It’s National Careers Week 2024, and Ellen Little, Founding Partner at DSW Business Planning, reflects on the transformative power of flexible working within their company. What began as a response to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic has evolved into a cornerstone of their organisational culture, fostering greater autonomy and work-life balance for all team members.

In many ways, the COVID pandemic seems like it happened a long time ago.  The memories of isolation, homeschooling, socially distanced walks, and the 5 pm update from Number 10 are all starting to get a bit hazy.  One thing that the pandemic certainly accelerated and that businesses have embraced post-pandemic is still here: flexible working.  It’s been a game changer for me personally, and I’ve written previously about the benefits I’ve felt through the ability to fit work around my life rather than the other way around, but it has also been transformative for my business.

Many organisations have moved, or are starting to move, back to more of an office-based approach, and there are many benefits to being in an office with your colleagues.  I hope, though, that this can be balanced with the benefits to the business of allowing flexibility for employees in their working practices.  A balance of the two would seem optimal, although I appreciate that this will vary depending on the organisation and employees in question.

Our team at DSW Business Planning is predominantly female.  This is not, and never has been, intentional.  However, Becky, my fellow partner, and I are both working mums with school-age kids.  We therefore understand the value of flexible working and how it can increase productivity.  We encourage flexible working, which is attractive to our female colleagues, who are primary child carers in most cases.  Need to work at home due to Sports Day at school?  No problem.  Got to go and watch that Christmas play a couple of times?  No one envies you that, but go ahead!  It’s not just child-related flexibility, though. Want to go to the gym on Tuesday and Thursday mornings and shift your working day back to accommodate?  Do it.

As the employer of a small team of professionals, I trust my staff.  I know they will do their job and work their hours, and, you know what? If we’re quiet and they work slightly less, that’s OK because there will be times when we are not, and I need them to do more.  If I give when I can, I will get it back, probably twice over.

Our flexible approach has also given us access to some wonderful employees who could not commit to the standard 9–5 working days.  It broadens the pool from which we can employ, allowing working parents trying to cover child care or individuals with other external commitments to balance.  It also gives us a wider geographical reach.  We encourage the team to get into the office a couple of times a week if possible, but a longer commute once or twice a week is much easier to manage than every day.

I know flexible working is not the best approach across all sectors and organisations, and I feel lucky it is in mine.  For us, it is definitely here to stay.

At Dow Schofield Watts, the commitment to work-life balance is great among all our services. By prioritising flexibility and autonomy, DSW Business Planning has empowered its employees to thrive personally and professionally, widened its talent pool, and strengthened its working relationships.