How to make flexible working work for you

I was very lucky, when I went back to work after my first baby my company made it clear that they would be happy for me to come back on flexible terms if that is what I wanted.  I was the first female consultant in my firm to have a baby, but male colleagues of mine already had been employing flexible working practices, so I was not breaking new ground in work patterns.  This was a huge relief and I am fully aware not the experience that a lot of women have (certainly not most of my friends).  Whilst financially cutting back significantly was not an option, I was able to agree a nine day fortnight, allowing me a full day off with my baby every two weeks. 

The question then arose, if you do manage to secure flexible hours, how do you make sure that you reap the benefits?  I read somewhere recently that the trick to being a working parent is to set your boundaries.  And stick to them.  Be clear what you can and cannot do in terms of working hours.  This from the mouth of a serious role model for women.  A high achieving successful mother and career woman.  And one, from what I can tell, who does not have a gazillion people running around helping her make it all happen.  And it sounds like good advice.  But how realistically does one achieve this?

I work as a consultant, so my work is project based and I have teams of people working to me on the various projects I direct.  Obviously where you work, the nature of your work and the way the business you work for operates will affect how you manage your flexible working.  But here are my tips for managing flexible working practices:

  1. Do not check your email on your non-work day.  EVER.  The way I see it, I have taken a pay cut to have some extra time with my children.  I refuse to have that time impinged on by work.  If I am having a day with my children, then I want them to have my full attention, just as work does when I am there.  My children need to know that I do not prioritise work over them.  I therefore make it clear both to my colleagues and in my out of office that I do not have access to my email.  Obviously there may be times when a colleague or client may need to contact you urgently.  My advice if this is a concern is to provide them with your mobile number and let them know that you are not in the office that day but if they need to contact you urgently then to call you.  I find people are much less likely to bother you with things that really can wait if they have to actually call you.  To be honest, in my experience when it comes down to it, most things can generally wait a day or two, but this will also depend on your line of work.
  2. Do not apologise for not being in the office.  If it is your non-work day and someone suggests a meeting on that day, do not apologise and explain that you do not work that day, simply say that you are not in the office.  You should not feel any guilt or embarrassment for not being in the office every day, people take annual leave, have meetings, attend conferences and any number of things could explain your absence.  Do not feel the need to justify it.  By apologising for it you make it appear as a weakness.  The fact that you are not in the office for part of the week does not impact in any way on your ability or the quality of your work, so do not behave as if it does.
  3. Warn people in advance if you will not be around.  If you are working on something, be clear to people about your timings, so that they can build that into their planning.  This will help avoid last minute disappointment for those you are producing work for and reduce the risk of resentment at your absence.  People are less likely to notice your absence if it does not disrupt the project timetable or overall work stream.
  4. Teamwork is crucial.  Remember that the world will not stop turning if you are not in the office for a day or two.  No one is indispensable and if you are organised and make sure you hand key pieces of work over to others or delegate to your team, the work can continue while you are not there.
  5. Do not try to cram five days work into less.  If you are no longer working (or being paid for) five days it is natural that you are no longer going to be able to handle the same volume of work (even allowing for how efficient you will become as a working parent).  This is a fact.  Your employer cannot therefore expect you (nor can you expect yourself) to do the same amount of work.  It makes no sense to work the same amount to be paid less.  So do not be pressured into cramming your previous workload into your new shorter week.  I make it a rule to not stay beyond normal working hours on a regular basis.  There will obviously be times when work is particularly busy and you have to be flexible and do slightly longer days than you would normally, but this should not become the norm.  If it does then you need to have a conversation with your manager.  You are not being paid for the days you do not work, so you should not feel obliged to make up those hours by staying late on the days you are in the office.
  6. Do not beat yourself up about not working full time, it does not make you any less of a professional.  Remember that “flexible working” does not translate into “less good at the job”.  Have confidence in yourself and your abilities, they have not changed, only the amount of time you spend in the office has.    


I hope you find these useful, and we would love to hear any tips you may have to maintain that constant parental juggling act between work and home.

See here for information on how to apply for flexible working.

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