Working from home has already had an impact not just on our business or industry, but across the workforce as a whole. A recent report stated that the number of people working from home has dramatically risen from 20 percent of the entire labour force to 30 percent in 15 years. Now, nearly 17% of the 3.5 million Australian who often work from home in their primary employment say they do so for the "Flexible work arrangements” and “childcare/ family considerations".
This model of home working applies itself 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 enabled them to provide a better level of customer service and care.
However, it isn’t for everyone, and we are seeing an increasing trend for people for a variety of reasons setting up a shared office with other Travel Counsellors, away from their home environment. But fundamentally, they work the hours to suit the needs of their business, family and customers. So, the bigger 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.
I recently chatted to Clare, one of our Travel Counsellors who had joined us because she wanted to continue her career in travel and to look after her family living on a remote family run farm in Western Australia. She is now fully empowered to choose what hours she wants to work and has found the right balance.
Equality of opportunity regardless of gender and the increasing focus on mental health and wellbeing, are all supportive of an environment that should encourage flexible working down to an individual level. If we deliver personalised, tailored travel planning and advice to customers and the quality of that information is driven by people (and technology) then we should enable personalised working arrangements that meet the needs of the people delivering the service, so they are fulfilled.
All businesses and people are imperfect, and we are no different, and we have some work still to do in our support offices to be even better in this regard, but it must be done as this is fundamental to the ability for businesses to drive growth. Disruptive, technology-based companies such as ours understand that our future is entirely dependent on our ability to search, find, attract, retain and develop talent. So, we are in a competition to attract and retain the very best talent globally.
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 companies 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 and that includes attracting and keeping the very travel advisers, who are experts in their field, is not about whether you work from an office or home, or whether you are salaried or self-employed. It is and will be about to what degree you have a culture that enables and encourages you to be trusted and that includes the ability to flex your hours on a personal level and basis so you can have a career, respect your responsibilities to your colleagues and customers and be a decent parent and partner.
Fundamental having access to the technology to enable you to work, connect and deliver regardless of the hour in the day and where you are in the world what makes this possible. So, an unerring commitment to do the right thing by the customer, genuine individual flexible working and continuous investment in technology will go hand in hand in those disruptive travel businesses that value the benefit of the independent personal travel adviser and those that support them.
Fred has been running Travel Counsellors Netherlands since November 2005. Within a few years he built a profitable, trend setting travel business from 4 franchisees to more than 160 and an annual turnover of €45M. In 2014 Fred founded Travel Counsellors Belgium. He recently took over the role of Managing Director Travel Counsellors Australia working in the Melbourne head office.
He is also a TV Presenter and an active freelance Travel & Lifestyle writer and blogger for various fashion and lifestyle publications.
Before Fred joined Travel Counsellors he held a number of senior roles in the international travel industry and is still a member of the advisory Board of the Dutch Stenden University for Professional Education and founder and chairman of the registered children's charity Helping Hands.