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Can Flexible Working Attract Top Talent?
‘Remote and flexible working’ have become common buzzwords floating around the industry and an increasing number of companies are providing people with home based contracts. I do a lot of work within FMCG and this is certainly a common situation. A recent report by the REC revealed that one in three people in the UK have worked as a contractor, freelancer or agency worker at some point in their career, and 41% would consider working that way in the future.
CIPD research shows that virtually all large employers offer flexible working arrangements, as do 95% of medium-sized firms, 91% of small businesses and 85% of micro companies.
We have worked with some companies within FMCG that have stipulated that candidates be office based and we have struggled to fill these roles especially where role is based in central London. We have also worked with regional clients looking to relocate to London or the South East. These organisations are looking to create new cultures and generally want their people to be together in one location. It is a proven fact that organisations are more innovative when people are able to bounce ideas off each other.
As ever this is not a clear cut case, Marissa Mayer was lambasted by the media when she elected to cancel home working at Yahoo, but in a company that was in such terrible decline she needed to do something drastic, and it transpired there were some employees they had almost forgotten they had.
We work with many people who work from home or have home bases and there are advantages and disadvantages:
- Flexibility is a bonus for those with children or caring for relatives
- Less absenteeism when child / family member is ill etc.
- Able to juggle extra-curricular activities around work
- Cut back on commuting / dead time
- Less distractions
- Not having to get ready for work - re-directing that time into work
- Allows night owls and morning people to work when they are at their best
- Lack of team spirit
- Feeling of isolation and loneliness
- Much harder to build / change culture
- Difficult in a leadership role
- Lack of competitive spirit
- Staff development / skills upgrade difficult
- System / data security risks
- Costs of home set up / call costs etc.
But our experience suggests the following…
No flexible working at all is a problem. If your company has a strict policy of employees being in the office all-day-every-day and your company is reluctant to allow working from home then generally candidate attraction is an issue.
Candidates now expect a little flexibility. From personal experience, if a child is ill or you want to go watch them in the school play, a little flexibility is appreciated and is almost always reciprocated.
Generally, we do not see a great record of success for candidates who take jobs with a view to living away from home. For a short period this works fine (i.e. four months before the end of the school year) but as soon as this becomes permanent, for everyone other than a very small minority this becomes a challenge.
The REC Flexible Work Commission Report claims that “If there was one lesson to draw from the recession of 2008, it is that the ability to respond quickly to fluctuations in demand is paramount to business survival. Employment rigidity is a significant barrier to such responsiveness and was a very real factor in the collapse of many organisations.”
Enterprise Rent-a-Car found that “Rates of absenteeism are much lower with home workers and we’ve had just a single disciplinary issue across the whole home working programme.” While Alex Wilson, former HR Director at BT reported that “Flexible work breeds much better retention, so it has pound notes behind it!”
So what does this mean for attracting the best people?
- Senior directors are unlikely to be successful if they are not able to lead face-to-face
- It is crucial that your remote workforce are engaged and have regular scheduled days in the office
- For a company facing challenges and adversity, nothing drives better performance than a group of motivated individuals working well as a team. It is only possible to get those strong links when those people spend a lot of time interacting with each other face-to-face
- Most people appreciate flexibility and will be willing to reciprocate
- To attract top talent you must allow a degree of flexibility
- As ever… balance is the key.
There are no hard and fast answers to what is sometimes an emotive subject. However, in our experience if companies are flexible, most employees will appreciate that flexibility and will in turn be willing to flex their schedule to accommodate business needs. But for the benefits of building sustainable team cultures nothing beats good old face-to-face interaction.