A year ago, we introduced flexible working at Social Communications.
Our flexible working includes colleagues being able to work from home as regularly as they need to; colleagues being able to choose their 37.5 working hours with the only demand being the core daily 10am – 4pm and colleagues being completely looked after by the business, should a ‘life happens’ moment happen to them. Life Happens is our company value.
I’ll be the first to admit that I was dead set against the idea of introducing flexible working. We are a small start-up business for which I invested a huge amount of my own personal sweat and tears in the first three years. The last thing I wanted was that to be undone through what I thought could become a culture of slacking.
You’ll hopefully forgive me for my initial cynicism.
You see, my working life began in London in the mid 90s where it was a school of hard knocks and inflexible working.
While my contract said my working hours were 9-5, the reality was much different with my regular working days being more like 8-7pm. That was the norm for most folk back then.
Such was the inflexibility and long hours culture that on the odd occasion when I was brushing my teeth, I’d forget whether I’d just got up to go to work, or whether I was in fact, going to bed.
And along my career journey, I’ve worked for one employer where you’d have to almost beg to have an hour off for the dentist. I recall one incident where I’d caught the norovirus and I was still expected to be on a two-hour client concall from my bed – bucket at the ready.
Thankfully our attitudes and my attitude are rightly different now and we embrace a culture where people not just like to work flexibly, but they thrive in a flexible culture.
And the past 12 months at Social has proven that.
So, here’s five things that I have learnt.
You might have gathered by now that this was not my idea. The original idea came from my colleagues Amy and Ben in the Bristol office. Two relatively new directors in the business who together with four other colleagues, led a three-month staff consultation process based on their own previous experiences of flexible working.
A small team of colleagues first presented me with the findings, and then it was presented to the business. My colleagues across the business had sense of ownership over the process. I was sold.
You know that culture of slacking that I thought would be rife if we introduced flexible working? Well it never materialised. And given that we have clocked up over 100 working from home days across the business in the last 12 months, we haven’t had one instance of any colleague demonstrating a behaviour that suggests they have slacked off. We’ve had one or two comical moments, perhaps misinterpreting the policy, but over overall the process really works. Folks can be really trusted.
We run a service business and we charge out time. So, I’m constantly looking for ways to improve how we commercialise the business and being both forensic and accurate with time recording and planning is at the heart of that commercialisation exercise.
I can honestly say that since we have introduced our flexible working culture, productivity has increased and continues to do so. That sense of ownership that colleagues feel by them, not me, introducing flexible working has spilled out into how they positively respond to delivering constant great work.
We have just recorded our best two months ever in our short six years since opening our doors. If I was ever in doubt that flexible working would impede on our profitability, then our figures in February and March and our overall financial trajectory for this year have put that to rest. Flexible working pays off. Period.
Okay, I admit that one or two people have moved on since we introduced flexible working, which I put down to normal staff turnover. But bloody hell, in that same time we have made some brilliant hires – all of whom have said that they had been attracted to our flexible and caring culture.
One such new colleague I understand was overwhelmed when I said to her that I appreciated that her being a mum and working was a tough balancing act. I told her that I didn’t expect to see her in the office until 10am and only after she had been able to find some time, just for her at the gym after school drop off. Being able to offer someone, something like that is important.
And there you have it. One year on and flexible working really works. For us at Social, there is certainly no looking back, and I think with working culture at large, there isn’t going to be the option for any privately-owned business not to offer it in the future.
My thanks go to those colleagues who convinced me it was a good idea to and to all my colleagues who are hugely invested in it. Thank you – it pays to be flexible.