My life as a flexible worker By Guest Blogger Catherine Ferrara

April 3, 2015 1:48 pm

I was first introduced to the concept of “working from home” (WFH) when I was transferred to the US with a large technology company back in 2003. I relocated from Sydney to New Jersey for personal reasons and was fortunate to secure a “Global Program Manager” role which required flexibility as I was working with multiple time zones and over 20 countries. Initially I worked remotely from the local sales office but soon realised that with current technology, my location was irrelevant to my colleagues.

Running a large global program via phone and email at all hours of the day and night was a very different style of working and required me to adapt accordingly and learn some new skills. I had to learn to manage and present on global ‘concalls’ to large groups of people with different language skills and cultural backgrounds, most of whom I would never meet. I become a PowerPoint guru as I carefully put together materials for every meeting in a clear format. Often it was clear that people were multi-tasking during the calls and occasionally I even heard snoring from people doing the late shift in another time zone! Many days I did not leave the house (which was the tidiest it’s ever been) or even get out of my pyjamas when I was really busy. I did have great work/life balance during that period of my life, but the downside was that I started to get quite lonely and isolated in the way I worked.

Periodically we had staff meetings and the rest of my team (located all over the world) would congregate in one of the company’s large campuses located in the San Francisco Bay area. It was fantastic to catch up with everyone and we would work hard and party harder for the week we were together. The campuses were amazing places with large cafes, games rooms and volley ball nets. Everyone would hang out and have meetings over coffee. Much to my surprise the campuses were ‘pet friendly’ – imagine bringing your pet Rottweiler into work with you! This was my way of working for approximately 5 years and it was a fun time in my life.

I moved back to Australia and secured a role with an Australian investment bank. I knew I needed to look the part so I bought a business suit. When I first saw myself in the mirror dressed for the new role it was a shock; I just did not feel like me and to be honest, I wasn’t sure how I was going to cope being around people every day in an office environment. However, I soon adjusted to a very social office environment with lunches, coffees, and drinks after work. From a work perspective, it allowed a different kind of productivity as there are many things I discovered could be resolved so much more easily on a whiteboard face to face. Instead of running global concalls I was running workshops and I really enjoyed it. I did ask to work from home when I was busy and I needed ‘quiet time’, however [culturally] it was not the norm and no one really did it. The few times I did work from home people in the office didn’t get it so I soon stopped asking.

My next role was at a large (Australian) global engineering firm where I was able to negotiate some informal work from home time due to the role and its seniority. However again this flexible working arrangement was not encouraged nor practiced by those at the top. I continued to do it occasionally when I had to, but I never felt comfortable working from home or trusted in spite of always delivering my work.

Fast forward to now.  After 20+ years in the workforce in different roles, industries, working styles, office environments, experiences and countries, I know what works for me. I am now a “flexible worker” currently contracted to a great organisation that is trying to encourage more flexible working practices. Like me, they see the value to both the employee and the company – minimising the cost of real estate, greater productivity from happier employees and most importantly, keeping good people because they want to work there. I have found when you entrust people in the right circumstances they deliver much more for you than they do when they are micromanaged.

For me personally, my optimal working environment and where I am the most productive, is where I can adjust my office days and home days as required to do the job. I am extremely fortunate to have had the opportunities and experiences I have had in my working life to date and I would encourage everyone to try out different situations until they find what works for them and then build up the confidence to go out and get it.


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