Over the past few years, it has been encouraging to witness the shift in attitudes towards flexible working.
In 2018, the BBC published figures showing only 6% of UK workers had a 9-5 job, along with an acknowledgement on the part of employers that flexible working increased motivation, job satisfaction and the number of long-term retained employees.
But, there is still room for improvement, and with large corporates like BNY Mellon banning home working, and thus ruling out a big chunk of flexible working, we can’t rest on our flexible laurels just yet. We need to ensure that we continue fighting for flexible working; it’s key for employers to understand that their employees are humans who have needs and desires outside of the four office walls.
For those of us who are in the fortunate position of having a non-traditional working week, we face a double challenge: making sure we protect our own time and headspace AND making sure it works for our employers and our teams. With these twin goals in mind, here are some tips that will help both.
Time is precious
Once you sign on the dotted line for that flexible contract, you need to start changing the way you think about time. With fewer hours in the working week, time is a precious commodity which makes it more valuable – use it wisely.
My biggest tip is to value and protect your own time because no one else is going to do it for you. Put a price on it and ‘sell’ it to the highest bidder. If you’re invited to a meeting, ask yourself the following: How long do you need? Why am I there? What’s the objective of this meeting? What prep is required? If the meeting isn’t going to benefit you in anyway or there are more important things in the office that require your attention, don’t go. Whilst seemingly brash, allocating your time wisely and correctly is the only way you can get your job done efficiently.
Also, your diary is your best friend. Manage your workload strategically, ensure you block out time for yourself and your own work. I normally highlight these in a different colour to others’ requests so that I know where my priorities lie and how I can balance my working days.
Be consistent with your time rules. If you buckle once, others will begin to take advantage. Also, work closely with your manager to get priorities crystal clear and recalibrate them often.
Watch your language
It can be easy to undermine your own position by choice of language. ‘I’m only 3 days a week’, ‘I’m sorry but I don’t work Wednesdays’, ‘I’ll have to dial in’.
If you’ve nailed a flexible contract, you have achieved something other people want, it’s something to be proud of, not to apologise for.
So, if you exchange the language of excuses for the language of control, you’ll not only convince others that you’re totally on top of this, you’ll start to believe it too.
Master the art of ‘no, but…’
Most jobs will demand more of you than is entirely possible. It’s up to you to draw the line in a reasonable way.
‘No, but…’ gives you an easy framework to meet other people’s requirements on your own terms. ‘I’m not available on Wednesday, but I can do Thursday or Friday?’, ‘I’m not available for the meeting but I will dial in’
Learn how to say no confidently and calmly whilst using understanding and compromise to come to another arrangement at a more convenient time with your team members.
Nail the IT
Communication is everything and knowledge is power – two trite observations but hyper-relevant here. If you want to nail flexible working then you will just have to get to grips with every tool that IT can throw at you. Make sure you can access everything from everywhere, and also make your IT team know that’s what you expect to be able to do.
Much of the tech developed in recent years is designed to make physical presence in the workplace less of an issue. You can share, collaborate, chat and present remotely, stay involved in conversations and be a highly visible team member from your living room if you know how to use the kit properly.
So if this doesn’t come entirely naturally, make friends with your IT team, and get learning.
This doesn’t mean you need to be connected all the time – see the point above about time management – but you need to be able to connect easily when it counts.
In most situations, flexible workers are more than willing to flex their arrangements when they can, given enough notice, or a good enough reason. So if a critical meeting is on a non-working day, most people will do their best to swap days around. However, once you start doing this, your team are likely to start expecting it so, ensure that you make you boundaries clear and make your team aware that these are exceptions to the rules that are not to be repeated too often.
About the author
As Strategy and Planning Director, Fiona is responsible for implementing and building upon client strategy plans as well as leading and directing the planning team at Armadillo, the Bristol-based CRM specialist which works with big-name brands including McDonald’s, hotels.com and Disney.
With experience in the strategy and planning sector, Fiona is fascinated by finding the sweet spot where the art of customer insight meets the science of business objectives.