Towards a global flex culture

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What does the future hold for flexible working in turbulent times? One organisation which is trying to ensure that it has the best flexible working policies both in commercial terms and in terms of attracting talent is global talent acquisition and management specialist Alexander Mann Solutions. It also sees the issues from both sides of the fence – from its own experience as an employer and from working with clients on talent acquisition.

The firm has recently been shortlisted for the 2017 Working Families award for ‘Best flexible working initiative’, part of the Top Employers for Working Families awards.

The shortlisting recognises AMS’ recent global flexible working initiative as well as its ongoing work on normalising flexible working – a policy which is led from the top and which embraces gender equality in the workplace.

“Leadership support helps to create the right culture,” says Paul Modley, Director, Diversity & Inclusion at Alexander Mann Solutions. This embraces everything from quarterly video messages on flexible working to leadership training includes a focus on normalising different ways of working. “It is part of our DNA,” says Paul.

The organisation was one of the early adopters of flexible working, but has been looking more formally at ensuring consistency and boosting take-up across the whole global business in the last year.

AMS has grown significantly in recent years and now has 3,500 employees working in 80 countries, including many different time zones. The need for greater flexibility has been a core driver of its global flexible working adoption programme. The aims is to place flexible working at the heart of its global operations.

The core of AMS’ global services centres are in places such as Shanghai and Manila which have traditionally not been associated with flexible working, but this has been changing in recent years and a lot of work has been put in to create management by trust rather than presenteeism.

Global programme

As part of the global programme AMS has been asking colleagues around the world what they want from flexible working and have been finding out the implications in different countries with different legislative frameworks so they can identify pockets what works best where.

They have produced videos of people who work flexibly telling their stories. Paul says: “Promoting their stories brings to the fore how they make different ways of working work for them, for instance, how flexible working can work in a very busy senior role. People want to see good role models across the business and to understand how managers make it work. There is still an assumption that you can only work flexibly if you are not at managerial level, that working flexibly, for instance, because you have caring responsibilities, affects your career, but that is not the case at Alexander Mann.” One of AMS’ directors, for instance, works four days a week.

In addition, AMS regularly gauges employee opinion about flexible working in quarterly internal surveys and through a Yammer group on flexible working. There are currently around 400 people on the Yammer group, making it one of AMS’ most popular Yammer groups. It provides a place where colleagues can share their flexible working experiences and offers a lot of useful insights about work patterns. The group is very active and those contributing include senior and middle managers.

Feedback from surveys show that In the past year alone in the UK, the number of employees who said they worked flexibly rose from 48% to 66%.

AMS is keen to keep improving what it offers. Managers keep flexible working patterns under review to check they are working for the employee and the business. Exit interviews also provide useful information on where there might be room for improvement. “We want to understand what good looks like,” says Paul.

He admits that due to the kind of client-driven business AMS are in it can be a challenge to adapt to constantly changing demands, but he says that is what makes flexible working so vital.

Moreover, clients are often dealing with similar issues around flexible working. Having client-facing teams from AMS who model how to make that work shows that it is possible, says Paul. “All our clients are thinking about the future of work, the gig economy, automation and its impact. We see what good looks like and we see examples of bad practice too. Our hope is to provide a positive influence.”

Liquid workforce

A key focus is on getting the flexible working message out to potential new hires. The company is also looking at how it needs to adapt the rewards it offers staff so that they take account of the flexible working culture.

In the last six months the company has also been working on developing a “liquid workforce” to handle peaks and troughs in work. This means more short-term contracts, more temporary, home-based workers and more contractors. “We are looking ahead and looking at how clients want to engage with us,” says Paul. “Our clients need more flexibility and we need to be able to respond effectively to peaks in business.  Things are changing all the time now and there is so much uncertainty everywhere. Agility is being driven both by what our employees want and by commercial demands.”

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