Karen Ovenden, co-founder and operations director of recruitment technology provider Hireserve, explains how the award-winning firm is taking its flexible approach even further.
Embracing flexible working has brought great benefit to our business. In the early days, when we took our first, tentative steps towards employing staff, it enabled us to appoint a number of highly skilled working parents on a part-time basis. Seven years on, with larger offices, continued growth and an expanding customer base, our agile working practices have continued to help us attract and retain talent. Our support of flexible working forms the base of our company culture, and has twice been recognised by the Workingmums.co.uk awards. As a small business leader, I frequently try to promote the fact that SMEs can make a viable business case for flexible working.
Now, however, I want to focus on the issue of true agility, and why flexible working needs to rise above and beyond formal policies. Some employers have fallen into the trap of rigid flexibility, strangulated by a fixation on core hours or the belief that only those with caring responsibilities should take up opportunities. Whilst it is imperative to ensure that all team members are treated consistently, fairly and respectfully, I believe that to achieve true flexibility, and to reap benefits for both business and staff, a more holistic, personal and informal approach must be taken. For many, be it because of apprehension, lack of understanding or loss of senior buy-in, I fear that flexible working is chained by rigid guidelines or policies.
One size doesn’t fit all
As is the case for many businesses, our team dynamic is diverse, ranging from working parents to recent graduates. Each person harbours their own commitments and priorities. As such, it seems natural to me that flexible working must adapt to individual circumstances, from variable start and finish times to fit around the school run, or to ease lengthy commutes around peak travel times, to ad-hoc requests. It is the employee’s responsibility to rearrange priorities and manage their workload so that the business doesn’t suffer, and it’s my role to support and trust them to do so.
I strongly believe that this kind of personal approach doesn’t work if flexible working is bound by inflexible policies. Innovative, agile working must be an evolving process. As team members grow and their personal lives develop, their relationship with our business will also change. It is so important to acknowledge this, and to adapt flexible working practices to reflect changing staff needs. If flexible working is tied up in predetermined rules and regulations, the scope for change and development is lost.
I am an advocate for good, practical, workable policies which offer a framework for practice and protect all parties – ours are reviewed regularly to ensure they are fit for purpose. We have the framework and protections should we need them, which work specifically for our business and our team. For some readers, the reaction might be, ‘Okay, but as a smaller organisation it’s easier for Hireserve.’ And in some ways they would be right. I know all of our team well. We operate a very relaxed, trusting culture, whereby the proverbial door is always open. I have the freedom and closeness to respond rapidly to requests; to collect a sick child, pick up a car from the garage or simply to stagger the day.
The key for all businesses, large and small, is to take a step back from the paperwork and policy of flexible working, and instead evaluate how it can have a positive impact on individual team members. A part-time working parent swapping a day in the office to attend a school event will affect a business’ core function imperceptibly. But the understanding and support of their personal life will have further reaching effects, strengthening loyalty and increasing staff morale. A team member staggering his or her day actually benefits our business, as we have extended office cover spread across the team whilst it helps the individual to manage his or personal time to suit their commitments.
Team communications about flexible opportunities need to be consistent, even if the ‘on-the-ground’, personal approach is favoured. Everyone, from board members to entry level roles, needs to understand how the business approaches flexible working. Line managers, team leaders, HR advisors – all those people who will be managing and responding to requests, need to be advocates of agile practices.
Recruitment and retention
As for tangible business benefits: one of our team (a full-time working parent) applied to Hireserve because we promoted our family friendly practices during our recruitment process. Flexible working has helped us to keep staff; a developer facing a long commute, another who had to relocate. Both combine remote working with a few days in the office each week. Flexible working has allowed us to grow at a sustainable rate and tap into the potential of working parents. Making part-time working a feasible option has made certain that our business benefits from highly sought after HR, finance and marketing professionals. And I am aware (and excited) that, as our business continues to grow, there will be new challenges and opportunities to offer our team true work-life diversity.
Ultimately by building our business on unique, personal and fair flexible working practices, we have developed a genuinely happy and motivated working culture. We are a growing business, we do expect a lot from our team and, without exception, they give so much. What I work hard to ensure is that there is no such thing as work-life balance at Hireserve. No choice, no balancing act. Just a fulfilling work and home life that can sit together, side by side.
Karen Ovenden is co-founder and operations director of Hireserve, which has been providing e-recruitment solutions to multinational, medium and small businesses and not-for-profit organisations for over 15 years. Two-time recipient of the Workingmums.co.uk Top Employer SME Award, Karen is committed to supporting and encouraging flexible working.
Main image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/sooperkuh/