Surprisingly, and before turning to self-employment, in my last ‘proper’ job, I managed to negotiate a 4 day week, 2 days of which were to be spent working from home. An enlightened approach you might think. However, it is more than likely the ONLY reason I was given these mold-breaking options was that I was being head-hunted at any cost. So I was calling the shots on my contract and terms of employment. A highly unusual situation I accept.
And so it was, a senior Board-level resource, working part-time AND from home. As any conscientious, senior ‘proven’ employee would, I took on responsibility for managing my time effectively. I prioritized my actions around the really valuable stuff and I worked flexibly around my fellow colleagues to ensure I was accessible and available when they needed me. Technology helped to a degree – Skype etc – but we have to remember that technology is only as good as the human being using it, and actually wanting to make it work.
My time in the office was very focused – with just 2 days a week to access colleagues face-to-face, I was forced to get organized, to plan in advance, to make meetings short, yet productive. My time working from my home office (and yes, I had a proper office and desk and everything) was dedicated to the stuff I needed head-space for; writing proposals, speaking to prospects, following up on actions agreed in the office. In the office, I commuted an hour and a half each way, parked for £20 per day, got to my desk at around 9am (depending on traffic) and left sometime after 7pm to avoid the traffic.
Conversely, when working at home, I was at my desk around 8am every morning, usually worked through my lunch-hour, and finished my working day at 5.30pm. Solid, concentrated, uninterrupted and focused effort. And of course, the results spoke for themselves; productivity, efficiency and results – in spades. My boss would have immediately seen the proof if I was swinging the lead.
At 5.45pm I was hopping on my push-bike to go training, or putting on boots to go for a walk or simply catching up with the rest of my life. The balance was beautiful, and the benefits rewarding for ALL parties. I was happier, more productive and less weary than ever before. My boss trusted me to deliver, and in all honesty he probably continued the get 5 days work out of me, but only paid for 4 days!
So, what’s wrong with this picture? My colleagues. Apparently “working from home” was seen as being a bit of a jolly. It was never said to my face, but I felt the repercussions of the resentment that built up over time. Strangely, it was the other ‘working Mums’ that got it, and less so the male workforce or younger team-members. Those that ‘got it’ worked WITH me to ensure things worked (although there was little compromise required) and those that didn’t, seemed to delight in setting the process up to fail.
The thing that didn’t help me was that I wasn’t even a ‘working mum’. I didn’t have any children to rush home to, or pick up from school and I suspect many had difficultly comprehending that my working model was an attempt to create that elusive ‘work/life’ balance. The nay-sayers saw it as a means to coast, or take things easy or even ‘skive off’. It was as if ‘work/life balance’ was not a credible reason to work part-time. There had to be children and school runs involved to be taken seriously.
I can say with 100% certainty that my employer got more from me in terms of productivity on the days I worked from home that any ‘full time’ position I held prior to this arrangement. And anyone who knows me, knows I’ve never been a slouch in my career!
The one thing my boss failed to do, at Board level, was to normalize and positively reinforce the ‘part-time/home-working’ model. And if his Board didn’t buy into it, we all know where that’s going. No-where.
And so, I decided to leave, simply because the insidious culture of disapproval and resentment of my colleagues made things desperately unpleasant.
And did I choose to remain as a useful resource, with 15 years experience and knowledge clocked up on the meter, to help build our UK economy in the corporate environment? No, of course I didn’t. I took all my skills, experience, knowledge, wisdom and work ethic and used it entirely for my own benefit.
As so many of us do – especially our working Mums.
And as modern life gets tougher, and faster and higher, wider, deeper and more incredibly pressured, human beings are crying out for balance. Exceptional wisdom and talent is being lost forever simply because organisations are incapable of embedding the required culture for part-time and home-working success.
Let’s ‘big up’ the ones that do, examine how they make it work and in the future make it frowned upon if organisations haven’t got at least part of its workforce working from home and/or part-time.
Liz Childerley, Independent Marketing Consultant