June 6 is Flexible Working Day – an international day to celebrate and showcase the benefits of flexible work for both people and organisations. “It is about people working in ways that allow them to achieve their best and for employers to reap the rewards.” (Flexible Working Day, 2018)
A flexible approach to work is now commonplace in many workplaces, not just for the chosen lucky few, but for all. A vast majority of roles can now be worked flex. But many organisations and leaders still struggle to normalise flexible work fearing that too much flexibility will lead to lost productivity and chaos in their teams. How can the benefits of flexible work outweigh the challenges, here’s how we’re making it work at Parents At Work.
We’re a small business, there’s less than 10 of us supporting thousands of busy working parents everyday. If one person is sick, on leave or not working on a particular given day, like any small team, we feel it. However, it’s our flexible attitude to work that’s allowed us and the business to thrive. We’ve built and fostered a culture that means our flexible approach to work actually helps our business to grow and be agile to change. And boy are we uber productive. Every member of the team has their own way of working it.
Some of these ways include:
- Working from home on set days per week
- Working at 4am or 8pm when the kids are asleep (depending on your ‘early bird’ / ‘night owl’ preference)
- Working around school pickups & drop offs
- Working from home when a child is sick
- Working whilst travelling
- Having general work days but maintaining flexibility if a day swap is needed for non-work related activities
- Organising family / personal life stuff (like calling the plumber) and making up what’s needed for work outside the traditional working day
- Taking breaks whenever you want, not when the clock tells you so and always in consideration of workload and deadlines
- Bringing kids in to the office when we can’t find a babysitter and don’t want to take a leave day or have an important meeting.
Benefits of working flex
The benefits the Parents At Work team have found to be most profound is two-fold.
The first being the benefits to our families. We get to go to school assemblies and be there for bed time tuck ins. It also facilitates a family atmosphere at work – we care about each other because we share what’s going on in life outside of work. We don’t hide the fact that it was hard to get Freddie out the door that morning or Grandma’s needing some TLC after a fall. There’s a respectful space for talking about life’s issues without allowing it to overtake the focus of work. But the very fact that there is no stigma or judgement around ‘personal life’ creates an ease and care that translates into the quality of our work. In comparison, compartmentalising work and home life creates a rigidity that stifles our expression and forces us into wearing different coloured hats for different places rather than simply bringing all of us to every moment of our day.
To this point, the second area we have benefited most is in our work. We are more productive than ever because we can each establish a flow and work rhythm that works for us as individuals. Some of us love working in the early hours of the morning – others couldn’t think of anything worse and prefer working later in the evening or during traditional work hours. If we break our day up ie. work a bit in the morning before child wakes up, a chunk in the office, another hour after school pick up and maybe an email check after dinner – we get many breaks throughout the day to freshen the mental cogs and keep the body moving (8 hours sitting at the computer is a tough gig for anyone!). So both our work quality and our personal wellbeing hugely benefits.
Challenges to working flex and what’s needed to counteract them
If you drop communication or collaboration standards things start to go pear shaped pretty quickly – clear and thorough briefs and regular meetings are essential when you are not seeing each other every day.
For the leader of the project this is particularly important but to take the pressure off one person it’s important that all members of the team contribute in a way that is fully engaged and transparent about what they are doing and how they’re doing it. Not necessarily in great detail but enough so that the team knows what’s happening and when. This level of transparency prevents crossed wires and stagnation in projects – something that can happen when that face-to-face energy is not there to propel things forward.
It also requires a great commitment to sticking to your purpose – both as an employee and employer. As employees we need to constantly reconnect to why we’re doing what we’re doing – to focus on the bigger picture and not slack off from either work or home life. Just as it could be easy to take advantage of flexible working by not putting in the effort to get the job done well (because no one’s seemingly watching – a fallacy, as your quality of work will quickly reveal all) it’s also easy to go into over-drive with work at home. If the family can see (in the flesh!) how much you’re doing and stressed you are they’ll understand right? No, it takes a constant monitoring or feeling into to gauge ‘what’s needed when’ for both work or home to avoid an imbalance.
For managers and employers it’s about checking in diligently and respectfully whether flexible work is indeed working for the employee, their team and the business as a whole. The statistics show that it most cases we outperform ourselves when given the freedom to work flexibly however factors can creep in to steer the ship another way. For example, a life circumstance that causes stress or distraction at home, or boredom in a role can create complacency and lack of motivation – harder to shift when the employee is not present. But these situations are rare when it comes to flexible working because most people – especially time chasing parents – are very appreciative for any leeway around ‘the busyness of life’ they can get. We know what we get out of it – plus it’s empowering to know that you get a say in how the show is run, so to speak.
The benefits outweigh the challenges
Whilst not all jobs can be made fully flex there will likely be elements of a role that could consider more flexible arrangements. To start with it can be tricky to think it’s even possible but if we dare to go there it can do wonders for our work-life balance and productivity. Whether you are a manager or an employee it is worth enlisting the support of someone who knows the ins and outs of role redesign. The business benefits and personal health benefits will prove this is worth the effort, time and expenditure to do.
For more information on about Flexible Working Day, including how to nominate your organisation, manager or self for a flexible work award visit www.flexibleworkingday.com
To watch a free webinar workshop series on a range of flexible working topics for both employers and managers tap here.
For free videos on how organisations and managers alike are making it work – including one on Can flex work for men? watch here.
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