Richard Morris, UK CEO, Spaces

A recent survey from coaching organisation Women Returners reveals that 87 per cent of women making a return from a career break want the option to work flexibly. The figure makes for interesting reading at a time of declining candidate availability and with demand for staff growing at the fastest rate since 2015.

Businesses are on the lookout for top talent, and women returning from career breaks will often be armed with the necessary experience and skill set. The onus is therefore on businesses to ensure that their working patterns are flexible enough to accommodate every type of jobseeker.

The Women Returners research tallies with our own findings on the appeal of flexible work to today’s workforce. Our survey among over 2000 UK professionals revealed that, if faced with two similar job offers, nine out of 10 workers would choose the company offering flexible working. Further, more than half of UK professionals would actively change their current job if one with more flexible working was offered.

Flexible working should not be confused with part-time working. What these return-to-work women are looking for is the freedom to fit the working day around their lifestyles. They want the flexibility to work nearer to home, adapt start and finish times and manage their own work/life balance more effectively.

Importantly, working flexibly does not mean working in isolation. Co-working – where workspace is occupied by individuals from different companies – is one of the biggest workplace trends of the moment. These spaces provide all the social buzz of an office, and are environments designed to foster innovation and drive productivity. Employee wellbeing is also firmly to the fore when it comes to aesthetic design decisions and the inclusion of communal areas such as cafes, bars and activity-led breakout areas.

Where some business leaders make the mistake of equating co-working solely with entrepreneurial extroverts, the co-working culture encourages individualism as much as social collaboration. It encourages people to work in ways that suit their own temperament, that match their own productivity patterns and fit their schedule on any given day. In fact, the co-working culture is best described by what it is not. It is not conforming to an office dress code, or shoehorning working hours around set times and routines. It is not the same old nine to five.

With flexible work options now available in most large towns and cities, this way of working can provide a more convenient work-life balance, allowing people to work from a professional environment while remaining close to home. This flexibility is optimal for those returning from a career break. However, according to our research, just seven per cent of UK firms say they are seeing more mums return to the workplace than last year.

The challenge for employers is not logistical, but attitudinal. Business owners must change their mindset from measuring performance by visibility and time spent at the desk, to measuring on output and results. This may require employers to make changes to reporting structures and to adopt new management techniques. It is about placing more trust in the hands of the employee, showing confidence in their professionalism and flexing the job around the person and their life outside work, rather than asking the person to fit an outdated and rigid working structure.

The financial and logistical benefits of working flexibly are convincing, but forward-thinking business owners see well beyond these advantages. Attitudes are changing and businesses are championing working structures that aim firstly to attract the very best employees and then to get the best work from each individual. This flexible approach provides a foundation to further explore the possibilities of tailoring working programmes to individuals in a way that simply is not feasible under a fixed structure.

Clearly, the option to work more flexibly is a major draw for top professionals, and particularly for women returning from a career break. Businesses recognising this fact – and moving away from old-fashioned work routines – will stand out from competitors as these talented individuals seek their next career move.

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