Q How “flexible” should a flexible working scheme be?
We have one at our company, but I get the feeling that people are taking advantage of it, to avoid coming into the office.
Is there a line to draw?
A When I started work in 1960, everyone had to clock in at 9am and clock out at 5pm. They were only missing from their desk during their fortnight’s annual holiday.
Technology, employment law and attitudes have changed a lot, but many companies have failed to keep up. Old-fashioned workplaces will find it harder to attract the best talent if they expect every employee
to stick to the traditional 9-5 culture.
If you want the best person for the job, be prepared to fit the role around their lifestyle. Don’t expect them to totally change their life to suit the business.
Today, our office is very different. Some people arrive at 6.30am to have a session in our gym, starting work before 7.30am. The early starters might leave just after lunch, while some colleagues seldom come to the office at all; they can just as easily work from home.
But we like to see them from time to time, so that they keep in touch with rest of the team. Some arrive late on the days that they take their children to school, while others have a long lunch to do some shopping or jog.
By being flexible, we have a better chance of attracting the best people. It’s more important to get colleagues who do a great job in their own way, than to recruit people who like working to a rigid set of rules.
Our reputation for flexible working makes us less likely to miss out on potential superstars.
There are many ways in which we help colleagues achieve their work-life balance. Some can only work part-time, while others need to work from home, and there are those who start and finish at unusual hours.
We also have a flexible approach to holidays and extended periods of absence – not just for childcare, but sabbaticals, study leave and even to help an international amateur athlete train for a major championship.
Flexible working isn’t just for women. Dads may also need to spend more time at home, and plenty of people are committed carers.
It doesn’t matter whether a different work pattern is required to fulfil a home role, attend college, train with a sports team or rehearse for a drama group; the key requirement is getting the job done.
To make flexible working successful, the chief executive has to create a feeling of trust throughout the organisation. It doesn’t work if office-based workers suspect that colleagues who work from home are getting away with an easy life.
The culture must concentrate on results, rather than procedure. It doesn’t matter where, when or how the work is done, we only bother about the end result.
Despite flexible working legislation, it’s nonsense to follow rigid rules. Start with a conversation to establish whether the proposed way of working still fulfils the colleague’s role in the business. No one has the right to work in a way that suits them without making sure that it fits in with the business and colleagues. That said, a successful flexible workplace should do everything possible to accommodate individual circumstances.
But there’s a limit. It isn’t easy to offer flexible working in our shops.
We have to be open for business whenever customers want to go shopping, so branch-based colleagues can’t work when shops are shut – and certainly can’t work from home.
But we still have flexibility in the way that rotas are organised. We know who likes working Sundays, who needs the bonus and is happy to do a six-day week, and who spends every other Saturday with their children.
Flexible working isn’t just a good way to give working mums the chance to do two jobs at the same time – it’s good news for everyone. I’m convinced that flexible working is a major contributor to trust and personal wellbeing.
Sir John Timpson is chairman of the high-street services provider, Timpson, and will be speaking at this year’s Festival of Business event. Click here to register your interest.
Send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org