When a company adopts a position on flexible working patterns, it is not something taken lightly and Mayer will have her reasons, despite the backlash she may have encountered inside and outside the organization.
At a recent ‘Women with Ambition’ event in Singapore, which is a networking series for career focused women run by Ambition, telecommuting was keenly discussed by a guest panel. I was asked to give my own perspective as chief executive of Ambition and how we view employees working from home.
First of all, let me address any perceived gender bias. The CEO’s gender should have no bearing on the company’s policy. Nor should the fact that, statistically, more women than men are offered flexible working patterns. Ambition affords the privilege based on a number of practical criteria and at times considers such flexibility as a reward to high performers. We do provide flexible arrangements to female employees who have chosen to have families, as supporting the decision to return to work is something we take very seriously. However, it’s not just for families that people desire flexible schedules: there are examples of these arrangements benefiting employees who are studying and also supporting charity activities.
Recruitment is a sales business and it is preferable to have everyone in a single location where they can collaborate more effectively, which drives higher levels of productivity. However, it is not a perfect world and we try to tackle the challenges of balancing home life with professional commitments as practically as possible. In my experience, any downside of time spent away from the office is more than compensated for by the upside of attracting future high performers and retaining existing key members of our sales team.
The recent Women with Ambition event highlighted to me the importance of a policy to address flexible working and to ensure that all in the company are fully aware of what the policy means to each individual. That said, a policy is only effective if managers are provided the tools and support to bring the policy to life. That’s the job of the chief executive. We are leading increasingly diverse teams that are leaner than previous years. But the demand for output remains high. These are challenging times for business leaders who are working toward balancing productivity, team retention and employee engagement.
Flexible working should not and is not only about the hours you work. Companies should consider the workplace itself, introducing an environment that encourages collaboration away from desks and the four walls of a meeting room. One attendee at Women with Ambition commented how a flexible working environment has improved innovative thinking by simply working in different locations within the same office.
At Ambition we breed a culture of responsibility and aspire for a progressive employment brand and this is only possible if you practice what you preach. Our investment in technology has meant that systems are available at home to select people, which provides a virtual office environment. Like many organizations these days, most of our employees are able to use email wherever they have internet access, including on mobile devices.
I accept that the bigger you get, the more complicated it becomes to administer flexible working patterns – and the greater the risk that it carries. It is not a straightforward decision for a business and a ‘one size fits all policy’ is virtually impossible to achieve without disenfranchising employees. This is where discretion needs to be applied.
At Ambition, our experience can best be described as ‘the best of both worlds’ and we have seen the benefits of continued high performance from the colleagues given the flexibility and the considerable goodwill it has created.