Very small businesses can profit hugely by employing staff on flexible contracts and allowing their hours to grow as the company develops, says the winner of’s Top Employer Award for SMEs with one to 25 employees.

Hireserve is a growing IT firm which “wholeheartedly supports the flexible working movement”, according to co-director Karen Ovenden. “It allows us to work very efficiently and very professionally,” she says. “We have every base covered very professionally. Some small companies think they can’t afford a marketing or a key finance person, but you can get that professionalism if you allow experienced staff to work flexibly. Flexible work is a wonderful thing to offer staff, but it’s also very sensible.”

Before the company Karen recalls how she was about to hand in her notice at a job which she found difficult to balance around her family life. Her boss asked her what she wanted to make it work and she says “I have never forgotten that and I want to give our employees the same consideration”.

For that reason she says she was “really excited” to win the Workingmums’ award. “When the announcement was made it was like everything had all gone into slow motion,” she says.

She adds that the way Hireserve works is by trusting staff, which means that recruiting the right people is crucial.

Karen says the company is very open about welcoming flexible workers at interview, but it also makes the point that flexibility is not a one-way thing. In return for granting flexible working, the company expects a bit of give and take, for instance, if there is a busy period it expects that the team will pull together and put in extra hours.

She says that by asking the right questions at interview she can find out if people are going to stick rigidly to their hours or whether they are adaptable and are “on the same wavelength”. “It’s about asking open-ended questions about what they are looking for,” she says.

Once staff are hired, Hireserve goes out of its way to keep them and this often works in the business’ favour.


Ovenden says roles have adapted and expanded as the company’s growth has resulted in an increased workload and families have grown older, enabling part-time employees to increase their hours or adapt their role to reflect their increased availability.

PR manager Emma Johnson started working mainly from home when her children were very young. As her role grew, her children started school and preschool and she could take on more hours. Recently she has changed to term-time working to enable her to work longer hours during term time and very reduced hours during school holidays or quieter times of year when doing a big PR launch doesn’t make sense.

Another way the company has adapted in order to retain valued staff is through creating new support roles. Melanie Cantle, the finance manager, was the second Hireserve employee and her role has grown hugely over the four and a half years she has been with the firm.

To enable her to continue to work to suit her family responsibilities but take on the additional work due to the company’s growth, Karen says her role was reviewed and it was decided that aspects of it could be re-assigned into creating a new “assistant” role. The company advertised locally and recruited a person who comes in twice a week to assist Melanie. “Felicity is a mother of three girls and is a real asset to the finance team and enables Melanie to concentrate on managing the finance function within Hireserve whilst still able to do this within her family friendly working hours despite her role having expanded,” says Karen.

She adds that staff know that they can come and talk to her or her husband Jeremy if they need to adapt their working schedule to help them balance family responsibilities. This does not just mean children. One senior manager had caring responsibilities for his elderly parents and also helped his daughter with childcare. At one point he had to move in with his parents and he worked remotely using web conferencing and instant messaging for a couple of weeks. “He worked as and when he could and it was not an issue,” says Karen. “We felt the last thing he needed at that time was to be worried about work.”

The Berkshire-based company has a low staff turnover which is a real business benefit, says Karen. “They are very confident in their role and in what the company’s aims are. They know the business inside out. It’s a very stable environment for clients. They deal with the same names all the time.”

She believes that it is easier for small firms to offer this kind of individual flexibility than larger ones. “There are not so many issues and potential effects on other staff and the operation of the business in a small firm,” she says.

“We like to think that we consider everyone as individuals. This benefits the business hugely as people like doing their jobs and enjoy being part of the team.”  Click here for more.

About the author

Tristan Potter

Tristan has a decade's worth of experience writing content and copy for organisations across Bristol and the Southwest of England. He has written on a diverse range of topics, including technology, philosophy, politics, and recruitment. His writing has appeared in The Drum, HR Grapevine, and The Guardian, among other publications. He joined Hireserve in March 2022.