Vox Pop: How will new legislation on flexible working requests impact on agencies? (Part One)

For this new series of Vox Pop features, we ask Drum Network member agencies to share their views on a topical industry issue...Q. New UK legislation means that all workers now have the right to request flexible working hours. How are agencies likely to respond to these requests? In an agency environment, are such requests workable? What could be the potential impacts of the legislation?Ian Malone, managing director, We Are Apps -“We already provide very flexible working hours to our staff, especially those with children. The deal is that when you are working flexibly the client's needs still need to be met, so making sure you respond to a client email as soon as you can, including out-of-hours, is the way we can make it work. A lot of our people have long commutes in so when they are up against a deadline and they don't want to waste two hours travelling we naturally encourage the work-from-home option. We don't check on them every five minutes - trust is a key component of flexi-working. We just ask that they are available when needed, rather than shut themselves off.”Gellan Watt, managing director & chief creative officer, Thinking Juice & Emerge Group -"Balancing flexible working with the demands of an always-on integrated agency is always difficult - but increasingly important, and often more motivating for the team than increases in salary. How workable it is depends on a number of things, such as the nature of an individual's role, the clients they work on and their importance in the workflow. In an agency environment it’s impossible to apply a blanket rule - we're here to respond to our clients’ needs, whatever and whenever. But in a world where the team usually goes WAY beyond what most people would consider typical in terms of working hours, I think it's important to review every case on an individual basis. Making it work, though, relies as much upon good clients as it does good agency employers." Tara Honeywell, managing director, Mediator -“A lot of agencies already offer flexible working hours in some form or another, so I don’t think this will result in a massive change. Over the last few years the whole marketing landscape has evolved and in turn, consumer behaviour has changed. So it only feels natural that the way we work should evolve also. Agencies are only as good as their employees and if by offering flexible working you are able to recruit a top tier of candidates who deliver a high quality output then why wouldn’t you? Providing the agency has a good process in place at the start then I’m confident the pros will outweigh the cons. “I think agencies need to have the confidence to treat employees like adults, giving them responsibility to manage their workload that offers them the ability to have a work / life balance.”Tina Judic, managing director, Found -“If there’s one thing that digital can facilitate and support it’s flexible working. I am a fan - as long as a job is done and expectations are met. I firmly believe you will get much more out of your workforce if you provide an environment that allows work to fit into lives as opposed to lives fitting around work. However, it also enables work to be as consuming as we allow it to be. Where this process can fall down is when work and social lives collide - with the world being ever-more digital, checking Facebook at 10pm could also equate to checking emails and responding. We must be careful as an industry to protect our teams so that work is not their life.” Becky McKinlay, managing director, Ambition Communications - “For years, agencies have struggled to retain key talent in senior roles as client demands require those individuals to be prepared to work long, unpredictable hours. As family / home life demands increase, many agency staff, particularly women, look for careers that are more structured and at times, less demanding. “Structuring agencies to embrace flexible working practices could be an important factor in retaining key talent. It’s easier on paper than in practice, however. Will clients be happy for agencies to have a flexible work force? In our experience, clients want continuity and will need careful management and communication to ensure they don’t perceive a valued account handler working 3 or 4 days per week as not providing the levels of service they are used to. “What’s more, flexible working practices among clients could also put more pressure on agencies, who need to fit their delivery into clients’ working ways.” Tom Poynter, group managing director, Southpaw -“Southpaw has always had a flexible working philosophy. We’re working with international clients that demand out of hours work, we have return-to-work parents and we need to attract super bright talent from London and the local area. Most importantly, creativity doesn’t normally happen during working hours or when it’s forced. That means we have to adopt a flexible approach to working hours in order to get the most value out of our agency personnel.“Obviously technology makes it that little bit easier, but flexible working is a critical part of our agency processes. Why should someone be chained to a desk for 8 hours a day? In order to deliver the bravest work, we need to free up talent so they can collaborate with who they want (both inside the agency as well as outside) by creating a working environment that invites that to happen seamlessly.”

How will agencies respond to flexible working requests?

Read Part Two here...

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