In January this year The Flexible Working Task Force launched a campaign to increase the uptake of flexible working; encouraging employers to advertise jobs as flexible regardless of level or pay grade. And the campaign’s strapline, Happy to Talk Flexible Working, has never rung truer at iCrossing UK, which introduced its first flexible working policy for all staff at the end of 2018.
Based around the core hours of 9.30am-4pm, when you’ll find iCrossers in the office or working remotely, Flex 10 allows employees to “flex” the remaining 10 hours a week. They can start and finish earlier (proving one of the most popular options), push their hours a little later or work one or two short days, making up the time throughout the week.
“The policy empowers people to make time for themselves and I believe happier employees will create better work for our clients,” explains Managing Director Claire Paterson. “Ultimately we're not one big homogenous group and if we act like that our marketing will fail.”
This shift away from the traditional 9-5 is emblematic of a change inclusivity expert Roxanne Hobbs is witnessing throughout her work with The Hobbs Consultancy, which ran Unconscious Bias training for iCrossing’s senior managers last year.
“There’s a growing realisation that our working practices are stuck in the 20th Century, when our technology is very much 21st Century”, says the executive coach. “Companies are recognising that people want to work differently and that they won't attract and retain the best talent unless they have a radically different outlook.”
iCrossing’s Senior Management Team (36% of which have some sort of formal flexible working arrangement) acknowledge the need to lead by example to help dispel the myth that presenteeism, or how many extra hours you put in, is valued above the output.
And the HR team behind the changes believe an increased openness and acceptance of life outside of the office can go some way to help tackle bias against working mothers; an issue Claire, a mother-of-two herself, feels passionate about addressing:
“Having taken maternity leave twice in recent years, I’ve witnessed how inflexible many companies are with mothers returning to work and this is unacceptable to me.”
Indeed, 2015 research by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, in partnership with the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, suggested that around 54,000 new mothers may be forced out of their jobs in Britain each year.
“It makes sense that in a company where flexible working is very much the norm, we're less likely to stereotype those on a different flexible working arrangement” agrees Roxanne. “When I started The Hobbs Consultancy, flexible working was seen as being largely for working mums. Thankfully, this has now changed, and companies are realising that it’s something that everyone will probably need or want at some stage in their career.”
The future of flex
Recognising the diversity of individual needs, Flex 10 is just one of the ways roles can work flexibly at iCrossing, with other options including compressed working hours, 9-day fortnights and 4-days weeks.
This is only the beginning of iCrossing’s flexible revolution. Plans are afoot to trial entirely virtual roles, limitations around when you can fall pregnant and receive full benefits have been stripped from the agency’s maternity policy, and ideas to encourage the uptake of Shared Parental Leave and recruit people who have been out of work for some time are currently on the table.
And with the door wide open to employees who have their own ideas of how roles could work, more innovation is sure to come from Roxanne’s advice to “think creatively about what balance means to you; be brave, ask for it, then own your flexible working arrangements.”