· 2 min read · Features

Flexible working where you'd least expect, part three


Many firms claim flexible working ‘won’t work’ for them. These examples prove there are options for everyone

It’s taken a while but finally the words ‘flexible working’ are no longer synonymous with frazzled parents looking to combine work and family. Neither is a flexible approach purely associated with white collar office jobs where people can organise their time neatly around deadlines, working from behind a screen wherever that screen might be.

With a growing number of employees demanding more flexibility, the vast majority of industries must take heed. As Kirstie Axtens, head of employer services at Working Families, says: “[Flexible working] has been extended to more employees who work in a wide range of jobs and industries. If you’re not flexible you run the risk of losing people and falling behind.”

We talk to three very different organisations about how they’re offering workers a surprising degree of flexibility, considering the roles and sectors they’re in.

Dobell Menswear

Retail isn’t renowned for its proactive approach to flexible working, often suffering rigid cultures due to the very nature of shift work.

But Dobell is an international menswear brand that has made the global nature of its business work in its favour. Its products are made in China then shipped back to the main fulfilment centres in Germany and Spain, with the majority arriving at its headquarters in Eastbourne.

This manufacturing process means that conversations are often taking place between different timezones, which suits some workers looking for more flexibility. For instance, the Dobell production and buying managers can choose to start at 4am and finish in the early afternoon, allowing more family time.

Other employees only schedule meetings to take place between school drop off and pick up times. “This extends to the school holidays where we try and allow parents within the company to work from home, so long as the output isn’t affected,” says Alex Wingate, the business’ HR manager. “This means that once the kids’ bedtime is out of the way staff can log on and attend to any urgent emails and tasks that they’d usually be responsible for.”

The main reason they go to such lengths to accommodate employees is because, as a small retailer, Dobell wants to compete for talent with bigger outlets. A good example is when Dobell’s fashion designer wanted to relocate a hundred miles away from the office; Dobell offered him a long distance working from home setup. This type of flexing has boosted staff retention and company culture significantly.

“As employees we know when we come to work that there are no real time pressures, but more of a focus on results. Because the organisation buys into the staff we in return buy in to the company goals, and projects get done, rarely ever missing a deadline or target,” says Wingate.

“It’s great to hear about the approach that Dobell has taken – and that it’s recognised the way that flexibility can pay off in terms of competitiveness,” comments Kirstie Axtens, head of employer services at Working Families. “Retailers often tell us that roles in their sector are rigid and that there isn’t much cross-training of shop floor staff. They also operate shifts that can be inflexible – which can hamper the ability of store management to react quickly or efficiently to the peaks and troughs of demand. But more flexibility helps to get the job done as well as enables employees to balance work and care.”

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