Shared Flexibility for Mums and Dads - It's a Win-Win!

"It's really encouraging to see more and more women and men adding 'nursery drop off', 'WFH - calls only' or 'travel home for school run' to their calendars. People's priorities are changing and there's no shame in it." Katie talks about how flexible working is working for her and can do for many others.

Before we had our daughter, my husband and I both used to work in the City: five days a week eight-thirty am until four-thirty pm.

I always wondered and felt slightly worried about what our options would be once my maternity leave was over. Would one of us be dashing to catch the train, rearranging our diaries at the last minute, or end up calling the nursery telling them we would be late for pick up?

Dreading the thought

We weren't looking forward to a world of clockwatching, late nursery fees and negotiating schedules. I had visions of feeding our daughter her tea in the car on the way back from nursery and feeling generally frazzled, maybe even dreading the thought of having to log on later that night.

Actually, the reality was far from that and is so much better than I could ever have imagined.

Going back to work

We were both lucky with how things turned out. We both asked for what we wanted once we had agreed on how we thought it would work. I was able to go back to work three days a week, and although that meant working in a new team it also meant that I was able to fully focus my attention on those three days. My husband was able to get his contract changed to working three days from home when I was in the office so he could do all the nursery stuff so there was no rushing about for either of us.

A tricky subject

My husband was worried about the effect it would have on his career but it's actually become much better for it. There's still a stigma around part-time working and working from home but the results have been so positive. I think men especially feel it's hard to ask for flexibility so they can share the family responsibilities but it's been so rewarding for all of us.

It can be a tricky subject but employers need to see the benefits of these sort of shared arrangements if it's possible and your job involves sitting at a desk. Maybe you are the first in your team to do it - but is it so wrong to 'open the floodgates'? There is no harm in asking. You're an individual with needs and responsibilities, regardless of gender.

More motivated, ambitious and efficient

I was also worried about returning to work part-time and how that would affect my career, but the truth is that working this way has made me more motivated, ambitious and efficient. I don't lose sleep over certain situations that I would have before and I feel I can achieve so much in three days and the fact I'm not being distracted with the pressure of responsibilities on those days makes it easy.

Sharing our working week makes things so clear and simple for us, we know what we are doing and if we need to swap things around every now and again to accommodate meetings or travel then it's not too difficult. Our employers can see the consistency we provide even though we may not be working the usual office hours. We are still able to meet expectations, deliver what's required and get involved in projects.

No shame in it

Perhaps you can request a trial period if you are struggling to get your employer to agree to a permanent change or you need a trial period to see how it works out. It's really encouraging to see more and more women and men adding 'nursery drop off', 'WFH - calls only' or 'travel home for school run' to their calendars. People's priorities are changing and they are making it clear, there's no shame in it.

Blending not balancing

We try to blend parenthood with our careers rather than balance everything. Balancing sounds too risky and fragile like things could come crashing down at any moment. We both feel we have been able to achieve what we want without one of us sacrificing too much, we respect each other's careers. We have no help from family so we have no choice but to support each other, take turns and that way our daughter will see equality and have a positive relationship with the both of us.

Willing to embrace change

The next challenge we face is baby number two arriving this summer. How do we blend things again? What we have in place now won't work in the same way it did the first time so what are our needs personally and professionally?

How can we compromise? We have found it extremely helpful to address these questions early on together so that when a big life change like this happens you both have the opportunity to adapt. You have to be willing to embrace change and manage the emotions and stress that can come with it. That's what most people are afraid of: the transition between where they are and where they want to be.

Challenge and encourage

Whether it's condensed hours, working remotely or part-time you could encourage your employer to be imaginative rather than overly cautious and unwilling to think beyond the traditional nine-to-five.

This fear and addiction blight almost everyone who works, but it blights parents the most. You aren't asking for extra holiday, just a different way to continue to do your job; it's better for you and better for their profits.



Expert View

My Family Care, Coaching & Consultancy Director, Jennifer Liston-Smith comments on Katie's blog:

Katie's blog is such a positive contribution in the progress we're all seeing towards smarter ways of working; doubly so as it is gender-inclusive.

A couple of things strike me: firstly, that Katie is absolutely right to highlight the improved productivity she and her partner find in the focused time they have and how they have raised their game rather than stepping back in any way (overturning any unconscious bias about a 'part-timer' or working from home). Within this, a handy reminder that working from home does need to include the little one being out at nursery. We do still hear of people imagining WFH (working from home) might function with children playing around their feet: but it's not generally a viable working arrangement!

Secondly, and the one thing I would urge anyone considering requesting a different working arrangement to do, is to start from the point of view of your employer and your role. Avoid the (understandable) temptation to focus only on your preferences and your responsibilities. Of course, they are a huge part of the context but what you really need, in making your business case for any new arrangement, is to demonstrate how the work gets done, how contingencies will be managed and how any impact on others will be managed or mitigated. As Katie says, this may need a trial. In any case, the effective mindset here is that flexibility is the best 21st century way of getting work delivered (whether or not one has family responsibilities); it is a way of delivering the deliverables. That's a more win-win starting point than seeing it as a favour or special arrangement for an individual.