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Offering a flexible, family friendly work environment where every member of staff has a career development plan has helped medical communications agency Synergy Vision scoop the corporate prize at this year’s Women of the Future Awards.
It was up against stiff competition from the likes of Unilever and Accenture. “We felt like the wild card in the group,” says Jill Daws, senior account director.
The judges stated, however, that “Synergy Vision has much that it can teach the corporate sector about how a professional culture, policies and practice can help people to flourish in a way that is both good for business and for the employees.”
Jill says she thinks SV’s flexible working model was key. “To us it’s more important to have the right people on the team then bums on seats five days a week,” she says.
SV, which is based in North West London, employs 27 people, 37% of whom are part time and 92% of whom are female. Two of them have moved away from the UK since they started, but the company has found ways to retain them which mean a win win for both them and the employees. “We worked with them on how to make it work and what kind of support they would need from the London office,” says Jill.
One moved to Dublin where SV has an Irish office and works with Irish pharma groups. The other moved to Australia. SV had been planning to expand into the Asia Pacific time zone so they saw the move as an opportunity to expand ahead of schedule and retain a valued member of staff.
While no-one at SV works 100% at home because the company believes it is important to build a team culture, several people only come in one day a week. Jill says they try to make sure people who are working together have some face time together and there are also regular social events where the UK team can meet up. The flexibility the company offers means people can increase or decrease their hours as necessary if it works for the company. SV will work with them to find something that works for each individual. Jill feels that management’s attitude to flexibility is vital and says SV’s founder, Ffyona Dawber, a mum herself, is highly dedicated to flexibility and “making work work for her employees”.
Jill emphasises that flexibility works for everyone. “It’s a two-way street. We find people will give more if you give them more. If we are able to be flexible around them they will be flexible around us. It’s about being fair,” she says.
SV was also praised for its career development which is offered to all staff. Every member of staff has a career development plan and the company sets aside £1,000 a year per employee for training. This can be increased if necessary and includes everything from financing an MBA to a financial qualification if it benefits the business. Employees get extra study leave and their course fees are paid. They also get a mentor to help them through a training programme.
Last year the company ran a development programme as part of its biggest hiring initiative to date. Five new members of staff took part and were rotated around different departments over a six-week training programme so they could get an overview of the business. They could also get an idea of how they might like their career to progress by seeing other roles in the company. “It was something we adapted from the corporate sector,” says Jill, “and it was a good way to get them up to speed quickly.”
Jill believes the company’s flexible business model and career development helps it to attract the right people in an industry where not enough women are getting to the top and that its culture sets it apart from the competition. “Some of the bigger pharmaceutical companies are losing huge pools of talent because of their lack of flexibility,” says Jill. “We are definitely benefiting and quite a few people have joined us after having children because they wanted more part-time, family friendly opportunities.”
SV hopes to capitalise on its award and work more with SMEs to show them the rewards of a more flexible model.