Why flexibility is the future of work

IPA CPD Gold Judge, Jenny Wood explains how the best agencies embrace flexible working

How do the best agencies embrace flexible working and what benefits does it bring? IPA CPD Gold Judge, Jenny Wood explains why flexibility is the future of work.

It’s been a privilege being on the IPA CPD Gold judging panel for the past two years. The submissions reflect a genuine ethos of learning being used as a tool for business success. What’s great is that alongside all the fantastic learning evaluation, we get to hear about initiatives that are shifting agency culture and positively impacting businesses. This year I was impressed to see flexible working being introduced in more and more agencies.

It’s important to highlight that I believe flexible working will only truly work if it’s available for everyone to utilise and adopted as part of agency culture. Moving away from traditional working patterns may seem like a big step, but it is the future of work, and the personal and business benefits are huge.

There is an increasing demand from employees to have more time in their life for personal interests and commitments. A research study into the UK workforce by Timewise found that 87% of all full-time employees either work flexibly already, or say that they want to. Today’s workforce is made up of multiple generations, from millennials who want experiences, choice and independence, to Generation X who may be raising children, to baby boomers who may be looking for a way to support their transition in to retirement. A flexible working culture allows businesses to manage and support multiple needs, giving employees more autonomy over their work-life balance.

Meeting these needs has an impact on retention. People are agencies’ biggest asset and by facilitating greater control over their work-life balance, it makes them feel valued and happy. A valued and happy employee is engaged, efficient, productive, creative, present and loyal. Traditional working patterns put agencies at risk of losing this talent, which, as we know, is expensive and disruptive for business.

A flexible working culture also helps to attract talent. A recent survey by the International Workplace Group found that 83% of people worldwide said they would choose a job with flexibility over one without. What agency wouldn’t want this advantage?

Cuttsy+Cuttsy are an IPA member agency who have embraced flexible working and recognise the benefits, especially in securing and retaining talent. Mathew Cutts (Director) explains, “Flexible working has been at the heart of our business since the outset for both personal and business reasons. We believe that what’s important is not when and where we work but how and what we achieve. This does have its challenges as client remuneration is all about the hours and why the move to value in the future is so important. Talent is also a massive challenge. To secure and retain the best people flexibility is becoming key, so agencies are going to have to find a new way to work.”

We also know that diversity is high on Nigel Vaz’s ‘Reimagine’ agenda as IPA President and also benefits creativity and innovation. Flexible working is key to achieving greater gender diversity. According to the IPA’s latest Diversity Survey there has been a marginal increase in the number of women in C-suite (top senior staff) level from 31.2% in 2017 to 32.7% in 2018. It’s fantastic to see these numbers increasing, but there is still some way to go. Traditional working hours can lead to women with children being squeezed out of agencies as they are incompatible with family commitments, which is a huge loss of talent. Flexible working allows them to remain/return to work and develop their careers. This should result in increased gender diversity at the top levels of an agency’s business and an accompanying reduction in any gender pay gap. Equally, ensuring flexible working is available to all to take-up, will support fathers to take on more of the caring responsibilities, leading to a more balanced workforce.

The advertising industry has been known for its long hours culture and inflexibility about flexibility. For client facing staff, it may raise concerns that the client needs may not be met. For creative staff, it may raise concerns over interrupting the collaborative ideas process. One size doesn’t fit all, which is why it’s so important for both employers and employees to be flexible about flexibility. However, the benefits are clear, and it is the future of work. So, how can your agency make flexible working work?

Technology, trust and communication are imperative. Be flexible and have a range of working models but set clear guidelines. Measure performance based on objectives rather than hours spent in the office. Make it available to everyone (not just to request but to use) and champion it as part of your culture. Use it to attract talent and advertise it when recruiting to open up your candidate talent pool. If you are unsure if flexibility will work for certain roles, introduce a trial period.

If you need help with either managing flexible working requests (for which there are both legal and best practice requirements), or implementing flexible working policies, do contact the IPA’s employment lawyer, Juliet Bawtree, Associate Director, Legal & Public Affairs (Employment). Taking these steps to encourage flexible working will prepare your agency for the future of work, ensuring you hire and retain the best people, and continue to thrive.

Jenny is a Continuous Professional Development (CPD) Consultant and earned her stripes while working at IPA member agency, woolley pau gyro, where she guided them to CPD Platinum status. Jenny has been on the panel of judges for the IPA CPD Gold awards for the past 2 years and recently ran the social media campaign ‘Let’s Get Flexing’ on the benefits of flexible working, supporting both individuals and businesses. The campaign’s handle is @letsgetflexing, running across Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.