Olivia Meets Daisy Chain Founder Louise Deverell-Smith

I had the pleasure of hosting an interview with Louise Deverell-Smith, founder of Daisy Chain, on Instagram last week. I have long been a fan of Louise and her work - Daisy Chain is an innovative platform that brings together candidates with companies looking for employees open to flexible work (whether full time, part time or freelance). By setting this out from the recruitment stage, candidates don’t have the stress of starting those often tricky flexible working conversations themselves at interview stage. It’s a brilliant concept that I’d urge any of you looking for more flexible work options to explore. Here’s some highlights from my interview with Louise, where we touch on everything from what hybrid working actually is, to her advice on how to request flexible work. You can listen to the interview in full here

Olivia: Louise, I'd love you to introduce yourself: tell us about Daisy Chain and a little bit about your background.

Louise: I started Daisy Chain just over four years ago. I had worked in recruitment for over 10 years, and had my three children in that time. I was coming across so many parents, mainly mums, at the school gates, who knew I was in recruitment, and would say to me, 'can you find me a job' or, 'I hate this commute and it's stressful trying and get back on time', or 'I'm just not enjoying it'. Suddenly I had all these people coming up to me that wanted to find something more flexible to work around childcare. After my third child, Daisy, I decided now's the time to do something a bit different. I wanted to build something that was more tech based, rather than people based, and wanted to give people the opportunity to connect directly to an employer, rather than have a recruiter in the middle, trying to push things to suit their own needs. So that's how Daisy Chain was built. The daisy chain part comes because we're building a chain of people; we’ve now been live for just over four years and have over 10,000 people on the site actively looking for jobs, 98% of which are are female. We have over 100 companies actively looking to hire people as well. And it's all based on flexibility; candidates can say what they're looking for and be open and honest about what type of flexibility they need for their life at that moment in time. 

Olivia: You work with lots of many brilliant, big name businesses. I'd love you to tell us about those organisations, and have you seen a big increase in companies looking for more flexible working solutions since COVID happened? 

Louise: Obviously the last 18 months has seen a huge shift when it comes to flexible work; we’ve all just been through this huge flexible working trial. We have always worked with a breadth of businesses, from really large corporates to very small start-ups. I tend to find small start-ups are a bit more flexible in their approach to hiring, just because they don't have as many boxes to tick; they can be led by individuals and create roles tailored to them. With large corporates, it takes a lot more for them to be open to flexible working, but I feel we have come a long way since COVID - it's created a huge shift in people's attitudes. Yet still only 10% of jobs are advertised as flexible; it's not what it should be, when over 50% of the workforce already work flexibly or part time - and that's a huge number of people that could potentially be looking for a job. If companies can't openly offer flexible work, they are going to miss out on so much talent. Saying that, we've had an influx of clients join since COVID - they have seen the benefits and many still don’t want people to be back in the office, so more want to offer remote options when hiring. 

Olivia: What are some of the trends that you're seeing around flexible working? 

Louise: I think the main word I've seen recently is hybrid, which two years ago wasn't really mentioned a lot, but definitely is now. This is great for our candidates; because many are parents, the option to work remotely, whether that be from home or in a workspace, offers people so much more flexibility in their life. We spent so much time commuting and travelling and we've realised we just didn't have to do it - it’s really a bit of a waste of time. 

Olivia: It's really interesting looking at what organisations are proposing. Even the benefits of being able to go for quick walk in the morning is such a great thing to be able to do: as a working parent, I find I can drop my son, go for a quick walk, and then I have a little bit of time to myself to think through the day before jumping straight into it.  We have a question from a listener, which I might ask while we are talking about the topic of hybrid: Lolly has asked, ‘Is there a guide on what hybrid means? I've applied for a job that is hybrid, but they make no indication on what this is or what it actually means. I wonder if this will be standardised.’ 

Louise: I think if they're saying hybrid on a job site, that's a pretty good start and it means they're open to talk about flexibility, and you can set out what you're really looking for. As parents, we know what our childcare is and know what hours we can work, so you can go into to an interview and say, ‘I work remotely or will not be in an office on a Friday, or can I start at 10.30 on a Tuesday’. If this is an issue for an employer, then they're not the right company to work for anyway. If they're offering hybrid work, then think about what would work for you in a hybrid way, and they can always come back and say if that does’t work for them. 

Olivia: What do you recommend to those requesting flexible work, whether within a company you’re already working at, or if you're interviewing for a new role?

Louise: If you're already in a role and want to request flexible working, formulating a really good plan is key. Start by asking colleagues, ex colleagues or friends who are working flexibly successfully for their story, as that can then back up your story. Put together a really good case study to say what you would like and make it clear on which points you are flexible, and which you are not, then put your request in. You're allowed to put in a request in the UK from day one, so you should be able to request at interview stage for a new role. But get your case studies together, get your facts in order, and then ask for them to try it - if they’re reluctant, try suggesting a three-month trial. This may buy you three months to really prove your case. Make sure you follow up with people - check if it's still working, what's not working, what is working. You need to really know what your priorities are that you are non-negotiable, and what you are negotiable on - in your head know what you'd be flexible on yourself. 

Olivia: Yes, I think that's such great advice - so often we can go into these conversations knowing what we want, but like any negotiation, even if you're buying a house for example, there's always some back and forward on the cost. So you've got to be ready for a degree of flexibility within discussions. And Louise if someone’s request is declined, what would you recommend from there?

Louise: Ask for feedback about why it has been rejected, and then make a call on whether it's worth fighting for - a rejection can be enough to realise it’s worth looking for something else. I think work culture is really important. We've seen lots of candidates join Daisy Chain who are having horrendous times with their employers, and their work, culture is never going to change quickly. One of the good things with Daisy Chain is that all our candidates know that companies we work with have been vetted, and can offer flexible work. Otherwise, I would ask, 'Do you have a flexible working policy in place?' If they say ‘no, not yet’, that's a start. If they say ’no’, then that would probably be a flag. I think most companies now are quite honest about what level of flexibility they can offer, and also not all roles can be flexible, but 99% can. 

Daisy Chain is a free online platform for parents where they can match + connect with flexible employers to enhance their careers and work-life balance. Register now here.

Listen to my interview with Louise in full here or watch below.