Yell.com is in the middle of a huge transformation. As with many industries, the internet has destabilised the market and a lot of what Yell.com, formerly Yellow Pages, do is online now, including its directory. It also offers new digital services, connecting small businesses and helping them promote themselves online.
This has changed the nature of the business and has kept the HR team very busy. They are hiring 500 new employees, including digital specialists such as website builders. They are also retraining many members of staff, including people in sales and customers services, and some people who no longer have the right skillset are being made redundant.
Nikki Jacobi, HR Director at Yell.com, says there was a realisation that the model the business had been operating for years was not right for the digital age and that the skills the company needed were different. “Most people are coming with us. We have people who 25 years ago were gluing pages together who are now building websites,” she says.
At the heart of this new model is flexible working, which is helping the company to recruit a more diverse workforce. “We have to fit the model around the employees you want to have and the best employees are not always those who want to work full time in an office,” says Nikki. Yell.com has a lot of homeworkers and offers term-time working. Her own team is very diverse and includes carers and mums. “It doesn’t really matter what your circumstances are if you are the right employee. We will work around that,” says Nikki. The company’s employee engagement scores have improved significantly on last year.
Flexible working is organised from a team perspective, says Nikki. So whatever is requested needs to work for the team. That means asking how the team can adapt if, for instance, someone wants to work a four-day week. “The important thing is that we deliver for the customer,” says Nikki. She mentions a training manager who wanted to work a condensed week. They agreed to be on call if needed on the fifth day and their team agreed to try not to call unless it was absolutely necessary. “It just requires good management planning,” says Nikki. “And there has to be give and take on both sides.” That means the person making the request has to think about how they would make it work. “The aim is to empower people to solve their own problems,” Nikki states.
Nikki admits that some teams face more challenges in moving to a flexible model and that there can be resistance. For instance, many of the sales team are moving to a remote telesales model, with staff being connected via Skype, but it is also recognised that some people prefer to be office based. Customer services also tends to be more rigid, says Nikki, but technology is enabling greater flexibility.
Yell.com’s HR team always encourage managers to have discussions before they make a decision on flexible working. Yell.com’s senior team includes two members who work flexibly, including herself. “It sends out a signal that we are open to more than the standard nine to five,” says Nikki.
She has two children and her youngest, now aged two and a half, was born with a heart problem. She moved to a compressed four-day week at the time to spend more time with him. Now on a nine-day fortnight, she says it gives her the flexibility she needs. She only takes calls on her day off if it is something critical and says she is very protective of that day.
Nikki is one of a minority of women on the senior leadership team. Some twenty per cent of the team are women which she says is not surprising given where the company has come from. She says there is greater gender balance lower down the ranks, for instance, in sales where women outnumber men. In first line management the balance is 50/50, but it falls to 30% women in second line management which involves more travel.
Yell.com invited a company in recently to do a report on gender balance. They interviewed women on what might be blockers to them going for career progression. Reasons included real and perceived barriers. For instance, women said they did not want to compromise their time with their children. Some felt there was too much of a presenteeism culture in their team and others blamed managers’ attitudes. “We can take as many barriers as we can away, get women’s voices heard and encourage more senior women to tell their stories to counter perceptions of what it is really like and to show it is possible,” says Nikki, “but sometimes you just have to make a choice about what is right for you.”
A big issue is confidence and Nikki, who is a mentor, says she wants to help women realise how much they have to offer and to encourage them to be heard. She says managers also have to understand women’s general reluctance to shout about their achievements compared to men. The HR team pre-screen interviewees so they can point out their strengths to managers. “That can help psychologically,” says Nikki.
The company is keen to attract more women and offers a good package for families, including childcare vouchers, a discount portal, a free helpline on a range of issues such as childcare, healthcare cover for the family, six months’ enhanced maternity pay and high retention rates.
“We want to create an environment that attracts the best possible candidates,” says Nikki.