The rise of flexible working, the future of the office and how Covid-19 has changed the relationship between employers and employees. Just some of the key topics recently discussed on The Currency podcast.
As Ireland was grappling with a recession in the 1980s, Ciaran Rowsome decided to make time his business. It was a bold move given he had a pensionable job with the IDA, but the Dubliner was so enamoured with the advent of flexible working that he wanted to launch a business helping companies manage the process.
“You’re always very ambitious when you’re young. And that’s what happened. I decided to take the plunge from a semi-state job into the private sector world,” Rowsome told The Currency in this week’s podcast.
Rowsome set up a FlexTime to promote flexible working, (known in the UK as MultiTime in the UK) in 1983. He got the idea for the business while working in the early days of his professional life. He saw companies from other parts of the world set up different bases in the UK and in Ireland and saw an opportunity to work with them. He created his business in Dublin with three staff which has now grown to 20.
“It’s obvious that this market is on the crest of a wave. It’s good for us, obviously, because we’re adding our new elements to the system, doing new things for our customers… A rising tide, if you like, lifts all boats.”Ciaran Rowsome
Although flexible working is a hot topic now, it is a fairly new concept for businesses when Rowsome launched in 1984. Rowsome was ahead of the curve in this area, but it meant convincing a lot of people of the value of flexible working.
“You’re pushing an open door at one level once everyone got to know what we were all talking about. But there was still a lot of explanation. People were nervous. Management was more nervous, I have to say, than staff. Staff really wanted this flexibility,” said Rowsome.
The business now has 400 customers including the Oireachtas, Allianz, AXA, Aviva, The London Borough of Lewisham, and Birmingham and Liverpool Universities. It is used by 200,000 employees across the globe, including on the Dutch Caribbean island of Curacao.
“We have a lot of customers now. It’s quite the little revolution actually out there. People don’t really talk about it much, not that they take it for granted, because it’s there. It’s like once you have it, it’s like having water, you know it’s there,” said Rowsome.
On the crest of a wave
Rowsome may be a trailblazer when it comes to flexible working solutions, but others are now catching onto that trend.
Flexible working arrangements are becoming increasingly popular to workers in the UK, according to Statista. The number of part-time workers in the UK has increased from six million in 1992 to nearly nine million in 2019. As working behaviours have evolved over the pandemic, there is a growing demand for more flexible working conditions. According to a recent report by Accenture, 83 per cent of 9,326 workers surveyed say they prefer a hybrid model, where they could work remotely for at least 25 per cent of the time.
Rowsome saw the pandemic as an opportunity to take a step back and look at what employers and employees needed now as we near the end of this pandemic.
“Lockdown was a curious time. What we were doing during that time was we did a lot of research and we did a lot of development, actually, because we knew it wasn’t going to be a very busy time,” says Rowsome.
“I found that when we were doing our research that people couldn’t really think about things like returning to work last September, even though we were quite fixated about it. We were thinking, gosh, we were quite worried about what’s going to happen and what we need to be putting into our system,” said Rowsome.
Although FlexTime went through a quiet period during the pandemic, Rowsome said the last three months were busy as restrictions eased. He said the interest in a business like FlexTime further indicates an increasing demand for flexible working.
Ciaran Rowsome in the Beacon Studio in Dublin recording this week’s podcast.
Is Rowsome afraid of competition coming up behind him offering similar services for employers and employees looking for a hybrid working model?
“I’ve always believed that competition is the life of trade. In fact, if you’ve got three kinds of shoe shops on the same street, people will associate that with that street. So therefore, I think it’s a good thing,” says Rowsome.
“It’s obvious that this market is on the crest of a wave. It’s good for us, obviously, because we’re adding our new elements to the system, doing new things for our customers… A rising tide, if you like, lifts all boats,” he says.
People have only been working in a hybrid model for just over a year. Some may say that the piqued interest in a hybrid working model may be a fad. Rowsome doesn’t think so.
“The feeling we’re getting is that, definitely we all know from research out there in the wide world, staff love the idea of being able to work from home,” said Rowsome.
“So therefore, I go to communicate with somebody and I’m not quite sure whether they’re there. And that’s quite stressful for supervisors and staff as well.”Ciaran Rowsome
There is also a cohort of people who do not want to work from home and therefore a model will have to be in place that will cater to various different groups in one organisation, which is what FlexTime can be used for in this scenario.
“We have to remember, in all this discussion, the supervisor. And they get quite put upon if there’s this amount of flexibility going on. It’s a curious situation for us. We started off trying to promote flexibility. But since then, what’s happened is the legislation has come in for this and that and the other. Like maternity leave, paternity leave, and job sharing,” said Rowsome.
Rowsome has been at the helm of FlexTime for almost 40 years and said there there is a handover plan for when he eventually steps back from the company.
“Everything is finite in life. We have a plan of sorts. It’s been in our heads for a while,” said Rowsome, who adds that he could also take inspiration from his grandfather and work until he reaches 80.
For now, he is focusing on opening a new office in the UK and creating new solutions for a more hybrid working environment post-Covid.
Investec is the sponsor of The Currency’s business podcast series. It provides a range of solutions, including specialist FX, Treasury, Corporate Finance and Lending services. To find out more about how Investec can help your business, click here.
Investec Europe Limited trading as Investec Europe is regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland. Investec Private Finance Ireland Limited trading as Investec is regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland.