I talk about flexible working a lot – but normally I’m being asked to deliver training or write policies. This week, someone who is starting to work flexibly for the first time asked me for some tips for making it successful. This is what I said to them.
- Clearly communicate your working pattern. Tell people, block the time out in your calendar so people don’t try and schedule meetings, and use an auto signature or out of office to communicate when you are available.
- If you work part time, say so. Don’t preface it with ‘only part time’. You are not only anything.
- Don’t be too flexible in return for your flexible working agreement. There might be occasions where a meeting is taking place at a day or time you don’t work, or people have an urgent issue they need to discuss with you when you are out of the office. Accommodating this once in a while is fine – but don’t make it a habit or let it expand so that you are doing it on a regular basis. Set your own boundaries.
- Be prepared for ‘banter’. I wish I didn’t have to write this tip, but unfortunately it still happens. The ‘it’s alright for some’ comments are still rife in many workplaces, alongside the sideways glance at the watch. This is not your problem – it’s theirs. Decide in advance how you are going to handle this. You can choose to ignore it or have an answer ready. I tend to go with ‘I work flexibly because it makes me more productive’, often accompanied with a hard stare.
- If your working pattern involves you working outside of what most people consider ‘typical’ working hours, consider how this will impact on others. For example, you may be online or sending emails at unusual times. Make it very clear that you don’t expect a response until the recipient’s normal working hours – this is especially important if you hold a senior position.
- Build in reviews of your working pattern. It’s good to keep flexible working under review. Check in with your manager every so often that the working pattern is working from their perspective as well as yours.
- If childcare is your primary reason for working flexibly, don’t try and mix work with childcare. It isn’t good for you or the kids, and your work life balance will be impacted.
- If your flexible working includes an element of homeworking, boundaries are also important here. Create a separate space for work if you can, and aim to have a defined start and finish time for work to prevent it spilling over into your home life.
- If you are working a different schedule or from a different location to your colleagues, be proactive and talk to them about the best ways to keep in touch and stay connected. Make sure you own this conversation to ensure you don’t get left out. Let people know how best to contact you when you are not in the office.
- Master technology. You don’t need special equipment of software to work flexibly or remotely – but you can make the most of readily available tools to facilitate effective communication and collaboration.
And finally….. be loud and proud about your flexible working. Working flexibly does not make you any less committed to your role. Being open about flexible working helps to change the culture and pave the way for others. If you feel that you can, be a flexible working role model.