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A case study for flexible working in recruitment

Jonathan Slater, managing director and founder of Ferris Slater, discusses the business case for a flexible working environment in recruitment, and reveals how it works for his business

What would happen if you gave all employees within a recruitment business unlimited annual leave, no set working hours, and complete autonomy to do what they wanted? Most likely, you’ll be thinking along the lines of: Employee attendance at an all-time low, employees working for two hours a day when they do show up, decreased productivity, and ultimately, the demise of the business itself.

This working environment is in fact called a ‘results-only work environment’ (ROWE), where essentially nothing matters apart from results. We decided to implement a ‘results-only work environment’ within a traditional recruitment agency model, and the results were somewhat surprising.

What is a ROWE?

In a ROWE, employees can work whenever and wherever they want. A ROWE values delivering results over face time at work. Job performance is evaluated solely on the basis of whether the necessary results are achieved by employees, not whether they’ve put in ‘face-time’ or ‘call-time’ at the office or have hit a matrix of complex KPIs.

Recruitment within the UK is notorious for long hours, working weekends and evenings, hitting multiple KPI’s, and sacrificing a work life balance in exchange for financial success. Recently though, surveys show that employees put ‘flexibility’ at the top of their priority list when choosing a new employer and many recruitment firms have taken notice.  

Implementing a ROWE within recruitment

We made the decision to implement a ROWE whilst developing a traditional recruitment start-up. Our current employees have no set working hours, can work when and from where they want, and manage their desks however they want.

Employees have two KPIs, which are set by me: A monthly gross profit target, and a quarterly gross profit target. It doesn’t matter how they are achieved or how many hours are put in to achieve them, if targets are hit, then the company should succeed. No other KPIs are put in place by me, but employees have the option of implementing their own KPIs, if they want to.

Every sector and every desk in recruitment is different. There’s no set formula for running a desk optimally and I think traditional agencies have had a bad habit of implementing set practices for all their employees, no matter who their client base or candidate pool is.

I think it’s vitally important, as a method of talent attraction, that experienced consultants are given autonomy in how they manage their desks. They might work better from home, or even out of hours from 5pm-9pm. It allows my employees to enjoy a far greater degree of flexibility than they have ever experienced before: If they need to do the school run three times a week, then that’s absolutely fine. We want to integrate work and life as much as possible, not separate it.

So far, the results from our ROWE have been fantastic, and instead of managing my employees, I’m there as a mentor when it matters most.

The considerations

A ROWE doesn’t work in all situations, it’s mostly suited to experienced professionals who can manage themselves. Some employees struggle without a set working protocol and structure, but fortunately with a ROWE, you can add bits in for individual employees where necessary.

Some employees do prefer some structure. For example, for one employee, we sit down on a Monday morning and go through the plan for the week, reviewing on the following Friday. But for others, they don’t need any input whatsoever, and prefer to be completely autonomous. I have six years’ experience, how can I turn to an exceptionally talented recruiter with 16 years’ experience and tell them ​what they should be doing? It just doesn’t work like that.

Our working environment has been one of the biggest factors in securing new talent and investment. It’s something which differentiates us from the competition and alongside a great profit share and benefits package, it’s almost impossible to offer something better.

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