How to use flexible working as a competitive advantage

Is your employer worried that flexible working will negatively impact their business? Find out how it can, in fact, be a competitive advantage.

We don’t know about you, but we’re tired of hearing the same old excuses reasons why flexible working won’t work for a business. Our personal favourites (having been personally handed these poor excuses) are “If we offer it to you, everyone will want it,” and “We can’t see how your role will work flexibly.”

The fact is that too many businesses today are still wedded to presenteeism; the idea that if your bottom isn’t on a seat in their office from 9-5 (or longer) you’re not really working.

This outdated belief flies in the face of numerous research that proves that flexible workers are the most productive, and that flexible working increases engagement and loyalty. And yet, still, too many employers refuse to let go of it, effectively shutting out a large number of talented, ambitious and highly capable women.

So we’re always delighted to discover and share positive stories of flexible working; case studies that prove not just that it can be done, but that businesses actually benefit from embracing a more modern way of working.

Here’s a perfect example (shared by WORK180) of a business building their model around flexible working, and reaping the rewards as a result. If your employer is baulking at the idea of allowing any kind of flexibility, we suggest you ask them to read it.

How to use flexible working as a competitive advantage

Building a business from the ground up gives the founders of a company the perfect opportunity to create a business where their own beliefs are front and centre. As Simon Tyrell, Chief Product Officer at LiveTiles, says: “You don’t change the status quo by tinkering at the edges. You take the model and turn it on its head.”

And, for LiveTiles, flexible working was the only way they were ever going to set up and run their business.

The founders recognised early on that to make great products, they would need a great team. And the people who make up their great team were going to be found in random places all over the world. These great people were unlikely to be living within the commute of one or two locations around the world.

While LiveTiles have office hubs in Hobart, New York and Ireland, they also have a globally dispersed team. Some of these people always worked 100% remotely. Others started in an office, and later moved to live elsewhere and work remotely.

Ivy (an innovation and experience analyst) for example, started out working in the New York office, then wanted to try living in Paris for a year. Of course the answer was YES, because it aligns with the LiveTiles values! Now, Evie works from her apartment in Paris in her own time zone.

Three simple values that guide every decision

Unlike a traditional set of values, LiveTiles employees live by three simple values that guide every decision they make and it codifies their unique culture:

  1. We are decent human beings – we care about people and our world, and treat our colleagues, customers, and partners accordingly.
  2. We get shit done – getting work out the door is more important than endless process discussions.
  3. We create unforgettable experiences – keeping our global family inspired and motivated, and on the platform we’ve created.

For people deeply indoctrinated in the Monday to Friday 9-5 paradigm, the idea that you are invited to do your work anywhere, anytime, anyhow could be confronting, and many may think that it would open the door to people problems.

You have no doubt heard all the excuses before (you may even have been o the receiving end of them):

  • How will I know what they are working on?
  • How will I monitor my team?
  • How will people feel included?

Poor performance is NOT a flexible working issue

LiveTiles believes that poor performance is a people and expectations management issue, not a flexible working issue. And I agree wholeheartedly.

Creating simple solutions is part of the LiveTiles DNA. These are a few things that have been done to future-proof this way of working:

  • Long recruitment cycles to ensure that new recruits will contribute positively to the culture, and also come with high quality skills.
  • Regular, virtual team meetings and contact with team members irrespective of your physical location.
  • Travel anywhere in the world to connect with your colleagues. To support this, LiveTiles has a dedicated apartment in New York available to team members to come and visit head office for a week at a time. It is all paid for by the company knowing that the cost of providing this perk is far less than the cost of recruiting over and again if a team member becomes disgruntled.
  • An annual, whole of company gathering – this year it was in Hawaii. The difference between meeting someone face to face and getting to know a person in real life is very different to meeting on the other end of a keyboard!

And it’s a strategy that has paid off. As Vanessa Ferguson, People and Culture global leader, says: “You will never leave a company if you know everyone and know their families. People are a worthwhile investment.”

Vanessa was employee #1. Once they reached employee #100 Vanessa put her hand up to start creating structures and policies to ensure that the values and culture that was created by the first 100 employees continues for the next 1,000 and beyond. And, so far, it’s working perfectly.

Christina Smerdon is Chief Flex Enabler at WORK180, an international jobs network that connects smart businesses with talented women.

Photo by Tim Bish