The Smart Working experiment and the new frontier of competition in acquiring top talent

The Smart Working experiment and the new frontier of competition in acquiring top talent

The complexities of returning to the office do not have a one-size-fits-all solution, and as such it’s hard to see where the market as a whole is going. Every business will have its own ‘Return to Office’ strategy and its own perspective of what strategy it needs to best service the business, the employees, and the clients/customers.

Maturity of business, the key priorities of an organisation, and the type of individual role will influence what type of working (in office, remote, or flexible) will best suit. Not only is the return to office strategy subjective to a business, but it is also dependent on the personal needs and requirements of each individual within that business.

With this in consideration, there is now an added complexity to sourcing new talent in more than one respect. It’s no secret that there is currently a shortage of skills in the market, and with that comes market distortion wherein the power of hire is in the hands of the candidate. As a result, companies need to look closely at both their structure and their benefits in order to contend with other businesses and have the most attractive offering. 

If we look at it positively, there is a real opportunity here for companies to look further afield and to hire with diversity (hire people previously limited from physically or geographically coming into an office)- but this only works with individuals that are comfortable and equipped for remote working. 

“Many managers and those at a senior level have found that their productivity has increased since working from home,” explained John Rainsbury, Head of Executive Search here at Sanderson, “but for some people the exact reverse can be the case- for example, the next generation of talent.

“How do you effectively coach, mentor, and develop skills in people if you’re not with them? You can do a certain amount over technology- zoom, teams, and other platforms- but I don’t think any of them quite replicates sitting in and around other people. Just seeing or hearing things that you adopt, half of what you learn in the workplace is based on nothing you’ve been taught.”

John noted that we’ll be seeing many technological changes and advancements that will help contribute to more effective mentoring and support for those entering the workforce and taking their first steps upon the career ladder. We’ve already adapted so quickly to changes that the question of how to integrate the new generation of workers may prove to be easier than anticipated.

Quick adaptation and a widening talent pool hold promises for the future

Have we now got a wider scope to find talent?


The Head of Executive, who has been in the industry for nearly twenty years, admitted that when Covid first hit he didn’t expect talent acquisition to react as seamlessly as it did and was pleasantly surprised at how both candidates and clients took the change in stride:

“I wondered if candidates considering a new role would take that leap of faith- but everybody did...

“I don’t think I’ve actually spoken to one person who was concerned that they hadn’t been in the office or met the person face-to-face. People are willing to make the moves, and equally customers seem far more confident in their ability to assess candidates at interview based on that video interaction.

“What it has done for executives is open up much broader talent pools of candidates to consider without being limited by geography. I regularly see businesses now asking questions of how they would support employees working internationally.  What are the legal, tax, or practical considerations of making that work?”

With industries picking up pace in our economic recovery and our digital world expanding at a rate which is causing skills shortages, the dissolving of geographical barriers that flexible working offers is one of the solutions at hand. 

With both the importance of improving diversity and this general skills deficit in mind, a more proactive approach to hiring is key to securing quality, diverse talent. The widening geographic talent pool offers more opportunities, but it takes a highly targeted approach to identify the very best, relevant talent that will respond positively to your offering.

Companies which haven’t yet responded to the current change in landscape are at risk of their own top talent considering other environments that suit their working patterns better. In addition to this, these companies will find their local talent acquisition efforts to be further impacted by the increased competition from companies with developed, smart-working structures.

John commented: “In specialist talent pools where there is a very significant skills or subject matter deficit, this is likely to influence decision-makers differently- do you take the opportunity to offensively go hunting for talent further afield, or do you offer a more flexible structure to your current talent as a defensive measure? Are you going to take advantage of the talent mobility picture, or are you having to avoid losing key talent?”

A case study for “Smart Working”: How Admiral UK is tackling the new working frontier


Admiral UK have taken the return to office conundrum and with it have created a Smart Working model which addresses the concerns felt by many as we assimilate towards a post-Covid working structure. The company acknowledges that its employees preferences and needs will change, which is why the Smart Working model will remain flexible and agile.

Elisabeth Guillier from Admiral UK explained: “We believe that giving our people choice and flexibility on how they work is critical to their enjoyment, and this translates into great customer service and business performance.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how we work, and we have learned that we can continue to operate effectively while working differently, and remotely. Our people are embracing remote working and are telling us they want it as a long term option. 

“We are responding to our people and intend to become a leading “Smart Working” business to support the freedom of choice for our people, and as a lever to deliver business benefits whilst protecting the needs of our customers.  We are excited about the opportunities a more flexible approach to our way of working brings us, including attraction and retention of top talent in the market.

“We are aware that there are a number of potential challenges to overcome in transforming our way of working.  Areas that are top of our mind in developing our approach to the changes are:

  • Protecting the unique Admiral culture.  We are proud of our culture, and are evolving it to suit the changes ahead.

  • Equipping our leaders with the skills required to successfully lead hybrid teams.

  • Ensuring that our tools and technology are fit for purpose, providing a seamless experience.

  • Adapting our office spaces for the shift toward collaboration, engagement and fun.

“In true Admiral style, we are adopting a test and learn approach to everything from working patterns to how we use the offices.”

Admiral has set out a long-term plan which will continue to test the effectiveness of the Smart Working model. Conscious of the effect that remote working can have on employee relationships, the firm have factored in days in which colleagues can connect and collaborate with one another in order to keep the company culture and trust and support amongst colleagues.

Admiral expanded upon how they will ensure transparency, fairness, and support for the people working for them:

“We will have groups testing 100% remote, and hybrid workers that spend around 40% in the office together. We are also introducing “Connect Days” where people in roles that rely heavily on collaborating cross-department, primarily in support functions, come together in the same location on set days of the month (we’re looking at 2 days every 2 weeks). 

“The aim of this test is to provide the setting for the unplanned “opportunistic” collaboration and fun that we’ve all missed. Critically for us, we are asking that if we are in the office, we aren’t there to do “solitary” work, but rather to collaborate, foster innovation, integrate new team members and (importantly) have fun.”

Has remote working reimagined colleague relationships?


The pandemic seems to have done away with the stoicism of previous company structures and given-way to a more modern approach to work/life balance, working relationships, and what makes for the foundations of company success.

Have we been given the opportunity to truly re-address what it means to work and the potential for a more holistic approach to working life and colleague interaction? Will companies that are open to adaptation and change be more effective in curating their company culture, values, and ethos?

It’s still an experiment in practice with many obstacles still to navigate and every company is approaching it in a different manner. As said previously, there is not a one-size-fits all solution, but embracing the changes has taken us much further than we’d thought possible before.

To find out more about Sanderson visit our website, or start a conversation with John Rainsbury on LinkedIn.