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  • Nicky Webster-Hart

How to effectively leverage flexible working models

Now that teams have settled into the ‘new normal’, hiring levels are well and truly back at pre-pandemic levels. Flexibility is top of candidates’ wish list, and no matter what happens with the world, this is something that they’re not prepared to compromise on. Flexible working options that don’t offer choice simply won’t do in today’s candidate led market.

During the pandemic, many have achieved a work/life balance that just wasn’t possible when they were commuting every day and confined to their office desk 40+hours a week. They’ve enjoyed working their hours flexibly, allowing them to have more time for themselves and their family, and they don’t want to give that up. Flexibility is so highly prized that candidates are turning down jobs that require them to be in the office five days a week. If an employer doesn’t offer the flexible working arrangements they want, they’ll simply wait for another that will.

Necessity has proved to be the mother of invention when it comes to adopting alternative work models. What many employers originally anticipated to be a brief sojourn into flexible work is now going on two-plus years. Despite the lack of strategic planning put into the mass transition to remote work, a good percentage of employees across multiple sectors remain in some type of flexible work arrangement, at least part of the time.

To the surprise of many, the grand experiment of flexible work has not hampered productivity; it’s actually boosted productivity in some cases and yielded additional benefits for both employers and employees. Have innovative working models ushered in the possible end of the traditional day at the office?

Candidates want their time back, they want the freedom to choose what hours they work and to do more with their family, friends or even for themselves. They don’t want to spend hours getting to an office, nor do they want to squeeze their fitness regime or walk with the dog into a lunchtime slot. A lot of re-evaluation of what work means to employees and how they can fit their lives into and around it went on during the pandemic. Those businesses that fail to offer enough flexibility and remote working are struggling to fill their roles. The missing link here is that micromanaging a team and needing to see bums on seats in an office does not mean that your teams will be more productive. Far from it. Employees are experienced enough and can be trusted to make their own decisions about where they do their best work.

We have to start enabling our employees to make these choices. For one that might be working 3 days a week from home, for another a full week in the office, another it may well be fully remote. The key here is to have motivated individuals who have the ability to work where they do their best work meaning where they are most productive. Ideas may well flow through office conversations and in person discussions, but it doesn’t mean that this cannot also happen through online meetings, telephone calls or chat applications. Many international organisations have teams that work cross border remotely and who are also delivering results for the company.

There is such a cross section in the approach here. Deloitte announced in 2021 that it would give all of its employees in the UK the ability to work from home forever. Goldman Sachs wants to see everyone back in the office. The perception being that it inhibits relationship building. The reality is down to the divergent cultures of these two businesses and that is where the differences will lie. Businesses need to start demonstrating that they trust their employees to do the work and the results will speak for themselves. Relationships are formed wherever, as noted above, international businesses work successfully with clients and colleagues across borders and offices. The same with clients - a face to face meeting is helpful but conversations are still possible on the telephone and via digital means.

So let's go really flexible, how about bringing in a 4 day working week flexible working model?

Studies suggest working one fewer day a week can lead to improvements in workers’ happiness and productivity, as well as increasing access to the labour market and having possible knock-on benefits for the environment thanks to the reduction in commuting. In June 2022, the UK embarked on the biggest trial of a four-day work week in the world. More than 3,300 employees at 70 companies agreed to work one day less, for full pay and a commitment to keep up their usual productivity levels.

Whatever the flexible working model, organisations that want to meet expectations and remain competitive in attracting talent and retaining a high-performing workforce must continue to evolve their employee experience.

Adjusting to flexible work arrangements does require some innovation and upfront planning, but employers can gain a lot from the investment. Eliminating geographic requirements from job positions can widely expand available talent pools to include candidates in other locations and those with varying transportation access and physical mobility.

Flexible arrangements can improve work satisfaction and lead to improved retention for employers. As referenced above, studies have shown that remote work does not inherently erode productivity and may even improve it to some degree. By offering flexible options, employers can also save on costs associated with office space/overhead, attrition and relocations.

Depending on personal responsibilities and requirements outside of work, some talented individuals are lost to the workplace due to inflexible working schedules, hours and requirements. By embracing and offering flexibility through part time work, you can open up your opportunities to different working cohorts. They may be mothers returning to work, whether that is after maternity leave or after many years’ having a working ‘break’. This might open up the opportunity to offer working patterns to skilled workers with disabilities or neurodiverse employees who may not wish to work full time either or who are transitioning into the workplace.

In 2022, flexible working and wellbeing are top of the pile. It’s no secret that everyone from businesses to candidates have sought to re-think work. We are seeing candidates primarily asking about what the working arrangements are, over salary and benefits. Where candidates do enquire about benefits, the focus isn’t on company car or pension, it is about wellbeing and health.

Salary does of course matter but when a candidate is faced with two businesses that are offering the same salary - it will be the benefits that will sway them. So don’t think that you can offer flexibility and that a candidate will take a pay cut from their current role. Competition is fierce for candidates and businesses are pulling out the stops to get talent through their door.

If you want to ensure that you remain competitive in the job market you will need to offer flexible working, leverage flexible working models and to attract the top talent, in most cases fully remote. Flexible work opportunities should not be reduced to entry-level jobs! We need to offer them at any level so both men and women can make their careers work with their personal situation.

Flexible working shouldn’t just cover where you work but also how you work and when you work. Opening up true flexibility will allow you to hire those experienced, talented women who may not have been able to otherwise..

Hybrid and work from home options will allow your employees to spend more time attending to other responsibilities, without reducing their productivity or having to miss work. Not to mention, the improved work life balance thanks to spending less time and money on commuting can tremendously improve their overall wellbeing.

If you are looking for some advice in relation to recruitment and what you can do to position your employer brand to attract talent, get in touch with Auxeris. Our network of specialist recruiters are experienced at placing talented candidates, particularly in the most recent months. They are adept at building meaningful relationships with candidates and clients and will support you through your hiring journey. Get in touch today to find out more here.

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