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Practical Tips for Helping Parents with Flexible Working
In only a few short months since the UK felt the brunt of COVID-19, flexible working has been adopted like never before – and become the "new normal" for many people, including me. In fact, for me it now feels just "normal" – the "new" as distant as memories of standing on a crowded tube trying to read my phone under someone's armpit, or rejoicing in the aircon of our office in summer.
With #flextheUK, we join the call for flexible working to be commonplace, not exceptional. It's currently fairly widespread because of necessity, but will it remain that way when public transport and offices open up? We have the opportunity now to embed an expectation of flexible working, to harness it beyond the current pandemic and into whatever new "new normal" awaits us after COVID-19 has run its course.
With that in mind, here are a few practical tips for helping parents with flexible working:
It goes without saying, but good equipment is essential. A reliable laptop with strong video, audio and touchscreen functionality is a must. Life can be made even easier at relatively low cost for a business by providing a few extras, such as a "proper" keyboard or mouse, or a second screen. These creature comforts help work to run that much more smoothly away from the office. It's worth accepting these if they are offered, and raising the need for them with work (or even get one yourself) if necessary.
Taking the time to be as organised as possible is also essential, however you best do that. Working part-time and flexibly, I've definitely noticed that I have less slack in my working week than I used to, so it's important that I take the time to plan out my day, and week, and next few weeks, in terms of work – and also events at home. Sometimes it feels too pressured to manage that, but things always run smoother if I take a few minutes to write a brief plan. Surprises will always occur ("no plan survives contact with the enemy", as a colleague used to say), but at least you then have a fighting chance of coping when it all (inevitably) goes wrong!
Boundaries are also a must, especially during the current pandemic. Work has an amazing ability to fill whatever time you give it, and rarely do we reach the end of our "to do" list on any given day. It's therefore important to be realistic about what you can get done – and what needs to be done – in a day, and then draw a line until tomorrow (or your next working day). I think that flexible working requires more discipline than being in the office all day every day, as it's easier to let work and home slide together – so you never quite leave work, or don't quite settle down to work because you get distracted by the chores (sometimes willingly if I have a difficult email to write!). But that discipline is necessary to set the parameters and framework for being effective in both. Which leads me on to…
All work and no play makes Jon a dull boy – as well as a grumpy and increasingly inefficient (and mistake-prone) one. It's important to focus on work when working, and then to focus just as much on not working when not working. Sometimes it can feel like you're not giving 100% to work or 100% to home, but just doing everything badly. I find it helpful to try and have "working" and "non-working" times, so at least during those times I can try and do each well, asking the other one to wait if necessary (be it emails from clients during non-working time, or requests to dismember Lego characters during working time). I find that work, and family, respond better with a fairly clear idea of when I'm available to them, and I feel slightly better as well. I feel even better with regular "proper" downtime.
That said, flexibility is also important! I've found that work is happier to let me carve out my working space if they know I will respond in an emergency (if only to say when I will deal with it). Equally, my family are happier to know that I can take a few minutes if they really need me, even if that's after I've finished a particular call or email.
Ultimately, successful flexible working takes commitment on both sides. For me, it took time to find a new and effective rhythm, which is still under close review! And work may need some time and experience to see the benefits. However, the potential rewards in productivity and satisfaction are well worth it.
Written by Jonathan Hyde, Director, DWF Law LLP.
If you'd like to contribute, please email Kate.