Article

Liberating your workforce

Trusting and empowering your employees to work in a way that suits them can reap benefits for an organisation too, but it may require a leadership mindset change

Current industry hype has many debating 'future work' and 'workplaces of the future', the re-imagining of businesses are creating excitement and potentially some leadership anxiety. What is this Work of Tomorrow and is it something new and progressive? Not for Waterstons.

Five years ago I joined Waterstons, I’d heard about the culture of trust and empowerment, the flexible working practices, the no maximum holiday, and I confess I wondered whether it was too good to be true. I’ve heard this sentiment alluded to by a few new starters over the years during induction, and I’ve also witnessed the all-knowing wry smiles from the sceptics outside the company who say “yes, but it’s just a recruitment gimmick, isn’t it!”.

The reality is what you make it. The culture and mind-set at Waterstons is the golden thread that binds the company and is firmly embedded in the entrepreneurial spirit coupled with the non-negotiable values of trust and empowerment. These principles were at the heart of the company when it was founded over 22 years ago, they have endured and continue to permeate through the company.

It is the culture and credible values that have ensured that our standard working practices are viewed as enlightened and ‘the work of tomorrow’. Our secret? It has to be about People First and Outcomes.

People First

Our People First ethos (where people are our colleagues as well as our clients), guarantees that we focus on the human element: customer and employee fulfilment. We understand that it is imperative to look after our people and fundamentally appreciate they have a life outside which is more important than work. This is the epitome of our People First mantra. It’s about being thoughtful about our clients, our colleagues and balance this with our life outside work. To achieve this, the beliefs of the whole company need to be aligned. All employees need to feel empowered and emboldened to achieve the best outcome. Clear judgement on how, where and when the work will be delivered is for them to determine. When a whole company shares the values of trust and honesty then you are rewarded with a high functioning team and a happy workforce, inherently leading to greater customer satisfaction.

The Outcomes

We do not track presenteeism or measure productivity targets. It’s all about what you achieve and ultimately the outcomes. This belief in outcomes liberates a workforce but it also cannot exist without trust. We trust our employees explicitly. Why employ people without providing the freedom to choose how, when and where they want to work, to achieve the desired shared outcomes?

For the last 5 years I have worked flexibly, choosing to focus my time and physical presence on the work and location that will best achieve the outcome required, whilst also balancing the needs of a young demanding family. My hours in the office were reflective of part-time work. A part-time CEO? This was often met by raised eyebrows and bewilderment by those in similar positions. However, the Waterstons Board and culture is enlightened, progressive and embraces what some may refer to as an innovative working model. Positive reinforcement at all levels within an organisation is crucial.

There have been numerous employee surveys citing flexible working as a key benefit for many in the workforce. Employees often have other responsibilities as carers for children and/or elderly relatives. There is more dependency on joint income families. Employees are having to work later in life and delay retirement. These are just a few examples of external factors impacting the workforce. There is also the well-documented skills gap crisis, as well as the challenge of attracting people back into work after maternity/paternity leave, requiring organisations to adapt to the life needs of employees to ensure talent is retained and valued. A more flexible approach to working will be required.

Flexible working, it’s a simple concept: choose where you work based on the tasks that need to be performed; if inspiration through colleague collaboration is required then work in the office; if it’s deep thinking to enable intellectual thought, reflection and independent creativeness then (for me) this often reaps the best results when performed outside the distractions of the office.

The ability to work anywhere, at any time is conducive to productivity and maintaining an engaged workforce without the bureaucratic and process driven entrapments often found in industry. The only thing stopping you in Waterstons is yourself. As an individual you choose the hours and location of work that will achieve the most effective outcome. This is a personal choice. Some colleagues continue to work the standard day from the office in the knowledge that they have a choice.

I am often told that I am lucky, however, I feel liberated. The shackles of a standard working day belong in a bygone era. Today’s knowledge workers and service sectors particularly benefit from the agility afforded by advances in collaborative technologies, providing the freedom, balance and flexibility desired by employees. The digital innovations in the last decade have enabled us to choose to be more networked and interconnected, to collaborate anywhere and at any time, whether in the office or at a coffee shop, home, beach, the location list is endless. Nevertheless, the key is that technology has created the ability to achieve Tomorrow’s Work today. To truly create and embrace the liberated workforce will require a transformational change to the culture, beliefs and attitude of the whole company. It doesn’t stop there, adherence to the values needs to be actively upheld and protected to maintain the golden thread and guarantee the flexibility and work-life balance that are so fundamental and often misunderstood by companies.

Are you ready to embrace #TomorrowsWork?

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30 March 2017 , Durham Office