Flexible employment challenges the conventional work-week model by balancing the various needs of employees
Flexible working is a way of working that suits an employee’s needs. A flexible approach brings many tangible and diverse benefits to both the employee and employer and is commonly cited as the top employee benefit. An individual can gain a better work-life balance and improved well-being with less time spent commuting and reduced travel costs. A company can attract and retain talented personnel, reduce office space requirements and thus lower overheads and the carbon footprint.
Flexible working challenges the traditional work-week model of nine-to-five. This pattern is commonly associated with The Ford Car Company, after founder Henry Ford declared that too many hours were bad for a worker's productivity.
Changes in the workforce demographic – such as many more working mothers and an increased retirement age, the digital revolution, exponential advances in IT and telecommunication technologies and the recognition of flexible working as a positive benefit have since challenged the necessity of fixed-hours.
Since 2014, when the right to request flexible working was enshrined in UK law, employees and employers have increasingly sought to reap the benefits and the UK labour market now has one of the most diverse range of working patterns in Europe. The practice has garnered media attention and continues to gather pace as employers’ attitudes shift across industries.
In recent years, a number of law and accountancy firms have been seen to be breaking down traditional notions of practice by promoting agile schemes that seek to improve gender disparity, employee wellbeing and organisational flexibility. In August, PwC launched a Flexible Network Scheme to allow applicants to list their skills and preferred work pattern. A move designed to drive more talent into the workforce, in recognition of the value that individuals place in a flexible approach.
The impact of flexible working in the company secretarial sector is also seen. With around 90 jobs advertised on the ICSA jobs board in October, five roles promote part-time hours and some offer flexibility. Recognising that these roles sit across different industry types, which have varying uptake rates to agile working, this data perhaps also presents that there is a good opportunity to promote the benefits further within this profession.
The nature of the role of the company secretary as advisor, confidant, influencer and decision maker, means a large part of the role, certainly at senior level, is highly dependent on interpersonal relationships, no doubt achieved through frequent contact and a strong business presence, but there is scope for agile working at this level and throughout a secretariat team structure.
A different approach
As the responsibilities of a company secretariat are varied and dynamic, so too must the approach to agile working be. Personal interactions are key for the success of planned boardroom events, training and for the outcome of unexpected/reactive situations. But there are many aspects of the role that lend themselves to a flexible approach, particularly for support and general duties such as statutory record keeping, guidance updates, reporting, meeting preparation and administrative duties. A worker, away from the office, can be reactive to requests and be afforded the opportunity to focus and plan for future events. At all levels, quiet time away from the office provides space to consider and draft, as well as thinking space for strategic issues and upcoming events.
Below are a few ways of how company secretarial teams can put an agile approach into practice:
- Adopt a blended and dynamic approach, with a mixed team set-up
- Instil clear divisions of responsibilities and working patterns
- Leverage telecommunication applications to enable regular contact
- Continuously review how technology and team applications can deliver enhancements
- Create a positive team culture with give and take on both sides
- Plan regular, whole team meetings held in one location
- Regard the importance of personal development plans and monthly 1:1s.
A flexible approach in a company secretarial team must be crafted to meet the needs of the board and the business. In return, a team may benefit from improved recruitment, staff retention and wellbeing. At a time when many employers are striving to provide a better work-life balance for their employees, to build work environments that better match the needs of a particular group of employee demographics and have a greater awareness of mental health and wellbeing issues, adopting a flexible working strategy is a considered approach in any recruitment strategy and in building a highly engaged workforce.
Lyndsey Hurley is a senior company secretarial assistant (GradICSA)