Flexible working - what are your top tips on making it work?

(26 Posts)
carriemumsnet (MNHQ) Mon 27-Feb-12 11:57:59

Mumsnet are working with the Anywhere Working campaign which aims to promote flexible working and encourage more businesses to get involved. It all ties in with some of the things we've been trying to encourage through our very own Family Friendly programme and will hopefully make some noise that means businesses not currently enjoying the benefits of flexible working will start to take notice <optimistic Monday feelings>.

We thought it might be helpful to pull together some tips around flexible working - either how you managed to persuade your boss to allow flexible working, and/or how you make it work for your employees, what flexible working means for you (we know it's not just about part-time) and how you manage it, what makes the biggest difference (attitude, technology etc) and if you work from home, how you avoid spending the whole day -on Mumsnet listening to the radiosmile

It would also be great to hear any examples where flexible working has had a positive effect on your company's bottom line (always helps if you can demonstrate that businesses are going to save/ make money).

The campaign is running all week and I'll be taking part in a Q&A on the Working Facebook www.facebook.com/anywhereworking page at 3.45pm today - so do drop in if you have a mo.

Thanks all

Crumblemum Mon 27-Feb-12 12:16:01

About working from home - I'd say be disciplined about the time you log on and off - don't feel the need to over compensate and in terms of negotiating with boss - don't promise to do your old job in 4 days when you return from mat leave. I know this is sometimes unavoidable as it's all that's offered, but I think it usually results in people doing their old job for a day's less wages. If poss - try to stick to old salary but doing 4 days and 2 evenings or summat?

LordGiveMeStrength Mon 27-Feb-12 12:39:15

I work for a local council at manager level. Once I went back after my first baby I decided to drop down to a 4 day week so that I would have at least one day of pure mummy/baby time outside of the weekend.

Now that I'm back after baby number 2 I have been fortunate in that I work 4 days, one of which i do at my dining room table.

Key things that I love about it:
- spend a whole day doing mummy things and bonding with the kids
- that I leave the office on time every day, no excuses
- that i've been able to find a good work life balance. I work hard in the office, but once the day is done I turn off the computer and the mobile phone.
- Oh and on my days I work from home, I also manage to get my laundry done. As my boss said, if i were in the office i'd probably get up to make a cuppa/chat with coworkers so in that same time i can easily shift a few loads around
- One less day of wearing the professional clothes
- one less day commuting 1 1/2 round trip.

A big impact it's had on my office? Well before i had babies, we were a hard core office and there was an unspoken competition for who could build up the most TOIL. Once i came back i just couldn't/wouldn't allow myself to get sucked into all that. Now 3 years, and 2 babies later we've found that no one really works the mad hours anymore. And people seem more willing to boast about having kids to get home to (they weren't really talked about before).

I have taken a downgrade in the career ladder and will be honest in that my heart isn't 100% about my job title these days, but as a mum, I don;t want to miss out on my children's young years. The balance we've made for ourselves works for us and I'm a very happy working mum.

Nagoo Mon 27-Feb-12 13:04:42

I work in a 24hour industry and have opted for set shifts so I can set my childcare. I work FT.

I presented a viable roster from the get-go. They couldn't turn me down because I had proved it could work.
I was open about my application, and showed it to my colleagues from the start so there was nothing going on behind their backs.
I compromised, e.g taking a saturday line even though I'd rather not have, so as not to leave my colleagues with all the crap.

In contrast to this, another party applied with no clear plan, just a list of demands which had no flexibility. This application has dragged and dragged. They have not used proper procedures to communicate their needs, and have been secretive and led to a lot of ill-feeling and mistrust from colleagues who will be directly affected by the application.

PROs: I spend 5 of 7 days with my DCs which is SO much better than before. Their dad looks after them on the Saturday by himself, and they all benefit from that.
I am available 4 of 5 days in the day in case DS can't go to school. Less chance of childcare nightmares.
The money from FT work.
I don't get stressed about work. I just do my job and go home. Exempt from office politics ATM.
Once the DCs are older, I will still have the set pattern and more me time.

CONs: I do everything.
I don't get enough sleep.
Tag team parenting. DH and I don't see enough of each other.
I will not be able to be promoted in this shift pattern. TBH that avenue closed down before I applied for flex working though.

Working from home - well, it helps that the corporate culture encourages it grin but certainly technology helps - Office Communicator effectively replaces the 'coffee machine' conversations and makes me feel like I am really talking to people - recent projects have meant a window open with a group of people for hours, and when you look back it is a glorious mixture of piss-taking, general chat and real serious work getting done - exactly the same, in other words, as if we had been in the same room. Adding voice and desktop sharing helps get over the 'no - you don't get it - come and have a look at this' moments.

You need start and finish times, even if they are not conventional ones, and ideally you need a closed door between you and the washing up / laundry / general chaos.

Some people deal with it better than others. With some colleagues, I can say "sorry, got to go and collect DC - back in 20 mins". With others, it has to be "sorry, I have another call I need to go on - can I get back to you in 20 mins?"

I don't find having the radio on a distraction, TBH - in fact nowadays when I work in an office I often end up putting my earphones in and turning some music on to block out some of the distractions hmm.

The DC get used to it - I caught DD (5) very solemnly telling her cuddly toys that they "have to be quiet now, because I am going on a call" the other day.

When you start talking to the walls, it's time to spend a day in the office (especially if they answer back)grin

AppleShaped Mon 27-Feb-12 13:28:55

I work 6 nights a week and OH works 7 days a week. We don't see much of each other,just a quick high five as one gets home and the other leaves!!

CMOTDibbler Mon 27-Feb-12 13:32:50

I'm a home based worker - have been for 4 years now. TBH, I find being 'in the office' much more distracting than being at home as theres always someone popping in and talking at me there.

I do think that too many people approach flexible working with an 'all about me' approach, rather than making it about how it can benefit both sides. And you have to be realistic - working ft from home still means you need ft childcare for instance.

My boss knows I may pop out for an assembly, but equally, I'll be available for conference calls late in my day. If I've been travelling the week before, I might do a few less hours the week after. But I'm always available jic.

Communicator and Live meeting do make a huge difference too !

yy to FT childcare for FT home working.

That said, my DC have now reached an age when if one of them is home earlier than I finish, or off sick, I can cope (so I don't always use after school care, for example) - but it cannot be done with both of them home - war breaks out far too frequently, so they will be effectively in FT holiday clubs for their holidays, except the time when either DH or I are off work.

suzikettles Mon 27-Feb-12 15:43:51

Flexible working has worked very well for me and my organisation.

The key for me, I think, has been flexibility in both directions. I work Monday-Wednesday and my employer has been very flexible in letting me work from home occasionally or swap days or take time in lieu.

In return I am flexible (where I can be) about working at the end of the week some times if it's required, working where and when need be, ensuring that my work gets done even if it takes me way over my paid hours for the week.

My boss and I respect each other and are both out to do the best for each other that we can. Accommodation goes in both directions.

I've witnessed various forms of flexible working within our team - 3 out of the 6 members are mothers of young children working part time with some flexibility - and the work gets done to the same high standard as it did when we were all full time. The team is happy and the full timers value the contribution of the part timers. It's all good. I would say that overall we're a more productive team working this way.

We're all in on a Wednesday morning so are still able to have regular team meetings face to face.

Technology wise, we all have the ability to log into our work files/email from home and those of us not on site do this daily. This really helps with continuity as people working at the end/beginning of the week keep up to date with what's happening at the beginning/end.

Fillybuster Mon 27-Feb-12 15:48:35

Exactly what stealth said (as usual.... and she knows about baking - the woman is a genius smile )

I officially work 4 days a week, with no set location - I have a 'real' desk, in a 'real' office but sometimes don't see it for 2 weeks at a time as the company I work for is geographically spread across the UK. On the days I have meetings, I travel to wherever I need to be, and on the days I don't I either work from home or go to my desk....no-one watches or keeps track and I am measured by results (as long as I am available for meetings & conf call, no-one seems to care!).

I find I work much longer days when I am at home, and spend less time on MN, than when I am in the office....(like today...hmm)....Office days are about networking and catching up on gossip projects, or are spent in back-to-back meetings; home days are about 'getting things done'. I'm much more likely to take a lunch/coffee break if I'm in the office.

I do shut the door on the world when I'm at home, and refuse to be distracted by anything - all 3 dcs are totally used to me disappearing for a conference call with Asia at 8am, and understand that I can't chat when they come home if I'm working.

On the plus side, I love having 1 day/week where I can be a full-time mum, but I still get to have my career.

On the minus side, I frequently end up working for a large amount of my 20% non-work (unpaid) time, am definitely not being paid in line with my (male) colleagues at my level and probably haven't progressed my career as much as I would have wanted.

Office Communicator/MS Lync, Blackberries, Broadband and laptops have made flexible working a genuine option for lots of people, not just mums....but I think the flexibility is as much about choosing the hours of work (I often start with a conf call at 8am, but may not get to the office until 10.30am....or will leave the office at 4pm but spend 2 hours on a conf call during the drive home, and then do a few more hours after 9pm....) as location or days.

MrsH2010 Mon 27-Feb-12 16:16:03

Really positive to see it works for so many people.
Sadly didnt work out for me- worked 3 days p/w, and effectively 'on call' on iphone the other 2 days. Hired a v competent junior to fill the gaps, fully briefed end every day by me. But the two guys I worked for just didnt 'get' the whole working mum thing at all. Despite covering work, doing w'end and evenings to complete projects where necessary am attending all the evening events (am in marketing and PR), they couldnt refer to the junior- leaving her and I utterly frustrated. Refused to check the full data/prospects/project management systems that were always fully up to date, and couldnt even bring themselves to either check calendar for availability, or to get the (set!) days I worked correct and constantly booked me in for things on days I didnt work. After 10 months of battling i threw in the towel!! sad

<<basks in unwarranted praise from Filly>>

I suspect that we both work for large multi-nationals who are forced by shareholder and other pressure inclined towards encouraging flexible working, so idiots luddites such as MrsH2010 encountered, whilst they still exist (I had a stand-up row on behalf of some colleagues when some twit questioned their value and work ethic "because I can't see them" the other day) they don't get listened to, and are in the minority. It also saves the company money, of course - I think my employer currently has about 0.6 desks per employee in the UK.

Trills Mon 27-Feb-12 17:32:20

I really think that everyone should be entitled to request flexible working. Not just parents, and not just part-time workers.

There are some kinds of jobs where you need to be in the place at the time (nurse, shop assistant, etc) but for many jobs you need to get the stuff done and the time and place in which you do that are largely irrelevant.

I work for a company where nearly everyone works from home on a Friday, and about half of the people work from home 2+ days a week. Very few of them have children, they just like the flexibility.

All I need in order to do my job properly is my laptop, a power source, and an internet connection. My bosses trust me to get things done, and in return I mumsnet during the day get that stuff done even if some weeks I end up working far more than my supposed contracted hours.

Of course it only works if you trust your employees and if it would be obvious if someone was not pulling their weight.

Fillybuster Mon 27-Feb-12 17:40:47

Yes, large multi-national...but not always so great at delivering internal change, even though flexible/remote access solutions are something we take to market!

Only now finally rolling out Lync across the whole business (was limited group for past year) & being given webcams/headsets, so I will be able to work much more easily with my line manager despite being in geographically diverse locations.

In line with what trills said, in my experience it is the organisations who implement flexible working for the majority of the workforce find the best RoI in terms of cost savings and increased productivity - the greater the understanding/use of these applications across the workforce, the easier it is for everyone, and the less 'stigma' there is for working parents, carers etc....

I hate video conferences and feel they add very little on top of voice/desktop conferencing, personally but that may just be because my middle of nowhere useless broadband speed makes them practically unusable.

SkaterGrrrrl Mon 27-Feb-12 18:59:13

My top tip would be to go in with a plan when you request flexible working. Don’t just go in and say “Can I go part time?”. When I went back from maternity leave I wanted to go back 3 days a week, a request which had been turned down by other female colleagues. I went to see the director with 4 or 5 options, showing I was willing to work 3 days a week, 2.5 days a week or every day mornings only (I work locally and appreciate this wouldn’t work for those with a commute).

I demonstrated how queries would be handled in my absence and suggested giving a junior team member an improved title and more responsibility, developing that person and ensuring nothing fallsl through the cracks on my days off.

I was allowed to go part time which is a fantastic balance for my family. I earn a bit, keep my brain engaged but have plenty of time at home too. The only downside to my career is that I no longer manager the team I used to manage as they need daily support.(But I still retain my managers title and holiday smile )3 days a week is magic- you’re in the office more than not, and at home more than not.

SkaterGrrrrl Mon 27-Feb-12 19:01:14

"a request which had been turned down by other female colleagues."

Unclear, sorry. What I mean is, colleagues returning from mat leave had asked to go part time and been refused.

Its also worth pointing out to your employer that you will work faster - I certainly do. Work expands to fill the time allotted to it. I am probably more productive than when I was working 5 days.

BlingLoving Mon 27-Feb-12 21:15:21

I work for large multi national but sadly my experience is like MrsH. Although its a departmental issue, not corporate one. My bosses want to be able to shout over the desk at me and resent having to pick up the phone. My internal clients couldn't care less where I am. So my request for a full day from home a week was rejected.

JiminyCricket Mon 27-Feb-12 21:25:51

Being able to have a different working pattern in the school holidays (annualised hours) is really helpful - for instance working five short days term time, and three longer days in the holidays - I make sure I maintain my core committments during this period and arrange childcare cover (swaps with friends) for any meetings I really need to be at - flexibility works both ways.

Llareggub Mon 27-Feb-12 22:46:33

I've probably worked in every working pattern there is: full-time, compressed hours, part-time, SAHM and now back to full-time.

Technology definitely helps, as does a culture that measures performance by output rather than arse on seats. I once chatted to my new line manager about my working hours, only to be told that she frankly couldn't care less how many hours I worked, or when I did them, so long as I got the work done. She was wonderful; I'd only approached her to make sure she was happy about me continuing with my compressed hours!

I've always worked hard to make it work for the organisation and have been happy to work when the work was there to be done. I once worked with an internal client in a consultancy role who had no idea I was part-time and was often responding to her queries from the park bench. On the negative side, in that particular role I felt I never really had any protected family time.

I'm now back in a full-time but flexible role with lots of regional travel and I have been able to work mainly around my childcare limitations. It is really crap but my before school club starts at 8am and finishes at 5.30pm, which doesn't really help those of us who have to negotiate the bad traffic in this region. But my organisation are happy for me to manage the diary to suit me, and so I log in during the evening and early in the morning while the DCs have breakfast etc. I avoid travelling in peak times this way and manage to squeeze in the work where I can. I am also disciplined about protecting time in my diary to have at least one day from home; this is when i get the online shopping done and a bit of laundry.

I'd love to say that I share the childcare equally with my partner but I am a single parent at the moment, so without this flexibility from work I'd really struggle.

saffronwblue Tue 28-Feb-12 06:01:06

My last job was with a small company which was good on flexibility and not much else. Whenever we questioned the lack of leadership, pay rises, training etc, the response would be "Yes, but you have flexibility!" We were allowed to work from home if required - eg waiting for a tradesman, sick Dc etc. They were terribly disorganised open about holiday leave and absences generally. I came to believe that I would never be able to leave because no other employer would be so flexible.
However once I started looking around for a new job, I was amazed by how much flexibility is the new norm. The job I found is with a multinational. I am paid .8 and have three days in the office and one at home. Occasionally I need to come in to work on the at home day, usually if an overseas colleague is in town. Like posters above, I love wearing jeans, not being in the car and being able to put on a load of washing while working at home. I do have a slightly barky dog who can be a problem on phone conferences, which is why I sometimes have them in odd corners of my house. I really think that the understanding of what is normal has shifted dramatically in the last few years.
Next time I am job hunting I will not be apologetic about requiring flexibility.

CMOTDibbler Tue 28-Feb-12 09:29:06

One of the positives for my company of encouraging flexible working, is that we are retaining highly specialised staff through parenthood, illness, family relocations and disability. Only two of my helpdesk team are officebased (their choice), and everyone has returned after maternity/adoption leave. Two have significant disability which would make being office based difficult, and I was able to return to work very rapidly after a very significant injury.

We are also able to recruit people with very specialist skills irrespective of whether we have an office near them - this makes the process much easier

Chubfuddler Tue 28-Feb-12 10:17:40

I'm having a meeting today to discuss my flexible working request so fingers crossed. I outlined three different options and outlined the possible probs of each and how I would solve them. Apparently my bosses are "impressed" by this. Will see whether they are impressed enough to agree....

purpleroses Tue 28-Feb-12 10:34:27

I work 4 days a week, but split them across 5 so that I can pick up from school 3 days a week and work the hours I miss (by leaving early) from home on the other day.

This works really well for me. And since my kids have reached school age, I've been able to swap the day I'm not in the office to accommodate work's needs, which I think they apprecaite. I can also swap it to suit my needs if I want - eg if I want to help out on a school trip.

It means I don't really switch off from work on the day I work from home, but I don't really need do. What I need is just a bit of time to get the shopping done, etc. I don't really mind if people from work phone or email me.

I did also take some parental leave when my youngest was 4 - because she's an August birthday so had a whole year of school whilst she was still too young for all the holiday play schemes than run to cater for school aged children (they all take from 5 up because they have to have different staff ratios for under 5s). The parental leave helped to make my leave up to something a bit nearer the whole of the school holidays.

I can also work from home (usually) if I have a sick child, which is really important as there's ususally no alternative. This is one of the aspects I appreciate the most.

I've been able to build up these arrangements because my work trust me, know that I'm good at my job and don't want to lose me. The big downside is that I've been unable to move on in my career as I would like because I'd never get this degree of flexibility with a new employer from the start.

Working from home is fine - after all if I want to go on MN I can do that from the office too grin

SootySweepandSue Tue 28-Feb-12 12:33:14

We had flexibility at my old office. Didn't work at all. The office culture disintegrated into nothing so those that were office based or just in the office that day were resentful and bored as they were sitting with no one to talk to! People were 'scared' to call if you were not in the office in case they were disturbing you (in the bath etc!). There was an underground belief that those not in the office were skiving.

I have since left being miserable there, but I have to admit I did play the system. I would work intensely for hours then spend days doing nothing. Except I would store up my work and fire it off at regular intervals so it always looked like I was busy. This included Friday night or weekend emails just to add to the effect. When I was in early pregnancy and totally exhausted or throwing up I used to sleep but my email was set to ping when I had a message!

I did always get the job done but didn't bother myself with overachieving or anything that was not 100% essential.

I think company culture needs to be open to radical change if flexibility is to work. It can really kill an office atmosphere. And it should be there for all staff not just those with kids.

BikeRunSki Tue 28-Feb-12 12:55:05

After maternity leave, I went back to a jobshare. This situation came about when I was in discussion with my line manager about returning to work pt. She was aware of another girl who wanted to work pt,who'se DD is a year older than my DS and line manager set it up, with a 6 month trial to see if it would work. That was 2.5 years ago! My partner works Mon-Wed, I work Wed-Fri. The mutual Wednesday is essential for detailed hand over, although we also leave each other notes. Because we work 6 days between us, we take on more work than the role would be expected to do if it was just done by 1 ft person.

We have each other's personal mobile numbers, but also a strict understanding not to abuse them on the other's non-working days. We are friendly enough not to get grumpy when the other does need to ring. We are also flexible enough that if we both need to be in on the same day - ie for role-specific training, then we can usually accomodate that (my line manager has even paid for me to have an extra day child care when she really needed us both in on a Tuesday). Because we both have DC (now 2 each) of similar age, we are both sympathetic to each others situation.

My line manager and jobshare partner would agree that the jobshare has worked really well. The joint Wednesday is essential, and we have constantly sought feedback , but I think a lot of our success has been down to personality. We have also worked really hard to make sure that our colleagues and clients know that we are "as one". We have had great feedback about our seamlessness too, when someone has asked my partner to do some work/asked a question and i have come back with the answer a few days later.

We have been restructured now, and the role we have been jobsharing will no longer exist in the new structure. It is also likely that we will be based in different offices in the new structure. We are gutted!

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