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IT firm Hireserve talks to workingmums.co.uk about winning its Top Employer Award for smaller employers for the second time.
“Flexible working should be part of the very soul of a company,” says Karen Ovenden, a director of IT firm Hireserve. The company has just won the workingmums.co.uk Top Employer Award for smaller companies for the second time. The judges were impressed with what it offered employees and how the firm had built on this and embedded their flexible culture.
“A company can only be successful if it has people at the core,” says Karen. “The team we have drive our business forward. We genuinely care about everyone who works for us. It’s not just how you do your job, but everything that makes up our lives. It is important to engage with our team as people.”
Karen has a personal interest in flexible working. Her daughters are now 23 and 25, but she still remembers what it was like working when they were little. “I have never forgotten it,” she says.
”When they are little their well being is central. If I can ease a little bit of the stress for other parents that is a good feeling. Making life easier for people with families should be the essence of every business. It seems bizarre to me that businesses would not recognise that people have families.”
The company’s flexible approach starts from the recruitment stage. At interviews, Karen always says to candidates that she knows their personal life is the most important thing in their world.
She says: “Work clearly has to be a close second so there is no detriment to our business, but the benefit is that people who work for us know it is their whole being that matters.”
Candidates are interviewed by telephone initially and in many cases they bring up flexible working early on in the recruitment process.
One man, for instance, said he could not work on Tuesday but could do full-time hours because he looked after his sister’s children that day and was committed to doing it. Karen takes this on board.
“In addition to being able to do the job, we are looking for people who will fit in with the way we work. We need people who are enthusiastic team players. We don’t want clock watchers. We want people who have a give and take mentality.” She says the Workingmums.co.uk award shows candidates that what they say in their job adverts is genuine.
As an IT company which specialises in recruitment software Hireserve works with lots of HR people. “From a business perspective we get positive feedback when they see we have won awards,” she adds.
The Basingstoke-based company has a number of staff who work flexibly, although Karen admits it is easier to be more flexible with part-time than full-time staff, simply because there are more permutations of hours to play with. Employees include a mum who was looking for a challenging full-time role with flexibility.
“She’s brilliant at what she does, which is running the support desk, but she just needed some flexibility, for instance, if her son’s homework club changes.
We can adapt and the development team can pick up the calls or take messages if she has to leave early and she makes up the time or can pick up emails later from home,” says Karen. “We realise that she cannot leave her children waiting at the school gate and we don’t want her to have that worry and stress. We want to make it as easy as possible for her.”
She adds: “The flexible model is one that works well for us and if we scale up I do not see why we could not still offer this flexibility.
If you have the right team they will adapt to each other’s needs naturally. There will be give and take on both sides. It’s how you are with friends. We are very open and we’ve never had a problem.”
The company’s technical author is a sub-contractor and lives in Shropshire. “It works brilliantly that she does all the help documentation remotely. Another potential client could not get their head around how we could manage her remotely, but they have missed out on building a relationship with an exemplary consultant who I could not recommend highly enough,” says Karen.
Other members of staff don’t have children, but work flexi hours to avoid the rush hour. Two members live very far away and tend to do two days at home and three fixed days in the office although Karen is happy to consider flexibility in their work patterns too.
Hireserve, which has offered university students placements, has just taken on an apprentice as Karen has found trouble finding a web developer so felt the company could “grow our own”.
“It’s a great career opportunity,” says Karen, who takes a very strategic role in the business. That means planning ahead in terms of staffing and skills.
“I am always thinking about what the business requirements are and might be. For instance, if we hire a part-time person would they be able to increase their hours if their role grows. We sit down and think about what we are looking for in the long term,” she adds.
That currently includes a digital marketing executive and reorganising marketing to place a greater focus on customer care. All this is done through open consultation with staff and a discussion about what works best in terms of adding value to the business and finding the best person to to do the job.
One example of how this works is that the company has hired part-time assistants for managers whose workload is getting too heavy.
They can also consider bringing in another part-time assistant if people want to remain part time but the workload increases. “It’s not a job share as such.
We look at how we can adjust what we need so that each part-time role has a different range of responsibilities,” says Karen. It is a careful, well thought through process.
“We don’t want to just cobble together roles and say that is a job. We are very conscious of making roles that are interesting and challenging,” she adds.
The company is also developing the range of benefits it offers, such as performance bonuses. “We want to recognise hard work,” says Karen.
They offer a stakeholder pension scheme, cover some childcare costs in the summer holidays, offer a car and bike loan scheme and interest-free loans and have just started a gym membership scheme.
Karen says being an SME means they have to search carefully for something that works financially, but they realise that they need to offer a package of benefits that attracts the best candidates.
Karen says the proof of their approach is that they have never had a problem with absence and a manager who left earlier his year because he had a long commute has decided to return and Karen has amended his hours to help reduce the long commute in peak times.
“It’s good for team morale and shows we are a good place to work and we are delighted that his skill and experience has returned to our team. One of our Dutch colleagues described us as a family with gifted children and it does feel like a family. It is good for the business and for those who work here,” she says.