The Association of Women in Property South-West recently held an event along with co-hosts Osborne Clarke, around the concept of flexible working and whether it is the key to the future of the workplace. Guest speaker was the acclaimed blogger and writer, Anna Whitehouse, aka Mother Pukka. Over 80 attendees came to the event at Osborne Clarke offices in Bristol, to participate in the discussion. Anna, a flexible working champion who has presented to the Welsh government, Whitehall and the Equality & Human Rights Commission on the topic, gave some excellent examples of companies working hard to bring flexible working in across their workforce because they can see the benefit to the bottom lines of their business.
Coutts bank was applauded for the department where the team leader sat down with each team member and asked them what they needed to make their work life balance better, and then provided every single person with a degree of flexible working to facilitate this. 3 months down the line, and the team is happier and healthier, their productivity is up by 30% and their team secretary even got engaged! Stories like this remind us there is a human factor to all these policies - yes, it is about improving business, but it is also about recognising individuals, improving their lives and creating better environments for everyone.
Despite the fact many companies openly say they have flexible working policies, only 1 in 4 requests by women are approved - and the figure is even worse for men, with only 1 in 10 agreed. So it was excellent to hear a practical example from Omar Al-Nuami, a Partner in the Banking Team at Osborne Clarke who currently works a 4 day week. Omar explained how his team were all happy they were able to get on with work in his absence, partly due to the size of his team, and partly due to knowing that he 'could' be contacted if absolutely necessary on his day off. This is a recurring theme - the need to empower staff to be able to get on with work, but to also give them backups to fall on if needed. However it highlights another key point - how to ensure staff don't burn out by working too many hours, given the connectivity we now have in our lives means we can be accessed 24-7. Anna reminded the room that this comes down to the managers, who need to ensure they are aware of what their team are doing and are committed to balancing the needs of employees with the needs of the business.
The three key points to flexible working would seem to be honesty, openness and trust, and as Anna stated "if you don't trust your employees, then you probably need to have a long hard look at your recruitment processes because you are not employing the right people