flexibility, right down to their yoga-inspired Instagram photos. (Credit: Instagram/Werk) Werk

Is flex-work the future of employment? 

Aurbach and Dean are betting on it.

“We need to take an ax to the idea that the workday is an unchangeable monolith,” Dean said.

Already, companies are using FlexMatch to help their employees work in the style that suits them best. Clothing retailer J. McLaughlin, for example, recently listed a copywriter position on the Werk platform that included “pre-negotiated flexibility” for the candidate. To apply for jobs like theses, candidates must sign up for a membership with Werk.

Werk's flex-work concept was created to support women, but it’s being applied broadly. The company's clients also include apparel brand MM.LaFleur, dating app Bumble and tech startup Bison.

With their cutting-edge approach to work schedules, Auerbach and Dean have the potential to create a massive culture shift. By tackling a problem they experienced firsthand, they have created a business with the potential to redesign the HR landscape. 

And THAT is an organization poised for growth.

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