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Flexibility is not just a job benefit, it gets better business outcomes

At the beginning of 2018, commuters received their annual shock.

The holidays are over, you’re having a dry month, you promised yourself you’d exercise, and just when life can’t feel any harder going – oh, UK rail fares have jumped 3.4% on average!

Travel costs account for 13% of a person’s salary for the average Chelmsford to London commuter – in fact, much of the pain of these increases is felt by people who need to make their way into London from elsewhere to work.

It begs the question: why, in this world of flexible working, is commerce still so obsessed with working out of offices in London? According to Instant Offices, the average desk space in the West End now costs £732 per month. Multiplied by a workforce, this can be a serious expense. If you’ve got 100 employees you’re close to £1m a year before you even furnish the place.

So why are so many businesses still insisting on doing it?

When I joined TMP in 2013, the behaviours that drive the workplace looked very different than they do today. Physically, it was a huge space, spread over four floors on Tottenham Court Road. Its ‘commercial’ drivers equated to lots of hours, a culture on the serious side, and an expectation of punctuality and presence in the office.

Just five years later, most of my colleagues work flexibly, and that’s allowed us to shrink to just a single floor, with a rotating cast of people from day-to-day on hot desks. It’s buzzy yet relaxed, with a variety of collaboration spaces. People come and go, and we rate each other on our outcomes rather than our facetime.

It works for everyone. The workforce is happy to be trusted and carry out their jobs in a way that fits what they need to deliver as whole people – at work and at home.

The client service leads are happy that their people are out meeting clients and getting into their businesses, instead of taking up desk space and drinking all our coffee.

And the CFO and the rest of the leadership can certainly see the benefit of reducing expensive real estate costs, in a way that is win-win for everybody else concerned: by being flexible.

Not just cost saving or beneficial to clients, this can also attract top talent. A few years back, we had a talented candidate decline an offer from us, because at the time we were less enlightened and required a Monday to Friday, 9-5.30 commitment. As he had a choice where he worked, he chose a firm more willing to trust people to produce results.
Lesson learned, and luckily we’ve changed.

Flexibility also brings inclusion benefits. Forcing everyone to conform to establishment working structures will get you establishment people. A bit of flexibility might open up your business to candidates who think differently and construct their lives in a way that doesn’t follow the average.

Attracting cognitive diversity to your workforce means being open-minded about ways of working.

Being more flexible about where, when and how we work won’t solve our season ticket problems today. But as more businesses learn to focus more on outcomes than processes, we will see benefits to inclusion, less wasted time, and more people who are happy at work.

Heather DeLand is executive creative director of TMP Worldwide

This article was originally published in Recruiter Magazine and on

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