A few years ago, the London Business School published an article predicting that by 2020, 50% of the UK workforce would be remote. When I saw this, I wrote a blog on why I thought building remote teams would be a real challenge for the recruitment industry.
But fast forward a few years, we’re about to step into 2020, and I myself now have a small team of remote workers here at Firefish!
As remote working has progressively become the norm in recent years, you might’ve noticed that the new hot topic is the four-day working week instead.
And this got me thinking: Could the four-day working week work in the recruitment industry?
Well, one thing I’ve learned in my sixteen years of owning businesses is that taking baby steps towards something that scares you is the key to finding out if a risk like this will work, without damaging your business.
Here are the steps I took when adapting working options for my team.
Could the four-day working week be the next step?
Step one: Flexi-time
Did you know employees now have the legal right to request flexible working?
We brought flexitime in at Firefish back in 2016, and at the time we used software for clocking in and out to keep tabs of everyone’s hours. However, monitoring hours like this felt like it was against our values of trust and transparency so we decided to stop doing this.
Teams become self-policing in these situations and if you trust them they will respect it. Managers are there to assess outcomes, not hours spent behind a desk, and in reality the only thing you need to ensure is that meetings aren’t affected by people leaving the office early.
Flexitime is perfect for the recruitment industry, as a good recruiter should already be self-motivated to deliver on their targets.
Allowing your recruiters to plan their hours around their workload should give them space to make themselves available to contact candidates after hours (which we all know is the only way to get them on the phone nowadays) and identify more placement opportunities.
Step two: Home working
The next step I took in adapting working options for my team was when we started offering home working.
I admit I probably haven’t progressed on this one as much as I could have by now - we have an informal policy that the odd day is fine but working from home isn’t encouraged as a regular occurrence.
I’ve been questioning why this one has been tough to move forward with and come to the following conclusion: Things move incredibly fast here at Firefish, so if someone misses a day at the office, you hear things like “when did that change?” or “when did we start doing that?” when they’re back.
Our fast-paced culture works because we make a big effort with communication and bring the teams together at set times each week so everyone is on the same page.
As home working has been an informal arrangement, we haven’t made the necessary changes to help make it work for both the business and employees yet. Previously, if someone wasn’t in the office, they were treated as though they were on holiday and this has got in the way of it becoming a more formal arrangement.
It wasn’t until I started offering formal remote working positions, and was therefore forced to change the way we operate internally, that the prospect of home working feels a lot easier to accommodate now.
Step three: Remote working
We’re still in the early days of offering remote working at Firefish, but I’m pleased to say we now have three remote workers in a team of 43.
The biggest lesson I’ve learned when making this shift is that it’s not just you as business owner who needs to embrace a change like this – your whole team need to be 100% on board too.
Everything you do as a team now needs to involve your remote workers. Communication is everything to them: Team meetings need to be brought online for them to take part in too, everyday communication (including banter) needs to be inclusive for those not physically in the office.
With this in mind, we’ve started using Microsoft teams and it’s been excellent for keeping in touch throughout the day, sharing diaries, files and making video calls.
We’re still learning every day what works and what doesn’t. But for the right talent, and with the next generation of recruiters all looking for the newest perks and benefits, it’s the right direction for futureproofing your recruitment business.
Step four: The four-day working week (the future?)
So now onto the four-day working week: the latest trend in alternative working options.
To implement this at your agency, this would basically involve dropping one day (usually a Friday) so you give your recruiters a three-day weekend but still pay them the same salary.
Yes, I hear you shriek: How can your team service your clients on a Friday if no one’s in the office? Surely your numbers will take a beating if you lose a working day?
Well, according to some brave recruitment companies who’ve recently taken the plunge, apparently not.
In order to make it work, you certainly need to have the right culture, hire the right recruiters and everyone needs to want it to work for the business as well as for themselves. Some recruitment businesses are already reporting an increase in productivity as a result of closing the office one day a week and it could make it easier to attract new top billers to your agency too.
If you’re interested in implementing the four-day week at your agency, there’s a great podcast from Hoxo media interviewing David Stone from MRL on his journey towards the four-day week at his recruitment agency – I recommend you give it a listen.
I’m not quite there yet, but I also know this is exactly how I felt about the prospect of hiring remote workers two years ago and look how that turned out!
If you want any of these alternative working options to deliver for you and your business, you need to work at them, ensure you have the right culture of trust already within your business and the ability to embrace change easily.