Event: Flexible ways of working – a challenge or a breakthrough?
On Friday 23rd November Sarah Moore, Founder of Flexible Minds, a recruitment agency specialising in part time and flexible work for professionals in the Midlands proudly co-hosted their first seminar and networking event to stimulate discussion around the Flexible Work agenda in the West Midlands.
Joined by other local professionals we debated the challenges and opportunities flexible working can offer. There are well-documented benefits to flexible working such as cost effectiveness, staff motivation, increase in productivity, better workforce diversity to name a few. Equally there are questions, including career-limitation and difficult to manage dispersed workforces, which may deter both employer and employee from investigating the opportunities further.
We invited a range of flexible working advocates to share their thoughts and experiences, providing us with views from all range of the working spectrum, from employees, employers and change consultants providing an interesting and thought-provoking discussion to help delegates begin or enhance their journey outside traditional structures of working. The event concluded with co-host, Claire Nicol from Work Best, an agile working consultant, chairing a panel discussion with our speakers.
Our keynote speakers were:
Clara Wilcox from The Balance Collective, career coach specialising in working with parents returning to the workplace. Clara shared her top tips regarding the best way to make your work-life balance work for you. She reflected on changing work place habits; how the standard 9-5 work pattern was born in the industrial revolution as a tool to improve productivty within the industrial factories and yet despite unprecedented technological advances this outdated working pattern remains influential in modern day workplaces. She encouraged employers and employees to consider expectations, responsibilities, talents and outcomes to be the driving factors when implementing good flexible practise.
Carina Jheeta, Employer Lawyer from Spencer Shaw Solicitors provided an overview of the legal requirements for employers and employees when requesting or receiving a flexible working request; detailing the key legislation surrounding the “right to request flexible work” - a right available to all employees who have been in an employment for more than 26 consecutive weeks. Carina also providing an account of her own personal experiences, being a working parent and commended the flexible working culture that is key to the culture at Spencer Shaw Employment Law. By utilising dynamic cloud-based case management software enables the firm to attract experienced and talented professionals, who can work from anywhere whilst maintaining the consistency and superior quality of work.
Ruth Gawthorpe, CEO of Smart Working Revolution is a passionate campaigner for the implementation of smart business thinking creating smart workforces. Ruth discussed the stigma of the phrase “flexible working” often synonymous with being “different”, “individual arrangements”, “awkward” or confused with “part time” she explained that to bring about change to the future of work and society we need to focus on improving business outputs by implementing smart workforce models effectively, considering what options will work for the business. Ruth discussed several case studies of “smart working” initiatives such as split shifts, and remote working, including one company whose workforce opted for smart working initiatives instead of a salary increase and resulted in 13% improvement in productivity. She also countered one of the biggest objections to remote working, which is lack of trust of employees. When managers ask Ruth this question, she asks them: “Who recruited them? Why would you recruit people you don’t trust?!”
Tom Haworth (Founder) and Clare Streets (Associate Director) from B13 Technology, a Midlands based innovative software development company whose business model is defined by leveraging agile ways of working to give them competitive advantage. Tom explained how they manage a workforce across the world from their UK base meaning they can quickly deliver highly flexible, scalable, efficient solutions resulting in high quality and incredible savings. He described how they have been able to recruit a team of talented, engaged professionals, that they may not have been able to attract had flexible working not be available. Their focus has been on creating a results orientated environment and recognised that people do work well when they are next to each other but it doesn’t need to happen all the time and having a “remote working by default” approach, allows the time when they are in the office to be focused and collaborative.
Clare provided an employee point of view, sharing her own experiences, having an early career managing crews for super-yachts which might appear glamorous, fun, and well paid it was incompatible with being a parent. She spent several years focusing on her young family during which she undertook a variety of lower paid roles in an attempt to get back to work; an option taken by many in similar circumstances. She referenced a recent BBC report saying that there is a £1.3 trillion loss to the economy due to people doing lower roles in comparison to their skills and qualifications. She recognised she needed to retrain and applied for a place at the school of code, a highly competitive process in order to gain a place on an intensive training course or “coding bootcamp” to qualify as a coder and enter a career in tech. On graduation from the course, she engaged with B13 Technology and found their flexible working policies highly attractive enabling her to develop her career, yet in a way that allowed her to also support her family. She discussed how flexibility worked both ways; she has a standard work pattern but at crucial times within projects she was able, and willing, to do more in order to meet the needs of the project.
The event concluded with a panel discussion allowing the delegates to add their voice to the discussion and debate. Topics including considering different generational approaches and expectations and how this may change over time and how do we, as business owners and managers influence and make the necessary changes.
Event feedback from the delegates was very positive, deleagates found the event well thought out, effectively hosted with a good range of well informed and personable speakers as well as providing opportunity for networking. The fact that tangible case studies were shared was especially commended; being able to see how flexibility can work in practise was very inspiring. Another prevalent reflection was the fact that the event focused on flexibility bringing about competitive advantage and the benefit to businesses; not simply a tool to make life easier for working mums.
Many delegates asked: What Next? Wanting to see more examples of successful implementation and how solutions are achieved in companies of different sizes. There was a drive to bring about further networking opportunities for employers and employees to develop an inspiring network of like-minded professionals to help in the transformation of organisational culture.