Category: Pro-Opinion, Recruitment, diverse workforce, Business, agile working, employees
Flexible working - Are you ready?
Eleven years after the right to request flexible working (Right to Request) was introduced, initially limited to assist carers with young families or disabled children, we saw the extension of that right to request in 2014 to most employees.
Although some, such as The Agile Forum which was set up by Sir Winfried Bischoff to consider how UK businesses can support the growth of flexible working, believe that flexible working benefits the economy and should be embraced by business leaders, many still see flexible working as a benefit to workers and not necessarily as a benefit to businesses.
Many companies who have adopted flexible working are still trying to tackle just how they manage their agile workforce.
At Halebury, we founded our entire business model on the premise of flexible working which provides greater flexibility for both our clients and our lawyers. For our team, it is not about doing fewer days or hours, it is about being more effective and allocating your day or week so that you are most efficient. This gives clients cost and resourcing flexibility, which is a real advantage at the senior end of the legal market.
Recruiting, monitoring and managing flexibility is not always easy and I would say that it is a work in progress, because the basics are always moving. Most people want flexibility but from experience, I know that not everyone is suitable for flexible working.
When recruiting lawyers, not only do we look for a certain skillset, but also that they are able to work flexibly and remotely for clients. This is often a mindset rather than skillset.
In my view there are four main criteria for flexible working:
Output v Input:
We focus heavily on output and flexibility which gives our team the time and the right working environment to do this. Our lawyers are senior professionals who do not need to be mirco-managed and are highly motivated by being in control of their own working patterns. However we also align their remuneration in line with their output rather than hours worked. It is essential at Halebury that we recruit lawyers who understand they will be rewarded for outputs rather than presenteeism and businesses who wish to recruit flexible resource should look for staff who are outcome-driven.
Flexibility comes with responsibility and it is up to the individual to manage their flexible working arrangement and prove that it is working. One of the ways to do this is by being transparent, whether you are a consultant lawyer working within a client or whether you are the director of the company.
I am based in LA and therefore remote for a large part of the time and due to time zones wake up at 4am to be online with the team (flexible working taken to the max you might say). My team know I will be online at this time and if it looks set to change, I will give prior notice.
I work hard at being totally transparent about my movements and response times to manage expectations. I look to instil this ethos in both the lawyer team and management team at Halebury. To work flexibly as part of any team you need to be transparent about patterns, be responsive and always deliver in line with expectations.
I would question whether those who go off radar for long periods of time or require a great deal of chasing and monitoring are ready to work flexibly.
Often, flexible working comes down to the basic principles of trust and confidence. If you trust and are confident in your team to deliver work on time and to expectations, then where their location of operation and when they do it should really not be a consideration.
If you do not feel confident in someone being able to work on this basis, it is a likely indicator that they are not ready to work flexibly.
Flexibility for both sides
Finally, it is essential that individuals understand that flexible working sometimes requires flexibility both on the part of the business and the individual.
There may be periods when there may be a need to ‘flex up’. For example, my Head of Business Development’s set working pattern is four days a week, with one of those days being worked from home. However when I am in the UK, once every 4/5 weeks, she tries to come into the office the full four days.
That might mean slightly shorter office days for her that week, but we both hugely value face time and will be flexible to have that. Halebury’s lawyers also work on this basis and will often invest a lot of up front time in person with a client at the beginning of a project to ensure they are properly embedded in the business before moving on to a more flexible working pattern.
Flexible working requires management, but with the right recruitment ensuring you hire the right people with the right mind-set, along with strong incentive plans, it can be successful.
At Halebury, it has increased our effectiveness and efficiency, not to mention played a key part in our talent management and retention. As more and more businesses adopt flexible working practices we continue to evolve ours to ensure we offer the best tools and technology to empower it.
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