‘Hi, is this Sarah? I’m afraid Lucy is ill – can you come and pick her up right away, please?’
Every parent dreads getting that call. It’s not just the thought of your baby being ill, or knowing you’re definitely not getting a proper night’s sleep that night. It’s also knowing that you have to get out of work for the rest of the day, even use a few days of holiday until whatever it is clears up, only to come back in next week to thousands of unread emails, all marked ‘URGENT’.
Enter flexible working: My secret weapon in the battle for work-life balance.
When you get it right, flexible anywhere working can be a godsend. When you can work on the move or attend meetings virtually, juggling work and childcare becomes much easier. It’s also very handy if you’re part of a global team spanning across several time zones, which often requires you to attend calls outside the regular 9am to 5pm working hours. Believe me, these late-night conference calls are much more manageable from the comfort of your own home.
But often, people (and especially women) worry that adopting a flexible working arrangement will be seen as a shift down that will affect their career going forward. I want to say, loud and clear: this is absolutely not the case. Or, at least, it shouldn’t be.
When I tell my story to people, they are often surprised. On the surface, it might seem like my chances of progressing were little to none. Not only was I growing my family, but I also spent half of my working week at home. And to top it all off, my boss is based in the US – a good seven hours behind me here in London.
However, these potential obstacles, were and still are opportunities for me to enjoy both my work life and my personal life. I worked hard and achieved not one, but three promotions in the space of five years – the same five years that saw my two beautiful daughters arrive. So, if I could do it, so can you.
So, what do you need to make it work?
Open to change
The first, most crucial element is an employer that’s open to being flexible. I was lucky enough to be at a company where the culture is all about working anywhere and making the most of video conferencing. However, if my boss had been a 9-to-5 tyrant, things would have been infinitely harder.
So, if you’re moving to a new job, make sure you get a feel for the company ethos. An interview should be a two-way experience, so don’t be afraid to ask about the company’s policy around and attitude to flexible working – you need to surround yourself with the right people and the right culture to make flexibility work. You need a culture of mutual trust.
In the loop
Trust comes from communication, and this is a massive factor in why my team has been successful. We don’t just talk about work – we keep people in the loop about what’s going on in our lives as well, for example, if it might change my usual flexible hours. After all, problems don’t arise from needing to go and pick up your kids from nursery, or going to a fitness class (or they shouldn’t); they come from people not knowing what’s going on.
Technology, and more specifically, collaboration solutions are the best way to ensure you stay in the loop and fully involved wherever you are; IM is great for grabbing someone’s attention, and then you can video conference in to discuss projects or aspects that require more detail – and most video solutions provide content sharing capabilities too, if you need to share a document.
The right collaboration tools can also help you to progress without sacrifice. When I became the EMEA Head of Corporate Communications, I worried that I would have to travel all the time and miss seeing my kids. But with video conferencing, I can speak to Russia or anywhere else in my lounge, and still see my girls take their first steps (and be there for the multiple tumbles that follow too!).
Work and play
Key to flexible working is productivity; at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how long, when or where you do your work, so long as you can deliver results. That means being disciplined with yourself. I set out each day with a list of what I need to achieve, and a triage-style strategy for prioritising work effectively. If I get an email and I can deal with it right there and then, I will. Otherwise, I’ll tackle it later. With writing projects, I tend to leave those to the evening when I can be more productive with fewer distractions.
Working hard is one thing, but it’s so easy to worry about proving yourself that you end up over-compensating and falling into the ‘always-on’ trap. I know that when I went back after having Lucy and Amy, I put a lot of pressure on myself and didn’t know when to stop; there comes a point where you just need to call it a day and go offline. My husband’s really good at keeping me in check and making sure I have time for myself. Even if it’s just an hour, I find carving out some time for yoga or meditation helps me function for the rest of the time.
What’s stopping you?
Ultimately, there’s a reason so many people want to work flexibly – it means you can do your job to the highest standard without putting the rest of your life on the backburner. It’s meant I’ve been there to collect the girls from nursery, and to bake the biggest and the best cakes on their birthdays.
It’s meant that I can be there not just when they need me, but when they want me too. With flexible working, I can mould my job around my life and not the other way around. And the best thing is, I’m better at my job because of it and, more importantly, I’m better at being a mum because of it.
About the Author:
This article was written by Sarah Lloyd, Head of Comms Polycom.