THE fabled, and probably apocryphal, Chinese curse states “may you live in interesting times”, and we certainly are.

The era of uncertainty for businesses is not new to us, and it has been some time since companies and their leaders have been able to plan with any degree of confidence, due to the aforementioned interesting times that seem to have existed for over 20 years.

Here in Scotland, we have experienced four General Elections,

two Scottish Parliamentary elections and two referenda in the last 10 years alone; it’s hardly surprising then that we are all clamouring for a period of clarity and certainty.

However, we are unlikely to see this assurance arrive any time soon, so it is important for our leaders to advocate a more agile, and less risk averse approach when faced with these challenges.

We accept we have an ageing population in Scotland, and one that might soon be starved of the European migrant workforce, so we will face a different set of challenges from those we met in the past. The next generation has a different set of priorities, which should be embraced and not avoided.

Business trends come and go, and technology often drives real change; the introduction of email, laptops and mobiles has completely transformed working practices, and the next set of trends may well do the same.

Generation-Y is well versed in technology, and likely to be the first to adopt and adapt to the latest offering. Businesses will benefit from building a more inclusive, flexible environment which attracts these employees.

It’s no secret that the traditional model of working nine to five in an office behind a computer is no longer viewed as the key to a productive workforce. The opposite is true, with flexible working policies more widely accepted as standard.

As its popularity rises and it becomes a “norm”, we will be able to attract a broader segment of the population into roles who were previously turned off by the restriction of the traditional model. As this massively under-utilised workforce is mobilised in Scotland this will, in turn, drive efficiency, enhance productivity and improve workplace satisfaction levels.

However, merely recognising the fact that a more diverse and inclusive workforce will increase productivity is not enough. Leaders must take positive action to introduce these concepts, introducing policies that encourage flexible working to allow for extra-curricular responsibilities will lead to greater employee focus and a more engaged staff. 

Promoting behaviour that encourages positive culture and language will avoid workers feeling that they are perceived by their colleagues as less committed if they have non-work challenges to balance. A more diverse workforce

that is fully connected offers the organisation the ability to utilise their employees’ wide-ranging opinions while formulating product development and marketing strategies.

And, finally, once these novel approaches have been conceived, implemented and tested, they should

be measured and reported on. Non-financial reporting (or environmental, social and corporate governance reporting) will become

more and more important not only in decision-making by investors, but also by those seeking new employment. 

Inevitably those organisations, whether in the private, public or third sectors, that can demonstrate a more modern and inclusive working environment will attract a higher quantity and quality of interest from the talent pool.

The members of the Institute of Directors represent hundreds of thousands of years of board experience between them and it is reassuring to hear from these members that the leaders of today are making great strides in this space to future-proof their businesses. They will not only attract higher quality recruits but will also outperform those businesses who cannot or will not embrace this inclusivity. 

Businesses need to consider more flexible roles, processes and language, that allow everyone to feel equally valued, whether they have caring responsibilities, disabilities or transport challenges.

Malcolm Cannon is national director of IoD Scotland.