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Flexible working at work

Nick Martindale

A man working inside time

Nick Martindale asks two organisations what it means to have the flex factor and whether flexible working has worked for them

The Government is extending the right to request flexible working to all employees from June 2014, and employers are preparing for an increase in requests. With flexible working touted as the way of the future, we caught up with two organisations who have trialled it – with differing results.

Andy Headington, CEO, Adido Limited

“I set up Adido with three university friends in 2003, with the aim of delivering better digital solutions for clients. None of us had ever worked anywhere else, so we hadn’t been exposed to many other businesses and how they operate. As a result we’ve got quite a unique culture and approach based around what works best for our staff and clients, and that’s led us to have quite a flexible approach to working hours and practices.

We operate core hours of 9:30am to 4:30pm because clients need to be able to contact us. But some people start early and go at 4:30pm and others people come in later and go home at 6:30pm. We’ve got about half a dozen parents in the office so some of them do the school run and then come in, and some days their partner will take the children in and they’ll come in earlier so they can get home and do bath time. Some people just aren’t morning people, so there’s no point making them come in at 8:30am if they can’t perform at their best.

Some people also said they didn’t want to work all week so we said if they’d completed their hours by lunchtime on Friday they could take the afternoon off. There were a few issues with people not telling their managers they wanted to do this, but that just needed better communication.

It’s still important for people to look each other in the eye and get around a table, but if the weather is bad or people have a particular need then we do allow them to work from home. We have a full-time employee who is now based in Wales and works entirely remotely. He’s managed by our technical director and they communicate every day over Google Hangouts, although I wouldn’t like to have that kind of arrangement for the whole company.

We know from speaking to our staff that they really value flexible hours, even higher than money. In the future I’d like to evolve it further; we have a bonus scheme where if the company does well people get a certain amount of money but we’re looking at allowing staff to trade that for extra days’ holiday to spend with their families.”

Dominic Irvine, founding partner, Epiphanies

“My experience of flexible working goes from failing at it to being far more successful. Our leases were coming up and we thought we could make it work without them, with everyone working virtually. The reality was that we just became more isolated and people were working more on their own, which eventually led to quite a serious position for the business because we just weren’t being effective. My business partner and I ended up going our separate ways, and there were people who decided it wasn’t for them and left. I found myself staring down the barrel.

The lesson we learned was that it requires an awful lot of discipline to make it work effectively. We’d gone from being office-bound and having regular meetings to being virtual, and we didn’t put in place the same discipline around meeting regularly virtually.

We realised there is no substitute for face-to-face meetings, so we implemented a regular meeting for the team every month. Although it’s expensive flying people in to do that, it’s far cheaper than the cost of having offices. We also changed our attitude to the importance of meetings. In the past if a client wanted us to do something we would have done it, whereas now there are times when we say it’s not possible because we need that face-to-face time. We also make much more effective use of video technology, using Google Hangouts and Skype, and have a culture of not picking up the phone to call someone but starting a video call instead.

Now we’re getting it right and it works better for us. We’re a consultancy so virtually all the time our people are out on the road with customers and clients. When we had offices we’d have people coming in but they would be tired because they’ve been away from home and they would be trying to catch up. It’s really hard to sustain that level of output all the whole time.

But working from home isn’t for everyone. We’re now going through an interview process and are recruiting people with virtual tools. We’ve realised we’ll have to spend quite a bit of time upskilling whoever we recruit to be able to work effectively with us. We’ve had to rule quite a lot of people out because it’s quite clear when you start talking to them that they’re just struggling to get it.”

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