Flexibility is one of the enablers of true gender equality in a working environment. Whilst primary care giving continues to fall to the responsibility of women (something I challenged in my recent post) flexibility enables women (and men too of course) the ability to focus on growing their careers whilst meeting their parental responsibilities and dare I say flexibility is for all, even non-parents too. Time and time again, report after report, the number 1 thing to keep people in your organisation is flexibility. So if the leadership know this then why is it such a challenge to implement flexibility?
There are many reasons but I will focus on 1 today and what can be done about it: perception.
Perception is powerful. Truth is in the eye of the beholder. One of us see a glass of water filled half way up the glass, another may see a glass half full, another may see a glass half empty and so on. As a collective, we see work in so many lenses. And flexibility is something that challenges the way we do things, the way we work. This is not necessarily a bad thing however it is confronting and it is change.
So how do we overcome this?
As an individual seeking flexibility a good place to start is by understanding the various forms of flexibility that are available. It doesn’t automatically mean part-time, but it may for you. It can be condensed work weeks (doing 5 days in 4 or every fortnight working 9 out of 10 however still doing the same hours), working from home, flexible start and finish times (start late – finish late) and the list goes on. A great resource is the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA). Then think about what works for you and your role – how can you balance the 2 effectively?
Trial – most people don’t like change. So baby steps are recommended. In my career I have often asked for flexibility. I enjoy working from home as I have the opportunity to get clear stretches of time to get work done not have as many meetings. When negotiating flexibility I suggested trialling 1 day a week over a 3-month period to see how it goes. Needless to say it worked and moved it to 2 days week after that. If I needed to travel or be in the office I did – flexibility is a 2 way street.
Technology – having great technology at our fingertips means being accessible is easy. Whether it is phone, Slack, email, Skype or any other type of communication channel. Furthermore remote access means it is just like being at your desk. Virtual meetings – these need to be had, but run well. Using video is a must as well as ensuring the one/s that are dialing in have as much air-time as those physically present. There are so many great collaborative cloud based tools that allow people to contribute to group work at any time from anywhere such as Google, DropBox, Asana and Basecamp – take your pick.
In short it is about providing evidence to employers that it can be done. Flexibility will be the future of work – the norm but not quite yet. Considering we have been working the way we have for a VERY long time, change can be slow. By implementing a step-by-step process to enable flexibility and manage change is essential to gain buy in from your leader and company. Hard evidence of your productivity and results whilst working flexibily is the language that most powerful to shift these perceptions.
Natalie has over 20 years experience as an HR and Learning & Development professional across government, education and the corporate sector. She is also the founder of Lauch Pod and most recently the CEO of FlexCareers. She is passionate about economically empowering women and driving real change in the world to make it a better place for her two children