The real value of flexible working

working from home, balancing career and home life

Article provided by Narelle Morrison, COO and Co-Founder, Babel PR

A great job is about so much more than a great salary.

Fantastic incomes and hefty bonus packages are brilliant, but can come at a cost. Work can encroach on your personal life to a damaging degree, destabilising any notion of a healthy work/life balance. Suddenly, those financial incentives don’t seem so valuable.

More and more of us today are therefore actively seeking roles which support – or promote – flexible working practices. Whether it’s avoiding a lengthy and unpredictable commute, caring for a relative, doing the daily school run, or managing a long-term illness, the rigid Monday to Friday nine-to-five structure is untenable for many.

New ways of working for new ways of living

The traditional way of working may have made sense when men were the breadwinners, children and housework were often women’s only jobs, and the office was the only place to effectively communicate and be productive. This is far from the reality now, and while technology and gender roles have come a long way, many businesses have failed to keep pace.

The reluctance of some companies to embrace flexible working is understandable: the approach requires trust, organisation, and mutual agreement and understanding from other colleagues. Yet it’s also something that is highly desired by skilled talent seeking new roles, while a lack of flexible working is cited by a growing number as a reason for leaving a job.

Those businesses looking to attract talent but are hesitant to implement a flexible working policy will find themselves in a chicken-and-egg scenario. You need time to establish and build up trust with your employees before launching a new flexible working strategy, but you also need to offer this as an incentive to attract those candidates who will be the most trustworthy.

Communicate, collaborate

At Babel we’ve long championed flexible working, allowing those who live outside London or who have other commitments to adapt hours and working location to best suit their needs – as well as those of the rest of the team. We’ve highlighted our policies to prospective candidates, with the mutual understanding that – as with any new hire – trust will be established during an initial probation period. This is the perfect opportunity to better understand an employee’s needs, and to trial and discuss how these can be met through flexible working.

We currently have one team member who works from home in Cardiff, and another who moved from London (the location of Babel’s HQ) to Sussex for a better quality of family life, and now works remotely. A number of other team members work from home a day or so a week, or time-shift their hours; starting and finishing earlier. Things like doctor, dentist and hospital appointments are also easily managed, with office hours adapted accordingly. In addition to trust, to enable this style of working, communication is also key.

The tools we use on a daily basis, and the established ways of working in the Babel office allow the team to stay in touch and work collaboratively outside the office, wherever they are, and whenever best suits the business as a whole. Communication apps like Slack and Skype provide instant messaging and notifications and enable resource sharing between colleagues. A shared calendar means we’re always aware of each other’s whereabouts, and a weekly Monday morning meeting allows us to review the past week’s activity and look ahead to the coming days – including updates and discussion of team members’ working patterns.

At times though, there’s only so much planning you can do – especially if you’re a parent trying to juggle work with childcare – so teams should be adaptive, supportive and flexible.

Flexible working and the gender pay gap

Providing this flexibility can be an important part of helping mothers both return to work and progress their careers. This is particularly needed in the PR industry, where women make up 66 per cent of the workforce, and 39 per cent of professionals have children or dependents. Yet despite this, a recent PRCA report identified the current gender pay gap at 21 per cent, higher than the UK gender pay gap. And rather than the situation improving with time, the PR industry’s gender pay gap has increased since 2016. The reasons for this are multiple and complex, but maternity leave and difficulties arising from (in)flexible working around childcare are bound to figure.

The solution, similarly, demands a multi-faceted approach – and one which incorporates a flexible working policy. This could encompass part-time working, reduced hours, job share, flexitime, annualised hours or term-time only working: whatever works best for your employee, your team, and your company as profitable, operational business.

The results we’ve seen at Babel are testimony to the importance of flexibility at work. Our close-knit and loyal team are fantastic communicators with a strong work ethic – but equally, they share a supportive, collaborative ethos which places wellbeing at the fore.

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