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Empowering your staff to give their best

Oasis and Warehouse COO Hash Ladha, FitFlop global people director Kathy Alison and DL1961 founder Sarah Faisal Ahmed gave their tips for creating a great workplace culture at the Drapers Fashion Forum.

Think like a start-up

Faisal Ahmed says: “We made a conscious decision to operate like a start-up. Number one was flexible working hours and satellite working. If you trust your team, they will return that with hard work and passion.

“We also want people to build careers, so we’re offering saving programmes, and paying for additional education and courses. Even if you leave us tomorrow, at least it benefits us today. Most of our work force is under 30. Fourteen people have left but come back to the business over the last five years.” 

Ladha adds that for Oasis and Warehouse, it’s about combining the modern approach of a start-up with the business’s traditional values: “I think when you look at start-ups today, their values are based in why the company was founded and set in the modern times of today. We run an established business, so I think it has a different form of culture because it was started when it was started, so it’s about respecting what has been, but ensuring it is a great place to work today.”

Offer flexibility

The panel agreed with Ladha that not offering flexible working is “prehistoric”.

He says: “We did a survey across the business and the top thing was being even more flexible in terms of working. Today, a workforce is working on the train in and at weekend. Employers get more out of teams today, because of technology, so our priority is to give even more flexibility.

“Warehouse has always had a 3pm finish on a Friday but Oasis hadn’t. So we have harmonised that across the business. It really increased productivity across the week as people really did want to leave early.

“We want to create flexible working day. It should be about output rather than if we have bums on seats. Start-ups have affected the overall culture. Leadership teams must not look prehistoric by refusing to change.”

Alison adds flexible working is what is expected of a forward-thinking business: “Flexible working is really important for us. It wasn’t difficult to implement, but some senior leaders thought it would be. We didn’t want to have too many rules. We didn’t want to spend six months dealing with all the what if. We did it based on trust.

“If we have hired the right people and got the right talent, then we have to trust them to do their jobs. If someone goes wrong, it’s probably not the flexible working – it’s that we didn’t hire the right people. And it went without a hitch. It was a really important move. It’s no longer an added bonus – it’s what people expect from a forward-thinking business.

Trust staff

Alison says that most staff were already working well beyond their contracted hours and that most candidates now ask for flexible terms: “So many candidates, particularly in digital and creative, were asking for flexible working. So many people were already doing above and beyond their working hours because they were so dedicated, so giving them more flexibility meant people felt much better about taking that time, going to yoga, having a doctor’s appointment.”

Faisal Ahmed observes that people in creative fields are increasingly refusing to be limited to regular nine-to-five working hours: “Flexible working improves productively and culture, and really does provide a much better work-life balance. The more you ‘cage in’ people, the more they think the grass is greener on the other side. Giving more power and trust to the workforce is going to increase your employee retention and create a better, more positive energy.”

Ladha adds: “I think all of this will become the norm and the losers will be businesses that don’t change. It’s our responsibility to provide a working environment that is challenging but also rewarding.”

Readers' comments (2)

  • Not only is some of this advice old hat, it’s disturbing how Head Office centric the comments are. Store performance has been directly destroyed by the very fact store teams can no longer make decisions.

    Let’s invest in AI to tell us to merchandise according to weather. Or, once upon a time, the store teams did that anyway!

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  • You've got to let store managers manage. They know their customers, Head Office does not. When Senior Management - or even worse - Marketing start poking their oar in and asking for unnecessary changes then that only goes one way, which isn't good for anybody.

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