Working flexibly is good for business and can improve productivity

Working flexibly can make for a happier workforce and better business. Mungo Park of 52 Group explains how it benefits his company.

Over the last year or so we have hired a few people who have complete control over the hours they work. Working flexibly is not for every person, role or business, but there are certainly times when it works well for both employee and employer. Specific roles do require people to be available all working days of the week so for these positions, flexibility is limited and any holiday or leave will need to be covered. However there are some roles – particularly on the advisory or consultancy side and within general support services and operations – where it is possible to adjust the hours to suit the individual performing the role. On these occasions, picking quality over quantity helps. And generally when people have control over their job they are happier.

In many cases, flexibility actually creates more productivity i.e. you have a set amount of work that needs to be performed each week, or you have more ad hoc work that may be more part-time. Flexibility can be applied to work needed during office hours or work that can be done in people’s own time. We have one colleague who moved to the US but still supports us with various tasks each week – this works especially well when there is billable work that comes in towards the end of the day. The work is then completed overnight ready for when we arrive the next morning.

As an agency we work with many freelancers and this has definitely opened up our appetite for working with people on a part-time, short-term, or full-time with some flexibility on hours. Sometimes we simply hand over the reins and say ‘tell us when you can work, and no worries when you can’t’.

During the last two years we have worked with a colleague on the commercials and finance side who has been given complete control over how they work. She has two children and once they both started school she wanted to go back to work but fit this in around the school drop-off and pick-up routine (as well as half-terms and the longer school holidays). At the start of each week and month she lets us know her plans for her working time with the caveat that things can always change at the last minute. We then work out how to manage for the times when she is definitely not available. The downside to not having her around all the time is completely outweighed by how much she contributes to the business through her experience and knowledge (and the ability to do more in an hour than some previous colleagues could do in a day!).

I asked Rachel what our working agreement means to her and she said, “having stopped work after my children were born, when they started school I was keen to get back to work, but with flexibility that fitted around them. In my opinion flexible, part-time working provides the best of both worlds: you get back into the workplace, you interact with colleagues, you feel valued and use your brain (sometimes).  All this while still being able to do school drop offs and pick-ups, watch rugby matches and school plays, and of course, help with homework.”

Emma CEO of Timewise, the flexible working experts adds “the workforce and their needs have changed. nine out of ten people want flexibility in their next job. Yet our national Index shows that still only 11% of vacancies reference flexible working.With skills shortages a major issue for employers, being open to flexible working at the point of hire will give employers a real competitive advantage on attracting the best talent pool.”

In 2018 I completed the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses course along with a group of 35 other company owners. At the end of the course, irrespective of sector (sportswear, PR, education, software, recruitment, plumbing, fashion etc.), we all agreed on one thing – the most consistent and significant challenge facing us all is recruitment. Finding and hiring the right people can be transformative to your business; hiring the wrong people can be destructive and very expensive.

By looking into flexible working arrangements you will be accessing a range of people that are very talented and in some cases overqualified. Parents who are looking to return to work are decidedly valuable as they are able to draw on their previous working experience and have the maturity to deal with flexible working in a reliable and sensible manner. Of course there may be times when extra support is needed and people working flexibly often step up to provide that additional support. And on the costings-side, you can actually save money with fewer hours at a slightly higher rate.

If people are a company’s largest overhead, then hiring some roles as flexible and part-time opens up new possibilities and can also be less risky. It won’t suit every person or every business but some flexibility can certainly go a long way.

Mungo Park is managing director of 52 Group

Further reading: Why trust and accuracy are the keys to flexible working