Business-to-business publisher Incisive Media is making major changes to embrace flexible working. Hannah Uttley looks at the benefits for staff and the business.
One of the very first questions HR project manager Simon Lynn asked when he joined Incisive Media in 2008 was: “Do you offer flexible working to staff?” The answer was a resounding “no”. Six years later and the company has now decided to take the leap of faith and is investing in and implementing flexible working practices for its UK employees.
The business-to-business information provider has invested close to £2m in flexible working technology, new office space and furniture for its 560 UK-based staff. It also managed to condense its two office spaces in central London down to one on Haymarket. On average, the company expects to save £1.8m each year over a five-year period.
Chief Financial Officer Jamie Campbell-Harris says that the exercise has helped the organisation look at how efficiently it uses space.
Incisive Media employed consultants to work out how the firm was currently using its office space and found it only occupied a maximum of 60% of its desks at any one time because of people out of the office, at events or on holiday.
Campbell-Harris explained: “From a financial point of view, having real estate in London is clearly very expensive, if you aren’t utilising it to its full capacity then it’s a bit of waste of money that can be used to reinvest in other parts of the business,” he explains.
Service and collaboration
Meeting customer expectations and driving a more ‘on-demand’ service was integral to Incisive Media’s decision to switch to flexible working, as Group HR Director Stuart McLean explained. “We live in a 24/7 environment now, so we wanted to look at how we could supply a 24/7 service to customers. We need to have a real focus on customers; if our customers don’t get something from it then there’s no point doing it,” he added.
But the organisation is clear to point out the benefits do not end with the customer and the shift to flexible working will allow staff to work from wherever they are, be it in the office, visiting a client, at home, in a café, or anywhere that enables them to use a laptop and log into the internet.
It is hoped the shift to flexible working will also increase collaboration between different departments; collaboration that will be nurtured by having a new open-plan office area and communication software provided by Avaya.
During the London 2012 Olympics, the firm carried out a survey among staff to find out whether they would be happy to work from home during that time period. The results provided a catalyst for change, with about 87% of employees saying they would like to work flexibly. McLean added that allowing staff flexibility with their work-life balance is important to achieving optimum productivity and retaining key talent.
“It’s all about what you produce; it’s not about whether you’re sitting at a desk all day; some people can sit at a desk all day and do nothing. It doesn’t matter when you work, as long as you’re delivering what you’re supposed to be delivering to the correct standard of quality,” he said.
“We sometimes lose people from maternity, for instance; they don’t want to come back because working 9-5 doesn’t suit them any more. So there are going to be more opportunities for returning mothers to say ‘I’d be quite happy doing four or five hours a day, but I want to work from home’.”
But the project has not come without its challenges and one of the main investments has been trust. McLean believes that in order to make flexible working a sound business model, you need to have the buy-in and trust of middle management, but they also need to take “a leap of faith” and trust employees when they are not within their sight.
“I think it’s really difficult but fundamentally to make this work you need to trust people. If they let them down then you have to deal with that,” he said. Lynn said considerable time and investment is being made in offering managers advice and information through ‘better ways of working’ workshops. Managers are offered guidance and build an action plan to prepare themselves and their team to work flexibly.
McLean is realistic enough to admit that some employees might not adapt well to the new style of working. But with enough room at the new office to seat all employees, as well as a flexible working policy not strictly limited to the home and office, McLean explained that work will be more focused on what people produce, rather than where they go.
He concluded: “We’re expecting performance and output to improve. We believe if people are happier because it’s an environment they want to work in and they like the work, then they’ll produce more and they’ll be more loyal to the company.”