Flexible Working at Speakers Corner

Jason Smith 31 March 2015

In trying to explain how three people cover the marketing function here at Speakers Corner with Natalie, Louise and myself, all part time working on different days (with some overlaps), I attempted to look for an official term of some sort to describe our work structure.

We’re not job sharing as such as we’re three, not two, and our collective hours extend past a 40 hour week and our salaries are set and paid separately rather than on the usual pro-rata basis. We’re not home based either as we all make it in the office and we work the required 8 hours as stated in our contracts. So we are a group of people, working part time, on different days, each with a strong points and areas of focus who work together for the good image of Speakers Corner.

Both Louise and Natalie have young families so are keen to see their children as much as possible. The other more pressing concern, and for families across the UK, are childcare costs costing more than what they would earn from a full-time job with Natalie adding “It’s a question of keeping a foot in the door professionally, being challenged mentally (having adult conversation) because financially – especially in the first 3 years (before any Government assistance) it can actually cost you to work”.

As for myself, I took the decision to retrain in a very different and unrelated industry: bespoke tailoring. As a result, I was very nervous about approaching our MD, Nick Gold, about this as - apart from the in-office alterations service - there was no little direct benefit to the business. I’ve written extensively about here in the blog Tweets & Trousers but I have Nick to thank for being in solution mode from the off along with Rhona, our previous social media bod, handing in her notice later that same day to work on a scholarship in New York.

Arguably, the common thread is flexibility; Nat, Lou and myself needing it to accommodate our respective changes and of the management to work something out that ensures they have the people on board without that business function suffering in anyway. Nick says that for him “it’s a question of work/life balance and being happy in both. I respect the team and the work they do and trust them to achieve the company’s goals whenever they work”.

Over the last few years flexible working environments has seen a major uplift with the HR Magazine article: Flexible Working: Finding the right balance, highlighting that:

Traditionally, flexible working has largely been the domain of carers, particularly mothers of young children, but this is rapidly changing. Increased mobility, technological advances that make remote working easier, and demographic shifts are driving the demand for employees to work flexibly.

New legislation was also introduced last June (2014) allowing all employees to have the legal right for flexible working with government website, GOV.UK, defining this as “a way of working that suits an employee’s needs, e.g. having flexible start and finish times, or working from home”. So this along with the pre-existing cultural shift has only brought this further into focus for employers and employees.

With 8 million part time workers in the UK in 2013 (source ONS ) along with a report from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) in November 2014 finding that 35% of full timers said they would like to change their work arrangements – it suggests the part-time talent is there and so is the demand for change from the full-timers.

For smaller businesses like Speakers Corner, we can work this out relatively easily when the employee need arises i.e. starting families or going back into education. It appears though in larger firms there still has to be a sizeable cultural shift, not only in management - who need to trust their employees and advertise roles, especially senior jobs, as being flexible - but also in the employees themselves with men, in particularly, holding the rather outdated view that it is a ‘woman’s issue’.

The Financial Times reported earlier this year that take-up in flexible work options had been minimal but they highlighted two companies who are attempting to challenge the status quo. Ernst & Young are actively trying to initiate that shift by holding events about the benefits of flexible working for men to Jill Shedden, Group Director of HR at British Gas, also backing the initiative but believing the number of requests will increase, from both men and women, as the economy picks up. The CBI is also calling for more businesses to commit to the initiative by requiring them “to advertise jobs flexibly from the outset and to publish aspirational diversity targets” as well as asking the Government, who have their part to play “to provide more help with childcare costs”.

The increasing importance of the work/life balance debate is certainly informing the need for flexible working but there’s still – despite progress being made - some way to go. The technology is here allowing people to work from home; the willingness of organisations to agree to some form of flexibility is getting better so it’s for everyone, all the stakeholders: employees, employers, colleagues and HR departments to shift this culture from the past into the future where we can find more innovative ways to work and live.

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Speakers Corner (London) Ltd,
Ground and Lower Ground Floor,
5-6 Mallow Street,