Why flexible working makes business sense: 5 tips to modernise your workplace

It was certainly an exciting week for Brand Learning – on Tuesday evening we were awarded the 2013 Top Employer SME (for 26-500 employees) in the Workingmums.co.uk Top Employer Awards.

Winning this award got us reflecting on how the business has evolved over the years. Having a culture that embraces flexible working - a big part of what this award recognises - is not something that's created with one simple programme or process. When Co-Founders Mhairi McEwan and Andy Bird founded Brand Learning over 13 years ago they did something that was very innovative at that time – they recognised the commercial impetus for flexible working; to attract, retain and develop top talent. They saw a workplace gap, the talent drain when senior leaders struggle to balance their home and work life and find themselves unable to thrive on either side. Starting the company right from the beginning with the mind-set that flexible working makes good business sense is what helped define the culture of Brand Learning, with 'working flexibly' woven seamlessly in an adult culture of mutual trust and give and take. This is reflected in our day-to-day practices; the judges specifically mentioned that they were impressed by the diversity of our Board, and our Directors truly 'walking the talk' when it comes to practicing flexible working, thriving in an industry that holds a traditionally 'long hours' culture.

It's this culture that expects Directors to often work long hours to meet client needs on time – but at a time and place that best suits them, either with an early work-from-home start to then attend their child's assembly, or turning their laptop back on in the late evening because they had other caring commitments during the day. During the awards evening Q&A session a male member of the audience questioned why men in the workplace still find it difficult to ask their employers if they can arrive late to enable them to drop children off to school. Here at Brand Learning Directors would not be required to ask 'permission' to do this- it would be down to the individual to ensure they planned their workload to meet client needs. Subsequently, individual performance is assessed on achievements, not on if you are physically at your desk by a certain time each day.

The awards keynote address was given by the Minister for Employment Relations and Consumer Affairs and Women and Equality Minister, Jo Swinson, who stated that 'providing employee flexibility is about a modern way of doing business; it makes good business sense and employers are seeing this in both recruitment and retention figures.' We couldn't agree more, recognising that a modern place of employment is where flexible working self-regulates on the basis of positive intent and trust –which directly correlates to impressive business results and retention of a talented team.

On looking what has made the biggest impact on our ways of working to ensure a positive culture we believe there are 5 key areas which must be in place:

2 way Trust for a 2-Way partnership

Operate on a strong foundation of trust and maturity. In order for flexible working to work it needs to self-regulate – this is the only way you can create an environment of fair 2-way give and take.

Set the example from the top

At Brand Learning, 6/11 Board members work less than 5 full days per week and all practice flexible working, working from home as needed but equally travelling and working long hours as required.

Reward for performance, not 'presenteeism'

At Brand learning people are assessed on outputs and achievements rather than the number of hours we work or where we work. In order to build a culture that's based on performance, ensure you have a very structured performance review process in place, where individuals have responsibility for their own development with clearly defined targets and objectives.

Extend flexibility beyond working parents

At the awards evening one of the points raised was about every employee's unique blend of needs that will change over time. Andy Bird, Brand Learning Co-Founder, has recently reduced his work commitments to return to study to achieve a Masters in Leadership. This additional expertise can only benefit any organisation which flexes to support this continued development.

Keep innovating

Generation Y expectations and increasingly 'networked' ways of working was certainly hot topic on the evening. David Dunbar Head, of BT Flexible Working Services, spoke about the benefits of hot-desking at BT, not just the financial reward but the people engagement and ability to network.

To the last point, 'keep innovating', we recognise that we must continue to evolve when it comes to flexible work practices. We've been fortunate to have the right mind-set and culture in place thanks to Mhairi and Andy's vision when they founded the company. However, we accept that we will need to keep on innovating our practices to ensure we're offering fair and flexible ways of working that provide all employees the ability to blend their work and home commitments in a way that suits them but also meets business demands. Our Operations Team are required to be office based but have an Earlies system in place to provide some flexibility but we are mindful that we need to continue to evolve at all levels of the business around flexible working. The government delayed implementing the formal right to request flexible working for all (not just those with caring responsibilities) and this comes into play from 1st April 2014 which is another positive step. Jo Swinson calls it a 'modern way of doing business' – and to us, it's the only way to do business to ensure we continue to attract and retain outstanding people.


For more information about how Brand Learning can help you lift your organisation’s HR capabilities, please get in touch or contact me directly @NinaHoldaway. You may also like these films, perspectives and resources on HR.

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