Building a talented team

Reality HR talks to about the policies and practice which brought it this year's's Top Employer Award for Talent Attraction.

Reality HR is not only promoting the business case for flexible working internally, but also externally to its clients. The HR firm scooped the’s Top Employer Award for Talent Attraction for its dual-pronged approach to flexible recruitment.

Everyone at the firm works flexibly, many doing different work patterns.  Four new members of staff started this year and they were immediately set up to work remotely. “We want to show people that we trust them,” says Laura Davis, who started the firm from her back room 10 years ago.

To support remote working, they have tools to record conversations so that work started by part-time staff can be picked up by others later on in the week.

Eighty per cent of the 15-strong team are working mums and flexible working works for them all. Some – mainly the support team – have set hours. Others are more flexible, for instance, one woman gets up very early and logs on straight away while others prefer to pick things up in the evening if they have had to take time out in the day. One woman works full time, but does school hours on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays and then logs on later to pick up urgent work. Another does 10 hours a week, with two to three hours in the office and four hours with clients. The rest of the time she works hours that suit her around her two children who are three and a half and 20 months, but there is normally a pattern to when she works which means her colleagues and clients know when they can get hold of her. The hours sound complex, but Laura says the firm has had nothing but positive feedback from their clients to the flexible working patterns.

Laura works full time and long hours, but takes lots of time off. “I have built up a strong management team over the last three years. Delegation works well for me and for them as it is a tremendous development tool,” she says. “I’ve seen companies where the MD doesn’t take holidays and the team is dependent on them. They tend to be too involved with the day to day. From a commercial perspective I think it’s important to empower other members of your team and it makes their job more attractive too.”

Planning ahead

To coordinate all the different work – and holiday – patterns staff are able to have access to everyone else’s diary. “We need to know what consultant is available to speak to a client at any given time as we are very client facing,” says Laura. It’s a challenge, she admits, particularly during school holidays, but it works and it pays dividends in terms of staff loyalty. “No one wants to leave their colleagues in the lurch so we plan ahead,” says Laura. She also knows that those who work reduced hours when their children are small can often increase their hours in line with business needs as their children grow older so for long-term business strategy it makes commercial sense.

Laura adds that externally Reality HR is trying to educate its clients about the benefits of flexible working. SMEs, with whom Reality HR mainly works, struggle to attract and retain talent, she says, and they need to think outside the box. “If they need a skill which is in short supply we encourage them to think what they can offer to attract candidates to them rather than to corporates,” says Laura. “They need to demonstrate how they are different and make sure they do not only search in the normal places. It’s a big education process.”

Reality HR begins this process with new clients by trying to unravel the business’ challenges and what they need to achieve their business goals. “They often come to us trying to replace like for like. They are replacing an individual, but not thinking strategically about what they might need in the future,” says Laura.

This process can lead to moving existing staff around to create a vacancy and supporting the client with the HR aspects of recruitment. Reality HR then focus on what kind of person the client wants for the job and encourages them to think about different ways of doing things. New clients have to take their expertise on trust until they have seen it work.  

Reality HR helps with initial sifting and telephone interviews of candidates. They often throw in a candidate who does not absolutely fit the client’s ideal criteria, but who they know would do a good job and is a bit different. “It’s like a wild card and it forces them to think differently, for instance, do they need someone five days a week and could they have someone working remotely. We want to challenge them, for instance, any mistrust they might have around remote working. We educate them about managing by objectives rather than presenteeism. If they manage people correctly from day one and set clear parameters and targets then they do not have to be in the office every day,” says Laura, citing one employer who was digging their heels in against homeworking. In the last nine months they have started to think differently and Laura says it is working very well.

She adds that many candidates find it difficult to talk about their flexible working needs at recruitment stage and sometimes end up to agreeing a work pattern that is unsustainable for them. It makes no business sense because they end up moving on after a short time. “Employers need to be more open about talking about agile working as part of the interview process,” says Laura. “If they want to attract younger people, retain talent and hire people of exceptional calibre they need to think differently about the recruitment process.”

" will publish a Best Practice Report in the New Year with full details of all the winners of its Top Employer Awards.

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