‘PR firms that don’t embrace flexible working will become obsolete’: Weber Shandwick Dubai deputy MD

After the recent GWPR MENA survey, Rachel Dunn, Global Women in PR MENA board member, says businesses in the region must adopt flexible working practices to benefit all.

 Rachel Dunn is deputy MD of Weber Shandwick Dubai and a Global Women in PR MENA board member
Rachel Dunn is deputy MD of Weber Shandwick Dubai and a Global Women in PR MENA board member

Tell us about the GWPR MENA survey in partnership with Censuswide?

We commissioned the survey amongst communications professionals in the region to understand the state of play when it comes to flexible working practices, as this is a core focus area for Global Women in PR MENA this year. The results revealed striking statistics and glaring insights into the relationship between flexible working, productivity and retention of talent.

One of the most staggering findings was that 84 per cent of male and female respondents said they would consider changing jobs if a potential employer offered better flexible working options. This will only increase, with more younger millennials and Gen Z coming into the workforce – employers will need to reframe their thinking when it comes to flexible working or risk losing out on attracting and retaining top talent. Put simply, flexible working is no longer a ‘nice to have’; it’s become business critical – our aim at GWPR MENA is to help businesses in the region embrace flexible working and prepare themselves to improve their flexible working practices to benefit all.

The survey found improved productivity for those who adopt flexible working methods. Is this something you have found at Weber Shandwick?

Absolutely. As a consultancy, our people are vital to our success, and as the workplace has evolved, so too has our approach to flexible working. Here in the UAE, I would say we take a flexible approach to flexible working (pun intended). For example, we have working mothers who are doing part-time hours and parents who take time out of the working day to do the school run. All employees are given the opportunity to work remotely in the afternoons and we accommodate people’s requests on an ad hoc basis if they need to take time out of the working day to attend to a personal or family matter.

These are not huge operational changes and I would argue they are also relatively easy to implement, providing you have the right technology in place and buy-in from leadership. We’ve received overwhelmingly positive feedback from employees to date who value being able to work remotely or to their own schedule, and I would say we have also seen improved efficiencies from an operational perspective.

Fundamentally though, trust between agency leadership, staff and clients has been the true success factor in introducing flexible working – if you create a culture of empowerment and responsibility where people have a shared goal and sense of purpose, there is mutual trust which means everybody is full committed to doing their work, regardless of whether they’re in the office or not.

In return, this then leads to higher staff retention and makes us a more attractive place to work for new talent. Flexible working is unanimously in demand from employees, and companies that don’t embrace it risk being rendered obsolete in years to come.

In a region that struggles to retain talent, is flexible working one of the answers in keeping members of staff?

I believe so, yes, and our research supports this. Two-thirds believe that good talent is lost due to lack of flexible working, whilst three quarters (75 per cent) of respondents believe that flexibility increases return on investment and productivity. In looking at the findings, it absolutely makes economic and business sense to ensure flexible working is a ‘table stake’ when it comes to working in this new decade.

What else needs to be adopted?

First of all, I think we need to acknowledge the elephant in the room: trust. If a lack of trust is something people are facing in their organisations, it’s time to speak up and ask why the trust has broken down (or why it was never there in the first place) and look at ways to repair this, which is something that absolutely has to come from the top down. For me it’s simple – if you don’t trust your employees (or your employees don’t feel trusted), you need to look at your recruitment process and also consider the behaviour of leaders who are enabling or promoting this culture and put a plan in place to tackle it, fast.

How important is flexible working? For women in particular?

Whilst women, working mothers in particular, have often been the ones to put their hands up and ask for flexible working arrangements, it’s unhelpful to think of it as a ‘women’s issue’ – who wouldn’t want to be given more flexibility in the workplace? Speaking as a working mum of two young children, there are obvious benefits to flexible workingm, which allow me to balance my personal and professional lives, but it goes beyond popping out to do the school run during the day. It’s the ability to sit in a quiet café and work on a proposal if I need to, or to come in later if I have a doctor’s appointment, or to work from home if one of my children is ill. If employees know they have the full trust and support of employers, that can have a huge impact, and we all know increased productivity and a happy and healthy workforce drive business results.

What would be a game-changer on business practice for females in the business?

Flexible working to become the norm across all companies in the region, rather than something championed by a handful of trailblazers. In today’s uncertain times, in what is already an ever-connected world, we can expect to see more and more organisations in the region trialling flexible working, which is a step in the right direction.

Rachel Dunn is deputy MD of Weber Shandwick Dubai and a Global Women in PR MENA board member

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