mum working at home with child

Flexibility can play a transformative role in the workplace, and the past two years have shown us just how much it’s done for employee productivity.

But another area where it can make a real impact is in its ability to recruit and retain women in the workplace.

It’s no secret that women were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, with 117,000 fewer employed in October to December 2020, compared to the same period in 2019. The exodus continues today, with the ONS reporting that 43,000 women have dropped out of the workforce to look after their family in the last 12 months. The key problem? A lack of flexibility.

UK campaign group Pregnant Then Screwed says that not enough UK businesses have pivoted to flexible working models, and with the cost of living crisis driving up the price of childcare, the situation threatens to get worse.

Business leaders must act now to ensure that the workplace doesn’t miss out talent by not appealing to mothers and parents. While this is vital across industries, it’s particularly important in the tech sector, where 94% of companies say there is an industry-wide skills shortage. To plug this gap, flexibility must be a focus.

The appetite for flexibility

Flexibility is in such high demand because it can be a strong driver for inclusion. According to YouGov, flexible working and salary are the joint highest priorities for working mothers right now. Meanwhile, Future Forum research finds flexible remote policies were cited as the number one factor, across all workers, that has improved company culture in the past two years. Future Forum found that whilst 80% of knowledge workers want flexibility in where they work, 94% want it in when they work.

For me, as a mother and an engineering executive, flexibility is key to my personal and professional success. Without the need to commute to work every day, I get three hours back for me and my children, and am still able to produce my best work in a fast-paced tech organisation.

How I manage this isn’t through working less, but working better. Moving away from the old 9-to-5 office-based model of work has opened up a new world of asynchronous collaboration through a digital headquarters (HQ). By connecting teams and tools, the digital HQ empowers everyone to do their best work—whether that’s coding or fixing bugs—any place, any time. So, how exactly does the digital HQ transform your working day?

Driving flexibility through the digital HQ

Let’s take a meeting as an example. Often set to a single time and location, even in-person, meetings can be difficult for working parents to make. When it comes to my own situation, I might be taking my children to school or helping them with their homework. But with the digital HQ, I no longer have to choose between the personal and the professional, because I work in a digital space that is flexible and encourages me to be a part of it.

Asynchronous information-sharing in the digital HQ means I no longer feel like I’m getting half the picture of what’s going on. With clips for instance, developers can create short audio, video, and screen recordings to update colleagues or showcase what new ideas they’ve been building. There’s no longer a need to absorb this information within a finite window that doesn’t fit with your day—with the added bonus that they remain as a resource to reference.

When it comes to solving time-sensitive issues—like responding to an unexpected platform incident—audio-only huddles can help teams chime in on projects without scheduling meetings that interrupt their flow. These can be started with the click of a button and bring collaboration out of restrictive norms.

Both these flexible substitutes for meetings show how the digital HQ is not only a win for working parents like myself, but the workplace as a whole—with everyone getting time back to focus on the work that matters most.

Establishing a flexible culture

UK energy supplier Octopus Energy has long-championed flexible working because it recognises the incredible opportunities this offers a range of individuals with different circumstances. This is why the company has established an async culture with a digital HQ using Slack, meaning whether teams prefer to work remotely or face-to-face, they can do both.

The Octopus Energy team recognise their responsibility to create a great experience at work. This doesn’t stop at day-to-day tasks either, but extends to socials and team-building activities. Whether a remote wellness course or a weekly company get-together, the Octopus Energy team’s presence is no longer limited by personal circumstances. By running everything through the digital HQ, and integrating key tools like Zoom, everyone can easily join a full event or an impromptu chat around the digital watercooler.

As a result of using the digital HQ to bring everyone together, Octopus Energy has built a truly inclusive and flexible working culture—strengthening teamship as a result.

Preparing for an inclusive future

Leaders must now seize the opportunity to drive flexible working practices so that everyone can feel supported to do the best work of their lives, whether or not they need to balance that with childcare or other responsibilities. This will simultaneously ensure that tech companies are expanding the pool of potential hires, and can attract the best talent for the role at hand.

The tech industry, with its ongoing shortages of talent, cannot afford to miss out due to restrictive ways of working. By empowering teams with asynchronous communication and collaboration, the digital HQ brings a higher level of flexibility to the workplace, improves everyone’s experiences, and—crucially—ensures that the future of work remains open to all.

V-Brennan,-Senior-Director-of-EngineeringAbout the author

V Brennan is a Senior Director of Engineering at Slack, the digital HQ for businesses. V is an experienced tech leader, with previous experience at Spotify and the Bank of New Zealand. At Slack, V leads the traffic and service networking teams globally, as well as the datastores team in EMEA.