Building a better business for people


Mental Health


Written by

William Smith-Stubbs

November 2021

2020 had been a bit of a year.

On one particular week at the outset of the pandemic, we weren’t certain if there was a future for us. Yet, only a few weeks later that had reversed completely and we ended up with the best year on record.

This rapid growth had some downsides -  we were busy. Too busy. And by the end of the year the whole team was stressed out of our eyeballs.

Lee and I started this business - and the parent non-profit - to create change. 

Our mission is to help create a world that is fair, sustainable, and well. What good is it if the team is unhealthy as a result of that work? What does that say about us a business? 

Clearly we needed to make some adjustments to life at spur:.

In the early days of working together, when the Spur Projects team would meet in living rooms and burger joints, on weekends and annual leave days, we had to be creative with time. This included holding an annual Spur Smash - a sort of internal hackathon on projects and ideas for the following year.

So, on the last working week of 2020 we downed tools on all projects and held a multi-day Smash.

The focus: what do we want work to be like?

The result was a resounding wish for work to be calm

And, a bunch of ideas of how to help foster a better life through work:

Open leave

spur: has always operated from a ‘work where it works’ policy - want to take your laptop into the park today? Go for it. Want to work from the beach tomorrow? No problem. 

This works well, but the problem with people who love what they do is its hard to get people away from their work. And we know that’s better for everyones mental wellbeing. 

Open Leave is our policy to encourage people to take more time away. 

It functions essentially as unlimited paid leave. Everyone still gets their four weeks of annual leave - plus sick leave, etc - with an unlimited Open Leave resource on top of it.

Open Leave means you can take a day off when you need it, or a long weekend or more, without worrying about managing a scant four weeks of annual leave time.

Curiosity fund

We believe in the power of learning, not just for skills development, but to better understand ourselves.

Each spur: team member now receives an annual $500 stipend to spend on learning anything they want, and can be accessed whenever you want. 

You could use this to learn woodworking, graphic design, flamenco, Middle Eastern cooking - really anything you want. The only requirement is that you do a bit of show and tell with the team on whatever you learnt.

20% time

We’ve talked often about being a uniquely structured organisation: the non-profit is the parent organisation of the commercial company. Our roots are in social change and tackling the things we want to see changed.

In theory, this means that while the team at spur: work primarily on client projects, anyone could switch over to work on non-profit proprietary projects in spur:org. In practice, it became pretty tricky to manage when you have deadlines.

The 20% Time rule was a dedicated choice to carve out 20% of the week for existing spur:org projects (such as #OLDMATE for elder loneliness or LGBT+ decriminalisation project 123+) or to develop new ones.

Note: this is the one change we’re still mastering. But we’re getting there, slowly and surely.

Carbon offsetting

Part of our mission as a company is a world that is sustainable. Yet, our operations and lives produce negative contributions to this goal. 

We turned to Nul to offer the team carbon offsetting, covered by the company. Each month, an estimated carbon footprint for each team is offset with current funds put to work in mangrove protection in Vanuatu. 

Spur: salons

We’ve always known we work best when we can collaborate. Indeed, it’s pretty much how humans work best generally. 

Yet, throughout 2020 we were finding it hard to find time to put our heads together as we all got busier. Internal efforts, new ventures, and even just getting extra heads in on projects became harder and harder.

So, we came up with spur: Salons. Every Wednesday, from 3.00pm to 4.30pm is dedicated to the team getting together to tackle dedicated topics such as debriefing on a project, planning the team retreat, connecting our spur: Cookbook, or anything else. 

It acts as a good circuit-breaker for when we’re forgetting to check in with each other, and acts as an opportunity to seek help, get input, and not forget the other stuff on our plates.


I’ve personally always disliked performance reviews. I didn’t like them when I worked for other people, and I don’t like them as an employer. They often end up as a poor measure of someone’s contribution - like reviewing a film based on a few stills - and are typically structured in a way that demands the employee prove their worth. 

At spur:, once you’re in - you’re in. You don’t need to prove anything. More so, if anyone is having difficulty contributing, that becomes pretty clear in a small business, you don’t need performance reviews to figure it out.

So, performance reviews are out. Instead, everyone has a quarterly Campfire. 

The name is intentional, and designed to feel like stopping on a big long hike to check in. Do you have everything you need? How’s your equipment? Your mindset? What have you enjoyed about the journey so far, and what do you want to change? Are we still going the right direction for you?

There’s more changes too - including profit share - and no doubt we’ll continue to tweak and adjust how we operate as a business and team over the years.

For now though, I cannot say how proud I am of the company we’ve built so far, and the importance everyone places on doing things better. 

And I can’t wait to see what new ideas we come up with next year.

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