flexible working…5 must haves

Had a lovely breakfast the other morning with my pal and ex-colleague, Stephen Waddington who, like me, has recently opted for the co-location lifestyle and moved to the wilds of Northumberland.  He is continuing to run Rainier PR with Steve Earl in London.

Unsurprisingly, a large part of the conversation was about flexible/remote/home working with both of us comparing notes about the benefits and pitfalls of being out of (and indeed in) the office.

Anyway, I had been meaning to start something about the traits you need to be a good homeworker and make this strategy work for you in the long term so thanks to Stephen for giving me the renewed focus and here goes……

5 must haves for flexible workers

Respect from clients and staff about working practices – it has to be part of the fabric of the agency….jibes about working from home or trying to cover up flexible work arrangements to clients is a strategy bound for failure – be proud of your agency’s attitude; don’t try to cover it up – people want to work for an agency that embraces and encourages flexible working, not one that merely tolerates it

A flexible attitude – there are times when you just have to be at a meeting in person or in the office. Regular office visits are good for team and individual anyway as they keep you in touch and provide a chance to catch up in person

The right skills – namely, talent, experience and focus.  Flexible working does not work in all cases, people need to be integrated into the agency and spend a period of time getting to know staff, clients and the agency’s culture, in order to work in the expected way.

Individuals need to take responsibility for networking and socialising either where they live or making an effort to attend company socials. The increase of social media and networks has made it much easier for home workers to stay in touch, do business out of hours, attend events/lectures through podcasts and keep up to date with the industry

Trust. Your work needs to speak for itself. Clients need to want to work with you, teams need to feel they can approach you and respect the way you work and your boss needs to trust you.

I am going to tag some other people in the PR industry to see if they have any thoughts to add. Over to you Stephen, David, Will, Jonathan, Ged and Paul.

7 comments

  1. Stephen Waddington · September 22, 2008

    We’re fortunate to work in a sector where co-location and flexible working is acceptable, the norm almost. The train between Edinburgh and London is buzzing with folk making a regular commute between the north and London. But even so, few agencies have recognised that its a great way to motivate and keep people happy.

    Flexible working needs to a cultural part of the business and you need strong systems and infrastructure in place. Think about how the big tech firms work: BT, IBM and Cisco. When that’s in place it works well. Our oldest flexible worker has been traveling back and forth from Suffolk for five years.

    Irrespective of this, for the flexible worker it is bloody hard work, for all the reasons you mention. I constantly evaluate whether I’m getting the office versus home balance right.

    You haven’t touched on the personal and emotional aspect – I think that’s equally tough juggling. Balancing work with your personal life and family life.

    But I do not expect any sympathy. Its a life choice and the benefits are immeasurable. Family network, stunning countryside, lots of space, clean air… I spent Sunday bodyboarding (in the north sea!) and yesterday plodging around Cheviot, and this evening I’m back to the West End. How bad can that be?

  2. katie · September 22, 2008

    An interesting post, and subject close to my heart.

    I work from home although I’m self employed, so don’t have the issues that relate to being part of a company. However I still have a hugely client facing role and one of my biggest concerns when we moved from manchester (where I’ve been for years) to welsh/shropshire border (good life, blah blah) was that clients might have a perception that I had somehow cut myself off from the action of the city and in doing so would ‘lose my edge’, whatever that means.

    In reality clients have been pretty cool about it, I guess as long as they’re happy with my work then it doesn’t make any difference to them where I am. The biggest shock to me, and one I don’t think I was fully prepared for, was the travelling and how this eats into your home life, especially when you have children. Due to our location, the train isn’t really an option and I find it hugely frustrating to lose chunks of time when I could be working, just sitting in a car.
    But you can’t have everything and as Stephen says, the benefits of this kind of lifestyle are great.

  3. Jon Baker · September 22, 2008

    Hi Becks,

    I follow you on Twitter as a fellow flexible worker. I am a software developer working for a small firm in Cheltenham and you make 5 very good points. I find the fourth one (socialising / networking) the hardest to achieve. I was already in Cornwall when my company approached me and as I was unprepared to relocate ( I have a young family) my contract from the beginning was working from home. My company are proud that they are flexible and my collegues have accepted it probably mainly as I have done it from the start. I make regular trips to Cheltenham (every other week for two nights) and it works well but it can feel lonely at times. I have started to network a little using Twitter (seems lots of peope in my industry use it) which helps. I think the hardest and most frustrating thing is when I need support from collegues to complete a task and at times it can be difficult to get them on the phone or they are too busy and it feels as if I can’t make my voice heard.

  4. Simon G · September 22, 2008

    Becks, the flexible culture hasn’t got to SA yet; I think we lack the trust element. There’s also the transport issue – availability, cost – which we don’t have.

  5. Danny Whatmough · September 22, 2008

    Focus is the key one for me. With technological advancements, this is no longer a stumbling block and the mentality in general has improved a lot. However, some days I think it would be very easy (and productive) to work at home, other days the busy office environment is more conducive to creative work. Just as sometimes 9-5 does seem a very productive time of day with early morning or late evening proving a better time…

    Therefore focus and flexibility are crucial.

  6. Becks · September 22, 2008

    Thanks to everyone for your replies…all valid points

    Whilst I think the market on the whole is trying it and dipping its toe in the water, very few are making flexible working a real differentiator.

    Katie, Jon and Danny, thanks for popping by – I’ll be checking out all your blogs too.

    Becks

  7. paulstallard · September 23, 2008

    I personally like to work from home if I have some writing to do so I can get away from the phones and general chat that you can get drawn into at the office. With this in mind I totally agree with you on the first point. You must have the respect of your colleagues so they don’t start silly water cooler conversations about someone working from home and thinking they are watching the TV instead.

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