About The Author: Peace + Riot is London’s first ad-hoc co-working with childcare solution. They have collaborated with Discoco, the friendly face of online learning, to bring parents a fun, informative, judgement-free and expert-fronted toolkit – Planet Parent.
Congratulations – your company says you can work four days a week rather than five. And yes, they will enjoy spending your 20% pay-cut on extra bananas for the communal fruit bowl, thank you very much.
But is this flexible working? Not really – it’s just reduced hours.
True flexibility means being trusted to do all your work, to your schedule, for a full-time salary – but in reality, this is something very few companies implement.
Laura Friedner is an HR Leader and Plant Parent ambassador.
‘Flexible work is any type of working arrangement that gives some degree of flexibility on how long, where and when an employee works.’ She says. “It could mean a compressed week, a 9 day fortnight or reduced hours. Any job can be worked flexibly with some creative thinking behind it.”
It’s fair to say there’s a degree of privilege attached to flexible work. It’s much easier to do a desk job from home around the school run, than it is to administer CPR or drive a truck. But it’s important to remember that there’s more to flexibility than just where you sit and when.
“In an ideal world, we would start with the assumption that all roles could be done flexibly to some extent. Then, the employer and individual would look for ways to make it work.” explains Occupational Psychologist Kam Somal.
‘Many organisations aren’t there yet, unfortunately. Technology certainly makes more jobs do-able in flexible ways. Service jobs where people are face to face might be seen as harder to accommodate flexible working, but I would work backwards from the customer or client expectations and see what’s possible.’ Kam says, ‘In many organisations, the fear of the unknown or “this is how we’ve always done things” can be a barrier. Jobs with a customer facing or service element often have core hours which are less flexible. This is so that people can provide a continuous service to customers at the times they want to engage.’
In some cases, having core hours can be helpful. Make it clear to your employer that you will be around for those. This may afford you flexibility in other blocks of time around them.
For example, you might take two or three hours away from your desk in the early evening, then log back on when the kids are in bed. It’s tiring, of course, but remember: this (probably) isn’t forever.
Flexible working is still a relatively new concept. While extensive research into the long-term outcomes is yet to appear, it’s pretty much accepted that it doesn’t have a negative impact on productivity. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
“Flexible work can lead to more focused work, more engaged employees and often less time off for appointments,” says Laura. “It’s also more inclusive and so is great for attracting candidates. The mutual benefits that flexible working can have for the individual and the organisation are improved well-being and job satisfaction, enhancing productivity and employee engagement”.
Kam agrees. ‘The ability to balance work and personal lives better, and work in the best way for them makes staff feel valued. They are likely to be more motivated, productive and ultimately stay with your company.”
Let’s not give too idealised a view of flexible work. There are some downsides too, but Laura and Kam are both confident that they can be overcome. ‘One common problem is working when you have agreed you aren’t.’ Says Laura, ‘This confuses people and doesn’t manage expectations well.’
Being one of the only team members working flexibly can cause problems too. ‘A common trap is feeling forgotten or overlooked as you’re not in the office or main site and therefore as visible as some people.’ Kam points out. ‘People might wrongly be judged as not being ambitious, as they’re not giving all of themselves or their life to work.’
So, how can we get past this kind of prejudice? One key change is accepting that flexible work isn’t just for parents. There are many reasons why people of all ages and life stages could benefit from a bit more of the old flex – from other caring responsibilities to health issues, to just wanting to be trusted to work flexibly like functioning adults.
‘Fairness is really important.’ Says Kam, “Organisations need to have a process and criteria for fairly evaluating flexible working requests. Both sides should look for ways to make it work, rather than the employer looking for barriers. Contracting is also really important. This means both sides being clear about expectations, what they can and can’t do, and taking steps to address if things aren’t quite working. You need regular and honest conversations. Things often evolve, so being flexible can be helpful rather than rigid even if things don’t initially go as planned.’
Flexible working and flexible thinking go hand in hand.
Can you come up with a new and pioneering way to do your job, and sell the idea to your boss? Kam thinks you can.
‘Covid accelerated the use of technology that enabled working remotely and collaborating from multiple locations.’ Says Kam, ‘Many parents work 3 or 4 days a week and block out time to do nursery and school runs at either end of the day. They then plan their work and meetings around these times. I’ve also known some clients who work away from home. They have dedicated days in the office – often in another city or even country – and set days where they will work from home.”
And let’s not forget about the lesser-spotted job share, where two people manage the demands of one role in a way that suits them both. Is your boss sceptical about making this work? Just tell them that it works in the counter-terrorism unit at GDHQ.
1. Be honest about what you need
2. Have a plan for mitigating any barriers or issues
3. Articulate that you have considered business need and impact on colleagues
4. Clarify and communicate boundaries from the get-go
5. Signpost people to your working pattern
6. Trial, seek feedback and review
To find out more about Peace + Riot or to sign up to the Planet Parent toolkit head to www.peaceandriot.co where you can enjoy 20% off using the code: P+R20 at checkout.
Flexible working is a major incentive for employees – as is compensating them financially for their efforts.