THURSDAY 10 JUN 2021 10:08 AM


The Flexible First webinar from Women in Advertising and Communications Leadership (WACL) heard from three industry experts about the future of flexible work. With live audience polls and a variety of industry expertise, it covered the benefits, challenges and opportunities for businesses embracing flexible working.

The session kicked off with a live poll asking the audience how confident they felt about flexible working. The results showed that over 40% of the audience were not confident that their workplace would embrace a flexible mode of work at all or without stigma attached.

The first speaker was Annie Auerbach, co-founder of cultural insight agency Starling and author of Flex, a book about reinventing work for a smarter happier life. Auerbach discussed the ways the pandemic response has disproportionately impacted women and minorities. “To put that into hard numbers, a macroeconomics study by the National Bureau of Economic Research in the US, predicts that the gender pay gap alone will worsen by 5% and take two decades to recover.”

Auerbach talked through the key trends she has seen when researching her book, the biggest being that the UK has the longest working hours in Europe. The UK averages at 42 hours a week, which works out as an extra two and a half weeks a year, compared to the rest of Europe.

However this does not transfer into productivity, and burnout is becoming increasingly common. Auerbach says the average French worker has achieved more by Thursday than the average UK worker does in an entire week.

Another trend is improved technology, which has enabled us to be far more aware of our bodies and the correlations with our environments. “Why then were we forced in the rigidity of working nine to five, when it is not capitalising on the time we are most energised or perform best?” asks Auerbach. The ageing workforce also calls for us to think long term about sustainable working as people are working longer hours for more years.

Sinead Rocks, managing director for Nations & Regions at Channel 4, talked through the ways the business has evolved from being a fairly traditional organisation with one site to a more flexible and geographically inclusive business. Rocks led the expansion of new sites in Glasgow, Bristol and a new HQ in Leeds. “We needed to be as representative of the UK as a whole and if we were all based in one office in London living very similar lives, how could we?” says Rocks.

Channel 4 is looking towards what Rocks calls a 50/50 manifesto. “We think from masses of staff engagement that we want to be together part of the time, and we don’t want to be together the rest of the time.” But there is not a one size fits all strategy for businesses, the focus is not on being present in an office, but on achieving flexibility on how and when you do your work.

But, Rocks says people miss the social interactions that lessen the cognitive load. “You want it to feel like the commute is worthwhile and people are getting the chance to feel part of a wider organisation.”

Rania Robinson is CEO and partner of creative agency, Quiet Storm, discussed the importance of understanding that everyone has different experiences at home. “But what came as a universal positive was that people were finding ways to fit other things that matter to them into their lives,” adds Robinson.

Remote working has become very task led which Robinson says is great but you start you lose the softer benefits of unplanned conversations and idea sharing, particularly between different internal groups. Robinson touches on the challenges for younger people entering the industry, “You can’t use a fixed-flexible way of working that might not be of the best interest for younger people coming in, who learn through osmosis and hearing people in the office” says Robinson.

Create Not Hate is Quiet Storm’s initiative to get under-represented young people into the creative industries. Robinson says, “The more we want to encourage and support the right environment for a diverse workforce, that creates even more of a need for flexibility that takes into account peoples personal circumstances.”

Find out more about WACL and the #FlexibleFirst campaign here.