By Juliet Turnbull, founder of 2to3days.com

“I am on vacation. I cannot read your email. Your email is being deleted”. This to-the-point out-of-office message put German carmaker Daimler in the headlines last summer for the right reasons. The company was feted in the UK press for protecting its employees’ right to a peaceful holiday.

The warmth of the public response to the Daimler email policy reflects shifting attitudes to accepted working practices. No longer are people admired for punishing schedules and clocking up endless overtime. Instead, employees are standing up for their right to leave the office on time and employers are recognising that what’s important is the value of an individual’s output rather than the number of hours they spend sitting behind a desk.

This more flexible approach helps secure staff loyalty and encourages a culture of openness where team members are treated as human beings rather than automatons.

Flexible working – small businesses lead the way

Small businesses have lead the way in terms of accommodating diverse and flexible working practices, capitalising on flexible working trends to shape it to their advantage both in terms of retaining skilled staff and strengthening their bottom line. This may mean looking at the current workforce and asking: does this role really need to be ‘full-time’?

The default for many jobs is full-time, even though on closer inspection, the same role could be delivered over less hours each week, by an external freelance consultant or as a job-share. Part-time does not mean you get any less passion, dedication or drive. Indeed, part-time workers often out-deliver on their work deliverables and have a far better sense of what they can achieve in each hour or day than their full-time peers who may have a greater tendency to drag their heels or pace themselves across a five day week. A traditional view might be that the coming and going of part-timers can be disruptive to the culture of a business, but talk to business leaders and the contrary is true. Part-time workers often inject energy into the working week, mixing up the culture and bringing in fresh perspectives from other parts of their life.

A rich seam of experience

Using part-time workers can help attract a broader range of potential candidates, many of whom will be highly qualified professionals and experts in their field. Some will be freelancers who have chosen to adopt a portfolio career or may be pursuing a personal passion on the days they do not work – perhaps writing a novel, coaching, or volunteer work.

Many part time workers are parents who’ve previously held high-powered jobs and are highly proficient across a variety of sectors and skills. Working part-time demands a base level of organisation and diary juggling and parent part-timers are usually highly adept at multi-tasking, rolling up their sleeves and handling the stress and flux characteristic of life in a small business.

Job sharing

Considering a job share is another cost effective option for small businesses and the benefits can be significant. Here you gain two brains for the price of one - you have access to double experience, judgement and insight (and you are still tapping into the motivated part-time community).

It’s also true that many part-time/flexible workers have a greater sense of responsibility for their working life – take mothers as an example, they have consciously made the decision to combine motherhood with a career. It’s a personal choice and they will put everything into making that work. They’ve chosen part-time work so that they can fit the rest of their life into those days when they are not working.

Missing a trick

We are bombarded by news of a skills shortage, under-qualified or under-motivated candidates, a constant cycle of time-wasting interviews, and a lack of diversity in our workforces. I believe part of the answer to these issues lies in the untapped and hidden talent pool of part-time workers – employees who are experienced, committed, prepared to work hard but need a little flexibility thrown in.

Like Daimler with its holiday emails, it’s time to take a different approach, to be more open-minded and to switch off the ‘full-time’ default. The old adage of work to live, not live to work is coming to the fore once more and part-time workers can help show us the way.