Written by Julie Vincent, Senior Market Research and Insight Consultant

I attended the MRS Flex Forum interactive panel session on 22 September and it was both useful and therapeutic! Thanks to the panel for a great session. (a recording of the panel session can be found in the member's area here)

It provided reassurance, but also some new ways of looking at things and practical solutions. It also made me reflect on the different ways I have worked during my career so far.

In reality, I have always been seeking a kind of flexibility that enabled me to do my best work for my employer (and myself when it was my business) at any given time, and balance this with the rest of my life. The world of work has always needed to take into account people’s personal circumstances, women have often felt this acutely, but until now flexible hasn’t been the default setting. We are all adjusting to a world where flexibility is essential for both employees and employers.

Working flexibly and being able to progress a career whilst not working full-time is something I have always been passionate about. I was told in my early 20s that once I had children that my career would be over; I have worked hard to dispel this limiting myth for those who work for me and for myself since then.

It’s not all work, work, work…

Whilst doing my A levels and as a student at university I did a lot of part time work; in pubs and cafes, transcription because I could touch type, cleaning, shelved books at a library, did secretarial work, and had a brief spell working at the DSS one summer.

My first full-time job was as a market researcher, and having been in education and working in temporary part-time jobs before that, I actually didn’t realise I could have time off. I accrued a lot of flexi and holidays as I just assumed you worked, worked and then worked some more.

I did a postgrad while working full-time which meant that I was always a little bit at work. And all of this all fostered some bad habits, so I took action.

When I had my first son I started working part-time whilst managing a team. I was wiser and got organised, I worked 3 days for 3 years. I put a structure in place with a great deputy who was in charge when I wasn’t in work, we were well organised and planned and we had a really efficient team. It was a productive and harmonious environment that I’m still proud of. But, and this is important, it was before anyone had email on their phones. So, the red telephone (my Nokia) only rang for a true emergency.

After my second son I took a two year career break and hatched plans for starting a business and working flexibly. It wasn’t easy, I had very little childcare and suddenly was juggling home and work in the same physical space.

As I allowed demand for the business to grow as my children grew, I moved to an office and took on staff. Gradually, the flexibility remained, but by stealth the demand for my time from my job grew to full-time. So that flexibility came at a cost.

I then sold my business and at this point my team grew and I became part of a senior team and wider business. And I’m now freelancing and working flexibly, and older and wiser than the 23 year old who tripped over market research as a career and stuck with it.

So, with one son just delivered to university (insert crying emoji) and one son starting GCSEs, I have the opportunity to look back on quite a lot of varied experience.

OK, who put all the jigsaws in one box?

We are in a time of huge macro environment change so we need to give ourselves the space to take a breath, have a good think, and accept that it is going to be a while before things get a bit linear again.

We are having to constantly pivot, so we need to take advantage of the opportunities for positive change and stay vigilant to make sure that existing inequalities don’t become more entrenched. I sincerely hope that efficient, workable and empowering flexibility becomes the new default.

So, where is the world of work in late 2020?

  • People being physically in lots of different places
  • Daily distractions being different or simply having more of them
  • Blurring of lines between work and not work
  • More challenges to keeping a team culture
  • More strain on managers to keep cohesion
  • Loss of passive face to face interaction and communication
  • Explosion in proactive online interaction and communication
  • Things just taking a bit longer

I would say it is like a jigsaw where we can’t always find where the right piece is to complete the picture quickly. There can be quite a bit of time consuming rummaging around.

For me an overarching insight from the Flex Forum was that we need to accept that things will need to keep evolving and that the pace will continue to be swift, and sometimes the necessity for change will arrive without any warning.

So, we will try things and they won’t work, then we might try them in a few months and they will work then. We will do things which are spot on in that moment and then create unnecessary stress two weeks later.

So, a few tactics both from the session and from my experience working in many different ways, to help manage through this time of change.

  • Segment your interactions; meetings, conversations and collaborations. Set rules for them, a conversation can be on the phone while you’re both out for a walk. A meeting can be 15 minutes or half an hour rather than an hour by default. A collaboration can be given space and needs some fun in it.
  • Accept timelines need to be given a bit more time; even if you can do it quickly, your colleagues or your clients might not be able to. Not everybody will be working at the same time, so that team flow can be a little disjointed. Cumulative delays need to be thought through.
  • E signatures and virtual wallcharts saying who is working when; this is a huge thing for managers planning when things can be done, when people can get together, and making sure people feel comfortable with their working patterns. This is also an essential part of boundary setting and maintenance.

I’m really looking forward to the next Flex Forum event. I wrote this really quickly as it was inspiring to listen to the panel members and the interaction with the attendees, and it got me thinking! Why don't you watch it too? 

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