The Unwritten Rules of Working Flexibly By Guest Blogger Alison Burgess

February 1, 2015 1:47 pm

The first story in our series Working and leading in the 21st century features a story by Alison Burgess and highlights how her experiences with flexible working several years ago have informed her new approach. I hope you enjoy her story and consider what preparation you need to do in order to get the most from your organisation’s flexibility practices.

The Unwritten Rules of Working Flexibly

By Alison Burgess

I am due to return to work early this year after taking time off to care for my daughter and I am planning to take advantage of the flexibility that is available. I took the time recently to reflect on my previous flexible working arrangement. For example, this was a typical Wednesday for me:

  • Child alarm goes off at 12.30 am, 2am, 3am and by 4.30 am, I admit defeat and chose to log into my work email rather than attempt to sleep again. Thank goodness for that remote access!
  • 10:00 am – receive urgent voice message and work through client A’s issue over the phone.
  • 11:30 am – dial into leadership team meeting for client B. Fingers crossed that TV and Lego blocks entertain Master two for at least 40 minutes.
  • 12:30 pm – Master two down for a nap. I can finally spend some time completing a salary analysis spreadsheet for client C that I had been dwelling on all morning, in between changing nappies and preparing a “nutritionally balanced meal” for master two’s lunch (vegemite sandwich is a winner).
  • 4 pm – Call with New York
  • 5-7 pm: dinner, bath and bed for Master two
  • 7 pm – Log on to check emails
  • 8 pm – Call with London

Now this may seem like a typical day for someone who is running their own business or perhaps has a sick child and needs to try and get some work done, in between carer’s duties. But this was not my situation. This was my day OFF each week! My attempt to work flexibly was balanced in favour of my clients and even now I often find myself speaking with other’s in a similar “flexible working” situation who find themselves stressed, exhausted and working excessively to meet their basic role requirements.

In preparation for my return this year, I am giving more weight to the “unwritten” rules of working flexibly which I have come to believe are along the lines of the following:

  • Don’t try and cram what was previously a full time job into part time hours. If a full-time role is the only option, determine whether a job-share arrangement would be possible. Alternatively, discuss critical deliverables with your manager and agree reasonable timeframes for delivery, to work within the hours and days you will be available.
  • Invest the time in having an out of office contact. There will be occasions where it is necessary to check on emails from home or even dial into a critical meeting. But making this the norm and not the exception can defeat the purpose of working flexibly. One way to avoid or at least reduce the pressure of being “present” on your days off is to arrange an alternate contact for your clients.
  • Learn to say no, manage expectations and become a master at prioritising. Can or should someone else do this? Is this the best use of my time? What is absolutely essential to complete here? It’s amazing how much noise you can remove when under pressure to do so.
  • Factor in training and networking events. Don’t neglect your own development because you feel time-pressured in your flexible arrangement. Development and networking is an important part of being successful in your role and furthering your career.

Finally, review how effective your arrangement is by regularly reflecting on what you are achieving in your personal time vs. the time you are investing in your work. I always defaulted to prioritising work, leading to a stressful home life where I was only partially “present”. I am being optimistic in my approach this time around but am hoping that by bringing awareness to my previous flexible working shortcomings, I will have a better chance at making it work for both my employer and for me.


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