A recent report stated that the number of people working from home in the UK hit a record 1.5 million last year, up by 20% since 2006, and I suspect that’s an understatement given the number of people who also work from home on an ad-hoc basis.
This model of homeworking applies particularly well to the travel sector, as many agents make themselves available for customers beyond the traditional hours of a retail shop – or even that of a call centre with extended hours.
For us, working from home has been the foundation for many of our franchisees’ customer relationships and enables them to provide a better level of customer service and care.
That said, it isn’t for everyone and we are seeing an increasing trend towards people setting up shared offices with other Travel Counsellors, away from their home environment.
The big opportunity for us as employers and those that care about building relationships with customers and enabling people to have a better quality of life, is to encourage flexible working.
All businesses and people are imperfect. We are no different and we still have some work to do in our support offices to be even better in this regard (offering personalised working arrangements). It has to be done, as this is fundamental to the ability for businesses to drive growth.
The old mentality of offices being a place to check whether someone is in work and working is overtaken by those disruptive businesses that see offices as a space to encourage collaboration and sharing.
Similarly, disruptive businesses use technology to empower customers and people to connect, be that face-to-face, over the phone or via digital channels, and enable people to work flexibly, remotely and stay connected.
The competition for talent is not about whether people work from an office or home, or whether they are salaried or self-employed, but it is about whether you have a culture that enables and encourages staff to be trusted, and that includes the ability for them to flex their hours on a personal level and basis, so they can have a career, respect their responsibilities to colleagues and customers, and be a decent parent and partner.
Fundamental to being able to physically be effective is having access to the right technology regardless of the hour and location.
So, an unerring commitment to do the right thing by the customer, genuine individual flexible working and a continuous investment in technology will go a long way in those disruptive travel businesses that truly value the benefit of the independent personal travel adviser and those that support them.
Steve Byrne is chief executive of Travel Counsellors