How the pandemic has opened our eyes when it comes to flexible working

woman working from home, flexible workingIf any good has come from the past 18 months, it’s that we’ve recognised the value of flexible working and alternative career options.

No longer are we expected to sit at desks in city centre offices between 9 and 5 every day. Flexibility and working from home have become the accepted norm, and they are here to stay.

Women have often been as a disadvantage when it comes to flexible working. Taking career breaks, balancing childcare, and managing family life have been proven to impact women’s career progression, with flexible hours being frowned up by many industries. With people expected to work long hours and attend training or networking outside of these hours, those who need flexibility have been unfairly left behind. Particularly in professions such as law, progression is traditionally based on presenteeism in the office, and to advance to partnership you need to have put the time in physically.

The shift to home working will put everyone on a more level playing field when it comes to promotions. I hope this is the end of discrimination based on the way you like to work and there isn’t a gradual shift back to old ways where employees feel pressured to work in the office. Of course, face-to-face contact is incredibly important, but we’ve proven we can communicate effectively from home where needed; the key is finding the balance.

Effective working is incredibly personal to each of us. Many have discovered that actually we work best at a certain time of day, or that a long walk at lunchtime does wonders for our productivity. Some of us may like to work long hours in the week but take Fridays off, or work weekends so that we can do the school run Monday-Friday. Some work best in coffee shops, some in our gardens, and some of us want a change of scenery each day.

Businesses need to have trust in their employees to work in the best way for them and that actually, they will be most productive when they have chosen their own hours.

Throughout the pandemic, we’ve used technology and our virtual events and meetings have been a huge success. They’ve had the advantage of bringing people together who geographically, are hundreds of miles apart. Before the pandemic, so many of us may have missed out on events simply because we can’t get into the city centre for 7.30am or need to head home early.

It’s really positive that we have seen attitudes change following the new way of working adopted during lockdown. It’s the step forward that we’ve needed for a long time in businesses, and it’s also been enlightening for many people when considering what they want to get out of their career. If their employer isn’t offering the flexibility or culture they now seek, they should feel empowered to move on. During lockdown some people have discovered that a non-traditional career path is more suited to their style and ambitions. Maybe they’ve gone freelance, working on a consultancy basis, or setting up their own business. There’s never been a better time to reflect on career paths, whether traditional or not so traditional.

Our law firm gunnercooke is a fee share model. The model has seen a huge boost in the past few years as people recognise the alternatives to a traditional career in law. Fee share models allow our lawyers to take control; they choose their own clients and team, set their own targets and work their preferred hours. And this type of model isn’t just emerging in law, we’re seeing challenger businesses in many professional services, the travel industry and more.

I hope that the changes the past year has brought will have a positive impact on the future of working… from the benefits of collaborating remotely across the world to the importance of flexibility for our productivity and mental health. The acceptance from businesses that flexible working is for everyone, no matter your gender, family role or demands of your career, and shouldn’t have an impact on your progression. And of course, the realisation for many that if your career isn’t making you happy, it’s time for change.

Sarah GoulbourneAbout the author

Sarah Goulbourne is Co-Founder of gunnercooke, a challenger law firm that has changed the way legal and professional services are delivered to clients. The firm offers flexibility and control to its lawyers, who become trusted advisors to their clients. Sarah regularly speaks on women in business, the role of culture in business and recruitment.


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