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Why flexible working will increase the quality of your talent pool

In theory, one of the biggest benefits of flexible working (especially remote work) is that it can give you more pools of potential applicants to draw from. This is what attracts many businesses to the idea of job flexibility.

Well, that, and a general desire to outbid their competitors in the war for talent. So, does flexible working improve talent, really? Let’s look at the evidence to see how flexibility initiatives truly impact business performance and workplace culture

Does flexible working improve talent pools?

Obviously, the extent to which offering job flexibility improves your hiring potential can depend on what options you choose to support. Though, to some extent, any form of job flexibility could attract new hires. This is because options for flexible working have become more expected in recent years, with 55% of employees viewing it as the expected standard rather than a nice perk, according to a 2019 study from Morgan McKinley.

This is supported by the EY 2021 Work Reimagined Employee Survey, which found that a similar proportion of employees globally (54%) would leave their jobs post-pandemic if they were not offered some form of continuing job flexibility. So, it’s fair to say that a business offering even the most basic options could conceivably poach talent from their competitor who doesn’t offer it at all.

Specific forms of job flexibility can also be advantageous for getting the most out of your recruitment efforts. Businesses which offer fully remote positions aren’t restricted to hiring someone from within a reasonable commuting distance. They’re free to hire anyone from across the country, or even the world. So, while a lot of more traditional businesses may be concerned about apparent talent shortages, these can often just be localised issues.

So, does flexible working improve talent acquisition? We think it would be difficult to argue otherwise.

Automattic’s approach to job flexibility

But how does flexible working improve talent in your business? Automattic is a prime example of a company that’s taking a progressive approach to job flexibility, and succeeding. If the name sounds familiar, it might be because we’ve talked about Automattic in the past. But for those of you not in the know, Automattic, which is best-known for the accessible webpage creation service WordPress, was founded in 2005 by Matt Mullenweg.

Automattic employs over 800 people across the USA and 67 other countries. They’ve achieved this thanks to their company-wide flexible working policy. Auttomatic even employs people who have no fixed home and prefer to spend their time traveling. Provided they can access decent WiFi on a reliable basis, that is.

With Automattic, Matt built in flexibility from the ground up. As he puts it, ‘Our focus on distributed work didn’t happen accidentally. It was a conscious choice from the very beginning. In fact, you’ll probably notice I don’t use the word “remote,” because it sets up the expectation that some people are essential, and some aren’t. I use the word “distributed” to describe what we do, where everyone is on an equal playing field.’

Automattic even supplies its employees with a stipend to use however they see fit. That might mean setting up a comfortable home office for one employee, or paying for the coffees a more nomadic employee might have to buy to keep using a café's internet connection.

Matt Mullenweg makes a concise and persuasive argument as to why this enables him to hire more effectively than other employers.

‘I believe that talent and intelligence are equally distributed throughout the world, but opportunity is not. In Silicon Valley, you have the big tech companies fishing from essentially the same small pond or bay,’ he says.

‘By making the company distributed, we can fish from the entire ocean. Instead of hiring someone who grew up in Japan, but now lives in California, you can gain someone who lives, works, wakes up in the morning and goes to sleep every night wherever they are in the world. They bring a different understanding of that culture, and a different lived experience day-to-day.’

That’s a pretty solid answer to the question, “does flexible working improve talent recruitment?” If you want to learn more about Matt Mullenweg’s philosophy on job flexibility and distributed business models, check out this video to hear it from the man himself.

How other businesses have adopted flexible working

Especially after the events of the last year or two, Automattic are far from alone in the push for more flexible working options. So, to round things off, here are several examples of how businesses have adopted job flexibility:

  • Netflix: It seems that Netflix understand that being a parent can be a stressful, unpredictable experience. This is because they allow all employees unlimited parental leave. It’s a great example of how you can show respect for your employees while supporting them, by trusting your people not to abuse generous policies.
  • GitHub: Unlimited parental leave is all well and good, but a person’s time isn’t less important because they don’t have kids. If any company beats out Netflix’s policy, it’s GitHub. They allow their employees unlimited sick days, with a separate parental leave package on top.
  • Pets at Home: While many customer-facing businesses have a mix of full and part-time staff, there’s often the perception that full-time employees are more committed or more important than part-timers. But high performance should be rewarded no matter who it comes from. That’s why Pets at Home have adapted their manager roles to be accessible to part-timers.
  • Davis Polk & Wardwell: While they’re far from the only law firm implementing job flexibility, Davis Polk & Wardwell are interesting. While other firms implement more typical hybrid policies, they’re currently allowing employees to pick whole weeks from the year in advance to work fully remotely.

Even the laws that govern how we do our jobs can change to enable flexibility, with one example being the signing of wills. Will-writing lawyers were required to be physically present during signings to ensure legitimacy. But, with the ongoing pandemic, the UK government has allowed will signings to be observed virtually, to ensure social distancing.

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