As Customer Programme Manager, Alison Wright is responsible for helping high growth businesses and start-ups get the most out of their Microsoft technologies; however, she considers her most important role to be a mother to her son. As a result, Alison is passionate about helping working parents use technology to be more effective in their day jobs, so they can achieve that all-important work-life balance.
Since becoming a parent, I’ve had to make quite a lot of important decisions, between choosing how to feed, what vaccinations are needed, and deciding the best nursery and school to go to. But one of the decisions I was faced with was easy. Financially, I need to work, but I also love my job and so there was no question about me coming back to work. However, I was also aware that I didn’t want to sacrifice precious time with my son. So flexible working was something I was keen to explore.
I considered several options, including reducing my days, but finally settled on compressed hours. In other words, I worked the equivalent of 5 days but did so over four long days. I’d come in early, work through to pick-up, spend time with my son and then return to work in the evening after he was asleep. In return, I had Fridays off to spend some quality time with my son. I did this for four years, during which time I was a both a people manager and a sales person.
If you’re considering how flexible working could work for you or your employees, here are a few things you might want to consider:
1. Know your rights
Employees can apply for flexible working if they’ve worked continuously for the same employer for the last 26 weeks. It’s known as ‘making a statutory application.’ All employees also have the right to request flexible working – you also don’t need to be a parent or carer. Hopefully your employer has a documented policy but there’s a great guide to your rights and different types of flexible working on
2. Talk to others, but remember one size doesn’t fit all
Are there others you know that work flexibly? If so, talk to them about what works for them. Find out what they’ve found easy, any barriers they’ve faced, and how it’s affected them – both at home and work. Then consider your own circumstances. Do you have childcare restraints? Are there certain times you have to be in the office or at customer sites? Does travel time reduce your productivity, and how could working remotely eliminate that? Whilst I took guidance from others, ultimately I chose a way of working that suited my personal circumstances. My circumstances have since changed and I’ve therefore had to adapt my working practices to suit which is worth keeping in mind when you’re looking at how flexible working could work for you.
3. Set up a trial period
My manager and I agreed an initial six-month trial period, after which we reviewed the arrangement to ensure it was still working for both parties. This was beneficial; although it seemed amazing to have a three day weekend (and it was!), it was also very hard. I underestimated the impact it would have on my own personal time as I worked every night for at least two hours, starting at 8pm. The trial period allowed me to try this system with a get-out clause if it didn’t work for me. It also meant my manager could assess the impact on my work and the team over a reasonable time period. Together we could review if it was negatively impacting either of these.
4. Make sure you have the right technology
Technology is critical to flexible working. Flexible working doesn’t work if you don’t have access to email, systems, and the other tools you need to be effective. Fortunately I work for a company that provides this technology, but it’s important that you think about what tools and systems you need. Will these be provided by your company, and how can you access them? The investment in systems and tools is more than paid for by the effectiveness and loyalty of flexible workers.
5. Ensure you openly communicate to build trust
Trust is a critical part of flexible working, on both sides of the fence. My manager trusted me to do what was needed to be impactful in my role, regardless of the days or times I worked. If at any point they had questioned my commitment or my outputs, the whole thing would have come crashing down. In return, I trusted the business to support my working practices and to respect my time with my son.
I was of course flexible; there were times I would take phone calls on a Friday or change my working day to accommodate a business-critical meeting. But all changes were agreed in advance and with respect of each party. I would also review the system in my one-to-ones with my manager. So even after the trial period we continued to discuss how it was working and whether we needed to change anything from either side. This was great as it meant I still had the support of the business to help me make it a success. Flexible working isn’t always easy so having the right support is key.
6. Stay organised and aware of your priorities
I’m lucky to have a supportive husband, but he also works full time. When I first returned to work after maternity leave, I tried to take on too much and quickly felt overwhelmed. After discussing this with my husband, we agreed that every Sunday night we’d sit down to review our diaries for the week, and organise pick ups and drop offs accordingly. We also talked about housework. According to a recent study, woman still take on 65% of the housework load, but when you both work full time, sharing the load is vital to keep both parties sane. So, we also divided the household chores equally and contracted a cleaner to help once a week which helped massively.
I stopped trying to do everything. Instead, I decided on the three most important priorities for me to feel I was still being a great mum, and 3 priorities for feeling I was being a great employee. Everything else became secondary. It meant I dropped some of the mental load of those “I really shoulds”, and focussed my time on the priority tasks which ultimately helped me feel less guilty and more in control.
Flexible working is an important part of making modern family life work. There is no right or wrong way – just what’s right for you at each stage of your life. By talking more about this topic and sharing our experiences and tips, hopefully we can make work easier for families. That can only be a good thing!