Could flexible working start a marketing productivity boom?

Could flexible working start a marketing productivity boom?

It sounds ideal – working three days a week to focus on your fitness or taking afternoons off so you can spend more time with your family. But does flexible working (FW) really deliver the levels of productivity that a sector like marketing requires?

Many in UK marketing believe FW is an idea whose time has come. As a service-based sector in which technology enables communication, it is ideally-suited to having the right people working at the right time, they argue.

Common misconceptions

Nicky Regazzoni, Co-Founder, The PR Network, runs a network of more than 1,800 freelance consultants around the world – all of whom work flexibly.

She believes the main barrier to FW is a misconception (and quite a predictable one), “That ultimately the organisation will lose out because its staff won’t be able to commit as much time,” she says.

In response to that charge, Nicky says, “Anecdotally speaking, after 14 years working entirely flexibly and running agile teams I believe people work far more smartly when they have defined parameters, whether in terms of allocated hours or outputs for a campaign.”

A YouGov/HSBC survey two years ago would support that view as 89% of UK workers in the study said they believed flexible working improved productivity. The UK’s Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development also believes FW leads to greater productivity.

Happy people work well

The productivity increase may not simply be down to smarter working either.

Flexible working consultancy Timewise believes that FW also helps give people a sense of control over their lives and that this has a major impact on well-being. And with 37% of organisations seeing a rise in stress-related absence and a 55% increase in mental health problems last year, according to the consultancy, that would also have a clear impact on productivity.

Pulling in talent

But if you run an organisation and a flexible workforce still sounds like a recipe for poor productivity, consider the potential for losing out in recruiting top talent.

Timewise found in 2017 that 84% of men, 91% of women and 92% of millennials either worked flexibly or wished they could. The Office for National Statistics found 4.2 million workers regularly worked from home in 2015.

Nicky Regazzoni argues that the growth in demand for FW means it is a powerful recruitment and retention tool.

She says, “Organisations that proactively and proudly offer FW will be able to take their pick from the talent pool because people at all levels are now demanding a degree of flexibility from employers – whatever their reason for wanting it. An organisation that is flexible in its approach will recruit and retain the best people, impacting on the bottom line thanks to lower staff churn and a happier, more productive workforce.”

Her top tip for making FW work in an organisation is to embed it in the culture.

Getting started

If you are an employee, and you want to start flexible working, Helen Tupper, CEO, Amazing If (a flexible working consultancy) offers some specific advice and encouragement, having worked in marketing for companies like Virgin, Barclays, Microsoft and Sainsbury’s.

Helen says, “Our point of view is that flexible working requires you to reflect on how you do your best work and where you have the biggest impact. To do this, it’s very important to reflect on your values – what motivates and drives you on – and your ‘super strengths’ – the things you are great at. Communicating this with confidence enables you to design a career that works for you and your employer.”

Indeed, The Hoxby Collective, a global network of around 1,000 freelance marketers and service providers, believes that around 85% of office-based roles could be flexible or delivered remotely with such planning.

So if it is done for the right reasons and in the right way, it seems FW could help UK marketers be more productive and for many reasons.