Flexible working conditions becoming global norm, but adland still missing out
Flexible work environments have been on the radar for a long time and new research suggests it’s fast becoming the norm globally. Used both as a tool to save costs and to attract and keep talent flexible work environments, where employees are in charge of when and where they work, they are also playing an important role in improving work-life experience of many employees.
A global study by Regus also suggests that flexible work environments contributes to better business performance, improves staff motivation and productivity, and helps companies access a wider talent pool.
While many people still think flexitime is limited to smaller businesses managed by hippies or that it remains the domain of companies working out of the highly competitive Silicon Valley, the Regus research reveals that 81% of companies globally are now offering “their employees a level of choice about when and where they work”.
Motivation and productivity
Globally, more than 60% of firms believe flexible working practices held economic benefits, while 70% views it as positive for the entire family. About 40% believes it improves employee productivity (which means, I suppose, that 60% don’t) while a third believes that it also motivates staff. At the very least, cutting out rush-hour traffic jams should count for something in both motivation and productivity.
The research makes a relevant point in relation to emerging economies in that it says that, during periods of sudden growth, flexible work environments allow rapid scalability – something that could also be relevant to ad agencies suddenly boosted by major account wins.
It allows for rapid growth while maintaining tight cost controls. It also cuts down on the need for office space – some estimates suggest by as much as 30%. In industrialised economies now in trouble after the global financial crisis, the opposite is also true – flexitime is being used to scale down business costs – also true for agencies faced with the sudden loss of a major client.
A gap in trust between managers and staff is highlighted by the study. While 59% of firms will allow a flexi-work environment regardless of employee seniority, age or service record, 40% will only extend it to senior staff.
Many SA companies still prefer 9-5
In South Africa, many companies still prefer a 9-5 schedule for their employees, especially in the ad industry. But Regus suggest that this is no longer the norm – only 15.1% of SA business categorically state that they won’t allow employees flexibility at all, while 48.4% said only senior personnel will be allowed flexitime privileges.
As many as 67.5% of local businesses surveyed believed flexible work conditions represented a lower cost than fixed location working. In Cape Town, 32.1% of companies said it would give them access to a wider talent pool, compared with 25.3% in Jozi. Nationally, 40.5% of businesses reported they believe it encourages staff to be more self-sufficient and pro-active in their work.
In SA’s advertising industry, few companies are biting.
“Firstly, the culture of my company is a huge contributor to the kind of work that we do,” says Alistair King, group creative director: KingJames Group, Cape Town. “We have a house style so to speak, as so many agencies do. That style comes from many people contributing to the thinking -conversations in corridors, arguments over strategic direction, ideas thrown in for the team to explore. Making ads requires personal and on-going interaction between a number of players, so I wouldn’t consider such an arrangement.
“[Freelance] work is seldom extraordinary”
“Freelance arrangements are often like this and the work is seldom extraordinary. Most of the time freelancers don’t really have a grasp of the kind of way we like to think and that is why it doesn’t really work. That knowledge can only come by being in the same space as the rest of us. It’s a collective way of thinking…”
King’s feelings were echoed by numerous agency bosses.
Charl Thom, MD of agency FoxP2, is more relaxed in his attitude to flexible working conditions, saying that, while FoxP2 doesn’t have a formal work from home/hot desk policy in the agency, “we’ve always been very open to people coming and going as they please, as long as the work gets done.”
“It’s something that has happened informally at FoxP2,” says Thom. “We believe in each of the individuals at FoxP2 and as such it’s easy to give our team the latitude to work flexible hours. However, our business does require some structure as things like team brainstorms, creative reviews, brand reviews etc, require the team to all be in the same place.
“Actually want to be there”
“We also strive to make FoxP2 a creatively stimulating environment to be in, so you actually want to be there rather than feel you have to be.”
At recent start-up agency 60 layers of cake Cape Town, co-founders Ben Wren and Michael van den Heerik – already causing a stir with their collaborative communication model adapted from their sister agency in Amsterdam – say they completely buy into flexible working conditions for staff.
Their offices, they explain, is a shell where staff get together when they want to. It attracts a different kind of talent to the agency, says van den Heerik, who further says as long as deadlines are met and quality is maintained, he doesn’t care where the work happens.
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