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CEO says “People here don’t have to hide that their family are the most important people in their life.”
It’s perhaps no surprise that PowWowNow take a flexible approach to work. A company dedicated to the tech behind conference calls, webinars and video conferencing is bound to encourage remote working right?
But CEO Jason Downes insists it’s about more than that.
“We don’t do it just because of the business we’re in,” he insists. “But we wouldn’t do it just to be nice either.
“Ultimately we come at this from a business perspective. The flexible culture has just sort of grown as our company has grown up.
“We found that as we got bigger our young employees starting having families, we were setting up across different sites so we had to look at how we could continue to be productive given those changes. The answer was a culture of flexibility.
“It’s always been there but it’s been enhanced because we’ve seen the benefits in terms of productivity and in terms of acquisition and retention of talent.”
At PowWowNow flexibility means varying hours or working from home when necessary. Despite sponsoring research into family friendly work Jason admits their paternity policy is not groundbreaking. But he insists the level of flexibility on offer makes up for it. Interestingly some recent research found that key to a new mums health is not necessarily how much paternity leave her partner gets but how flexible he can be.
“We do some enhanced maternity and paternity,” he explains. “To us the important thing is the culture of flexibility and we make people aware of the policy, that they have the freedom to take unpaid leave if they want to and we’ve had examples of dads who’ve chosen to do that. Some companies try to hide it and they aren’t helpful when someone says they are going to be a dad or a mum, we actively make people aware of what’s available when they tell us.
“When I first went into business I would see people sneaking out of meetings to go see their kids play football or just to pick them up from nursery. At PowWowNow we operate an open diary system. People put ‘nativity play’ in that diary for example and that’s fine, of course they are going to want to see their child’s nativity play.
“People here don’t have to hide that their family are the most important people in their life.”
Jason himself faces a lengthy commute from his Hertfordshire home to the firm’s Richmond offices. Inevitably he mixes up his hours and location and he says he avoids doing the two hour journey at rush hour because it would be a waste of his time.
Jason has the experience to see how work and fatherhood has changed over time. “Personally I have five kids from 2 marriages. I have 3 young kids now aged four months, three and five and I can see things are very different from when my first child was born 17 years ago. I’ve seen that shift in attitudes but there’s still a long way to go. Last week I went to a meeting at my five-year-old son’s school, of the parents in the room 28 were female and seven were male. So we’ve not moved that far forward for dads.”
What has moved forward at pace is the technology that makes flexible working doable. 20 years ago the internet was new, now employees can share screens and join video conferences with ease.
“The information you need to do the job is typically housed in the cloud these days,” explains Jason. “If you need to be involved in a meeting you can dial in, if you need to see something or someone you can make a video call or you can join a webinar. There’s plenty of apps to allow you to chat informally within your organisation. The cost of being on a conference call is no more than the cost of a cup of coffee but for some people it would cost £20 for the train ticket to join that meeting physically never mind the wasted time on the journey.”
That tech around flexibility is no longer a barrier. What’s holding the policy back is an old-fashioned mindset in some companies according to Jason.
“In some industries it’s important to have strict hours and a set place of work but the UK is predominantly a service economy so that’s certainly not the case for most firms,” he says. “I’m staggered how inflexible some workplaces are. There’s still this thing about presenteeism when we ought to be looking at productivity, getting the work done whenever and wherever works.
“There’s still some fear from certain companies, from some managers that ‘I have to have people around me’ – it’s a command and control sort of thing. But those companies are beginning to struggle against the firms that are more flexible.”
The evidence increasingly suggests that firms that offer flexibility will be more attractive to workers, particularly millennials and even more precisely millennial dads. And allowing employees more autonomy over their hours and place of work makes for happier, more productive and more creative workers who benefit the bottom line at the firms they work for.
“Flexibility used to be seen as a benefit for employees only. But now we’re seeing there are benefits for the employers particularly around acquisition and retention of talent.
“At PowWowNow we’ve got people who have a growing family, who want to move out of London and that might mean a long commute. But they are still great people no matter where they are so why not have them work from home some of the time, dial in to meetings?
“We’re also seeing productivity and creativity benefits among people who work more flexibly and we’re only going to see that rise year after year.”
And the firm is evangelical about their approach. Every year they put on the smarter work initiative. It’s timed to coincide with the first day of the school summer holidays – when many parents get stressed at the prospect of six weeks juggling work and childcare. The project brings together 300 firms with a combined workforce of hundreds of thousands of employees to look at how flexible and remote working – using PowWowNow services of course – can make their lives easier.
And there’s the rub for Jason and his company. Primarily, flexible working is a boon for his firm and his employees so he’s keen for others to follow suit. It just so happens that if they do they might make use of PowWowNow tech. It’s a win win.