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There has been an explosion of public chatter about flexible working recently. Widely reported in print and social media, Timewise has awarded its Power 50 2019, recognising people in senior roles who work part-time. What’s more, Peter Cheese, Head of CIPD is leading the charge, alongside other public figures, calling for more organisations to use the strapline ‘Happy to talk flexible working’ and specifically advertise for flexible options when recruiting. He says, “Providing more flexible opportunities for how, when and where people work should be part of every organisation’s strategy to attract and retain the talent and skills they need”. And I couldn’t agree more.

Through my own conversational research, almost everyone I’ve spoken to in a senior part-time role, in reality ends up doing the equivalent of a full-time job – but without the remuneration. While a lot of people in this situation often resent this paradigm, they also appreciate the hypothetical ability to say ‘no’ when asked to work on a non-working day. However, let’s face it, very few end up doing this. Put simply, part-time is very part-time – except when it comes to the part-time pay cheque.

I am fully supportive of the Timewise Power 50 accolade of being both senior and working part-time, but I personally believe that flexible working should be recognised as much more than this. Some organisations have adopted the term ‘agile working’, which is about working remotely in different locations (e.g. home or coffee shop) or working condensed hours – longer hours one day and shorter another. These kinds of informal arrangements are not a bad thing. However, more often than not, many part-time workers have contractual arrangements stating specific days and hours they will work (sub-text: ‘be paid for’). Essentially, they remain as hours based and not output and outcomes based.

Emma Stewart, CEO and co-founder of flexible working consulting and campaigning group Timewise, believes that informal arrangements are becoming more normal. “The need to get a formal flexible working request granted is diminishing because there are more open conversations going on,” she says. “Managers’ resistance to flexible working is often based on a perception that it can’t be done. But they’ve not been given the support to do things differently, and we’re not trying hard enough to be innovative,” she adds.

That may be true, but realistically, flexible working is often misinterpreted and frequently viewed only as an option for women returning to work after maternity leave. Yet, it should be available for anyone and everyone and based on output and outcome – not how long you spend hunched over your computer at your office desk. Personally, I wish that more leaders would understand and experiment with flexible working, as a way of empowering and incentivising their employees and thereby maximising business success.

Organisations that support flexible working are more likely to have engaged, highly productive workers who are fully dedicated to their job in the focused time they’re working. Often, it’s a parent who leaves early to pick up the kids and logs back on later when they’ve put the kids to bed and carry on so as 1) not to let the team down OR 2) just to get through their hefty workload (if this resonates with anyone who’s reading this, you’ll know what I mean by the eternal parental guilt – feeling you are not there for your family and simultaneously not being there for your team).

For a business that is fully committed to flexible working it goes way beyond benefitting just working parents. It should support anyone who needs or wants to flex their working pattern to have a better work-life balance that suits them, their team and business outcome. Above all, an atmosphere of trust is needed.

Think about it, does it really matter if someone isn’t in the office 9-5 (if that even exists anymore)? Isn’t it more important for the team to work out their own rhythm and how they collaborate best together to get to the best outcomes for the team and therefore for the business? Employees perform better when they feel valued, supported, trusted, an important part of the jigsaw and in sync with others. Flexibility within a team will engender trust and great commitment. With goals always in mind, this in turn should lead to far greater output and outcomes for the business – better than you may have imagined.

Karen Mattison MBE, Timewise’s Founder, offers these tips to people hoping to thrive in the flexible world: “Deliver what you promise: Focus on results..{..}..Be very clear about what you say will be done and by when, so it is clear you are delivering.”

Well, here is what I am delivering in the coming weeks….do keep an eye out for the next two instalments of my flexible working trilogy: how to manage flexible working and a mindset shift for leaders

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