Are you accessing the right talent you need to scale-up?

For companies who are out of the start-up phase and looking to take their business to the next level, this is a very exciting time. But in the era of the ‘Great Resignation’, increasing demand for flexible working, and inflation rising to its highest level in decades, accessing the talent needed to scale-up can be difficult. For this feature, Business Leader Magazine spoke to several companies about how they are managing to grow during such a testing climate.

How are companies finding recruiting the talent they need to grow?

According to Statista, in the three months to November 2021, UK job vacancies reached 1.2 million – a record high. This was half a million more than in the same period in 2020. Not only is this a strong indicator that people are leaving positions in their droves, but it also suggests that companies are finding it difficult to attract new talent.

Douglas Dinwiddie, Managing Director of web developer and digital marketing agency White Digital, weighs in on his recruiting experience: “Luckily, we haven’t found it too tough to recruit at White Digital. We could make a few assumptions as to why this might be, but I do feel there’s a certain amount of serendipity.

“White Digital offers unlimited holidays and flexible working, so I think this may help with recruitment. We also rely heavily on people being independently accountable for their little piece of the puzzle, which I feel is really attractive for the right person.”

Research from Timewise found that 87% of all full-time employees in the UK either work flexibly already or say that they want flexible working. Therefore, flexible working might well be one of the reasons White Digital has been successful in attracting new talent.

Lorna Davidson, the Founder of recruitment consultancy redwigwam, has also had no trouble when recruiting new staff, and this is thanks to a variety of measures.

She commented: “At redwigwam, we’ve seen the size of our own business grow massively over the course of the pandemic. We’ve recruited a whole variety of positions and promoted some roles internally. I like to shape roles to people, allowing them to really use the best of their skills and develop their own careers. We’ve found some fantastic new people through job adverts, but also through recommendations from the team and suppliers.

“We also use the redwigwam system to fill some of the roles we need. Our chat managers, for example, are redwigwam workers who really understand some of the issues which come in and are brilliantly placed to answer them. We offer a referral scheme to anyone who works or hires with us too – so you’ll get paid for recommending people to redwigwam!”

But according to Bradley Pallister, CTO at service provider Innovolo, there may be another way companies can stand out from the crowd.

He commented: “At Innovolo we work hard to maintain a great company culture. This is important for us to provide our teams with their key differentiator: autonomy. Our model allows our clients to remain in the driving seat so they can get on with doing what they do best.

“We’re growth-oriented and that means we need to attract the best talent possible – no matter what industry or sector they come from. Our recruitment is predominantly project specific. We’ve got a database of around 5,000 freelancers from all over the world who have passed our rigorous screening process and we tap into this resource as required.

“We look for people who are highly skilled at what they do along with being great team players. However, our success is predicated on attracting very high calibre individuals – so there’s no compromise on standards!”

Sam Spoors, who is the Founder of talent and resourcing consultancy Talentheads, has developed another method of helping them to find the right talent.

She said: “We are proud of our growing team and the level of expertise they have brought into Talentheads. The market has changed, we need to stand out to be able to get the attention of the talent we need. However, we definitely find sharing our story, journey, mission, and values has hooked the right professionals in.

“We’ve definitely seen an increase in demand from our partners looking to recruit – we are working on long-term strategies around employer brand and the value proposition to ensure the right candidates are seeing (and engaging) with their opportunities.”

Is it better to work from home or in the office?

With almost nine in ten employees seeking some form of flexible working, we were interested to learn how scale-up companies felt about working from home and in the office.

“We’re fairly relaxed on working from home,” said Douglas Dinwiddie. “I like having the team in the office as there’s always a fantastic atmosphere. We tend to create a buzz which radiates inspiration.

“However, certain members of the team really enjoy working from home, and that’s also fine. The way we are set up means each member of the team has their work to deliver and as long as it’s done (and done to a high standard), we don’t really worry about whether it happens in or out of the office.”

Lorna Davidson discusses her company’s experience: “I remember right at the start of the pandemic, the switch to complete remote working just wasn’t a big drama for us. Many of the team worked remotely anyway for much of the week, so we already had all the tools we needed in place.

“Our head office in Liverpool has been there throughout, and while I don’t see that changing in the future, there won’t be an expectation for people to do a certain number of days in the office.

“For me, it is about allowing people to work where they want to in a way that suits them. It means I am better placed to attract the right talent from wherever they may be in the UK and allow them to work in a way which suits their lifestyle.

“Where does that leave the office then? Well, what we do have now are purposeful office days (I do think sometimes nothing beats a face-to-face meeting).

“So, a project team will all meet up for a workshop perhaps. And some of the team do prefer to work in the office for a couple of days a week, so that option is there if they want it.”

Sam Spoors believes there is value to be gained from employees having time together. She comments: “We’ve actually just secured offices after being based from our kitchen tables and home offices since the beginning of Covid-19. We believe it’s important to have some time together to be able to build personal relationships, share ideas and ensure we’re developing and investing in our bond as a team.

“Although communicating and seeing each other by Teams on a daily basis has its perks (flexibility, time efficiency, home-work life balance), we want to grow together and, therefore, the opportunity to be in one physical space a couple of days a week is definitely for us.”

A study from Microsoft found that working from home reduces creativity, communication, and teamwork. There are also other studies highlighting the potential damage to mental wellbeing caused from the isolation of working from home. Conversely, differing studies have also found that working from home can increase employee performance.

As such a complex issue, whether home, office or hybrid working is the most effective form of employment is likely to vary widely amongst companies. But one thing is for sure: in an era where attracting talent is arguably more difficult than it’s ever been, companies looking to scaleup need to find ways to standout.

The aforementioned Timewise study also found just 26% of UK job vacancies advertised some form of flexible working, so is this the way to go to bring the surging number of job vacancies down?

Has the UK leaving the EU made it more difficult to attract talent?

Brexit has been cited as a reason for last year’s shortage of HGV drivers, along with staff shortages in a plethora of other industries. With Brexit making it more difficult for EU nationals to come to the UK and work, we wanted to learn if scale-up companies had been impacted at all.

Bradley Pallister commented: “Not really. We have international clients on our books so, as you can imagine, the UK leaving the EU hasn’t had a significant impact on their businesses or on Innovolo’s ability to service them.”

Talentheads has managed to avoid the wrath of Brexit too, although Sam Spoors says it has affected their talent pool.

She said: “No, we have not felt or seen this – for our business or for our partners. The talent pool is definitely not as wide and diverse as it previously was. However, an open mindset on what we need, what we can offer and how we can maximise the talent available to us has allowed ourselves, and our partners, to grow.”

However, Douglas Dinwiddie said: “It certainly has impacted the recruitment for many businesses, especially in the leisure and hospitality industries, but White Digital hasn’t really been affected just yet.”

Conversely, Lorna Davidson explains redwigwam’s experience in the post-Brexit hiring market.

She commented: “It’s an interesting question, as we have seen the reduction of EU workers impact some of the roles we are hiring for. We do a lot of work in the warehouse and logistics sector, for example, and it has been more challenging to get some of the people for those roles compared to the same time last year.

“That said, we’ve done a fantastic job in recruiting for these roles – we’ve just had to think differently to find the people we need.”

Whilst the pandemic has undoubtedly wreaked havoc for companies operating in certain sectors, it is encouraging to learn that there are companies out there who appear to have Brexit-proof recruitment models, at least for the time being anyway.

How are companies adapting to match the expectations of potential employees?

Since the pandemic hit, a change has begun in what employees expect from work. There are people calling for greater work-life balance, others demanding higher salaries in the wake of surging living costs, and others who simply refuse to work in the same way as they did pre-pandemic.

So how are scale-ups adapting to the changing expectations of potential employees?

Sam Spoors says they are trying to adjust the ways that they used to attract new staff.

“It’s all about adapting now – the ‘new norm’ is definitely here,” said Sam. “Potential new employees want to feel individual and appreciated. For many, they want to see their values match with a business over a ‘paycheck’. We’re, therefore, looking at employees based on their skills, experience and fit to our team – and trying to remove the boxes that were historically set out when attracting.

“Flexible working, hybrid working, remote working, part-time or condensed hours and also development roles are all now options we consider and encourage our partners to also look at.”

Flexibility is also playing a key role for redwigwam. Lorna Davidson said: “Our ethos has always been about flexible working and treating people properly, and that isn’t going to change.

“One of the reasons our temporary workforce work for us is they get all the benefits of being fully employed – so holiday pay and access to a pension scheme, for example – but they get this while working in a totally flexible way.

“We are the only business in the UK to pay our staff daily (or they can choose to get paid weekly or monthly), but that means they can work on a Monday and get the money for that shift on the Tuesday.”

White Digital is another company where flexibility is valued. Douglas Dinwiddie said: “We were very fortunate (there’s that serendipity again) as most of us work on laptops and we use cloud software for the management of the business, so all communications can happen easily, without the need for face-to-face meetings. All of this lends itself to flexibility without too many alterations – we are playing into these strengths as much as possible.”

For Bradley Pallister, however, there are two key elements that helps Innovolo standout from other businesses.

He said: “As we mentioned, it’s all about culture and autonomy for us. I know this is quite a cliche, but we’re a unique kind of company, so we recognise that our proposition is not something you can simply mirror-image from another business.

“Our model requires the implementation of very specific behaviours which are as much driven by how we work, as who we look to recruit. We’re always looking for ways to improve and develop our proposition, but we know that if we get it right, then the business side will take care of itself. It helps that we absolutely love what we do!”

Ultimately, in an ever-changing world, attracting the talent needed to grow a business is not easy, no matter if you’re relying on what’s always worked for you or changing your model to meet new expectations.

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