Bob Hunt is chief executive of Paradigm Mortgage Services
In uncertain economic times, the issue of an individual’s work/life balance isn’t often raised – the argument being that, when times are tough we should be grateful for the job we have and we should put in the hours, even when we might not actually be paid for them.
I have a certain sympathy with the argument, however I’m not sure you actually see the difference in productivity just because you have members of staff working longer hours for you. Indeed, there is a lot to be said for ‘working smarter’ rather than ‘working harder’ – longer hours do not necessarily deliver better quality work and my opinion is that time spent away from work/with family is just as valuable.
It’s with this in mind that I saw the Green Party’s proposals prior to the General Election on the working week – simply put, the Green’s wanted to take the UK towards a four-day week. In a TV interview I saw with the Green’s Co-Leader, Caroline Lucas, it was put to her that in ‘difficult economic times’ this policy was simply a flight of fancy and one that no business in their right mind would agree to. Lucas suggested such a policy was already in place in certain Scandinavian countries and that some UK firms were looking at how the working week is planned out, how they get the most out of their staff and also provide them with sufficient leisure time.
Now, while I may not be wholly in favour of such a move, I can understand the notion of flexibility, working when you wish, and also – especially when it comes to life as a mortgage adviser – having access to all partners at times of the day which are outside the traditional 9-5. After all, when do advisers tend to deal with most clients – especially face-to-face interviews? It’s likely to be out-of-work hours, late afternoon and early evening. However, the problem is then progressing a case after those interviews, especially when most lenders and providers tend to operate within that 9-5 timescale.
I say ‘most’ because we are seeing a move towards opening hours beyond 5pm for some lenders, and to me this makes perfect sense, especially if you are an intermediary-focused operator. Why wouldn’t you want to be able to best facilitate business with advisers at the times when they are also wanting to carry out their work? In that sense, there could be a lot said for lenders/providers looking at their incoming communication – notably phone calls – and perhaps addressing peak times with increased staff levels. I’m sure this happens to a certain extent already.
But, you might add, doesn’t this get us to a point where advisers are working more, rather than less and getting the same outputs? Well, not necessarily. If we are also able to utilise the technology currently available, in order to take away some of the administrative burden, for example, or when it comes to affordability-checking clients, or in terms of structuring communication with clients, then we are into the realms of ‘working smarter’ and potentially working less.
Admittedly, we are going to need something of a sea-change in traditional attitudes, plus you have to contend with a client base that is used to a 24/7 service in all manner of areas. Which isn’t to say you can’t supply this, again through the use of technology.
All in all, it might seem like the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow that doesn’t exist but in this ‘ideal world’ it would be nice to think that smarter working can give us some of our time back, in order to enjoy the life we have outside the office. After all, what are we actually working for?