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With years of experience in the recruitment market, we have seen workplace flexibility, particularly surrounding flexible hours for single parents and women returning from maternity, from both ends of the spectrum. Here at DB Charles, we think more work needs to be done to improve the understanding of how flexible working can benefit an organisation.

A recent CBI report has found that while half of UK employers offer flexible working arrangements, only 1-in-10 job listings mention flexible working. Whether it involves working from home, job sharing, part-time hours or another type of flexible arrangement, it’s important both the employer and employee are open about what they are willing to offer and what flexibility they are likely to need.

The fact is that it’s not only employees who benefit from flexible arrangements. Flexible working can increase productivity, reduce absenteeism and enhance employee engagement, but there can also be challenges. We conducted interviews with a number of employers to start a conversation about the benefits and challenges associated with adopting flexible working practices in the future.

Heidy Rehman – Founder and CEO of Rose & Willard

What does flexible working mean to your business and employers?

Flexible working at Rose & Willard is a modern, practical solution to often conflicting demands of work and life. For many, work has traditionally been structured to fit with the hours of 9am to 5pm, but over time, this has extended and therefore started to erode time for personal endeavours. We don’t think it needs to be that way. We believe we can create a new way of working and one that is perhaps more efficient.

In the first instance, we work on the basis of limiting the maximum number of hours any single employee will work in a day, with parameters set from 8.30am to no later than 5.30pm with an hour for lunch. Within this, we also offer flexibility. If someone wants to work flexibly then we will look to find a way to accommodate that and this has created a number of opportunities for us.

We have found that it creates responsible communication within the team, with team members keeping each other informed about progress so as to ensure a smooth handover. It has also changed the way we think and approach the business. I believe it’s made us much more open to different ideas and trialling different approaches. It’s also made us more creative and resulted in a happier, more productive team.

Do you offer different concessions for employees with childcare requirements? How does this work?

Staff with commitments are given priority when it comes to flexible working. Those with parenting, grand-parenting and/or caring responsibilities are the first to be accommodated. Mostly this works around school hours and after-school care. During the hours these team members are away, their roles are supplemented by interns and other staff members. They get to take on more responsibility while I have the advantage of being able to more readily identify talent.

Are there barriers/challenges to offering flexible working in your business?

The main challenge to flexible working is that, when tasks are shared, it can sometimes be difficult to assign accountability and recognition in distinct and clear terms. Each person’s performance has to be more accurately measured. Another challenge is that any single person’s hours can’t shift too frequently as this can have the effect of disrupting the equilibrium. It requires more planning than would ordinarily be the case.

Rebecca Newenham, Founder of Get Ahead VA

What does flexible working mean to your business and employees?

Flexible working is the absolute core of our business. It is the reason I started the business back in 2010 – when I was looking for a flexible employment solution that would allow me to work around my three daughters. I always knew I wanted to employ other parents and offer them the same flexibility that I was looking for.

All of the (over 30) virtual assistants in our team work flexibly and remotely. Flexibility is one of the key reasons that they join our team. Many of them have decades of experience in their fields, but struggled to find part-time or flexible work that allowed them to use their significant skills.

With Get Ahead VA, they are able to work when and where they want. In turn, our clients benefit from top quality business services on a totally flexible, hourly, project or ongoing basis. It is this approach that won us the ‘Flexible Business of the Year’ at the mumandworking awards.

Do you offer different concessions for employees with childcare requirements? How does this work?

No, we don’t, because every virtual assistant works flexibly. When they join the business, we have an open and honest discussion about their family situation and their availability for work. When suitable projects come in they are offered to virtual assistants who can then say yes or no, depending on the project and their current availability. As long as the work gets done within the required time frame, it is up to the VAs themselves when and where they do it.

I trust the experts I have hand selected for our team to deliver for our clients and they do, time and time again. I think that by allowing people to work flexibly you actually get greater commitment from them to want to work, do a good job, and maintain their work-life balance.

Are there barriers/challenges to offering flexible working in your business?

There are no barriers to offering flexible working in our business as it is the very nature of our business. However, there are challenges to running a completely flexible business. Building a sense of team spirit can be more difficult, but we use social media, including a closed Facebook group, to share ideas and support each other.

I also organise regular team events. Although we all work remotely, it is nice to meet face to face and get to know each other better. I love listening to the team talk about our clients and what working flexibly means for them and their families.

Joe Glover, Marketing Manager at Genie Goals

What does flexible working mean to your business and employees?

Flexible working is encouraged for all staff. All our systems are cloud-based, so if staff need/want to work from home all they need do is arrange it with their line manager. We do like people to work in the office more than not, as it helps create a great working environment where we’re friends as well as colleagues – but staff can always arrange hours that suit them to match up with child care, traffic etc.

Additionally, a number of staff now work 30-hour weeks (most full-time staff choose to work a standard 37.5-hour contract), so they can do anything from accommodating the school run to designing board games as a part-time job! We also have a number of EU citizens who moved to the UK specifically to work for Genie. But we understand this can be tough, so allow them to head home for periods of a week or two to work from their country to ensure they get family support when they need it.

You only need to look at a retention rate of 94% to see how Genie has benefitted from fair, people-first policies. Our focus on staff, and in particular inclusion in how the company is run, has increased loyalty but also engagement; we’re more a family than a workforce, which has helped create a fantastic workplace culture.

Do you offer different concessions for employees with childcare requirements? How does this work?

Flexible working is something that has been integrated and accepted throughout the business, not just for those with childcare requirements. However, one of our working parents – Sarah Sutton – had the following to say about how this has benefited her…

“I am a working mum, I have a five and eight-year-old so flexible working is very important to me. Before working for Genie my experience of ‘flexible working’ very much followed statutory obligations. I could reduce my hours but there was still a very fixed working hours culture: my start time and end time were not easily moved; I often found that I had to book half a day’s leave in order to make it to a one-hour appointment; working from home was by negotiation and often turned down; I regularly felt guilty about trying to work my job around my kids.

Since moving to Genie it has really opened my eyes to how a genuinely flexible approach to work has enhanced my life. I now work a flexible 30 hour week, I keep tabs on how many hours I do a week but it is up to me when and where I work them. Mostly I work over 5 days but, for example, over the summer holidays I will compress my hours and work a 4-day week. If I have a school play or a parent’s consultation I can just go without feeling guilty and knowing I can make up the hours. The result is that I am happier, more engaged, less frazzled by parental commitments and just much more present in my children’s lives which equals far less Mummy guilt!”

Are there barriers/challenges to offering flexible working in your business?

The only barrier to complete flexible working that I’m aware of is the requirement to be available for external clients. We know not everyone works to a flexible clock, so we have to be mindful to not allow flexible working to affect the quality of our work: something we take great pride in.

However, internally I think flexible working is so ingrained into the company’s DNA now that I really don’t believe any barriers exist today. In many ways, flexible working is simply an embodiment of our culture. It’s a company that values trust and getting things done, our team takes this to heart and repay the company’s belief in their motivation to deliver, irrespective of where they are or at what time they are working.

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