Flexible working in PR

It’s no surprise to me that I’m editing this article on the train, dashing back to collect my kids from nursery. Sometimes this hour is my most productive time, a chance to catch up on emails and review content in peace… well apart from the odd train change and standing room only! Perhaps we all need a bit more Dutch thinking in our life; in the Netherlands it’s common for people to get home to eat dinner as a family every night, but also to prioritise time away from your desk in the day to spend time with your colleagues. This different approach to work/life balance has led to businesses in the Nordics reporting higher levels of productivity and work satisfaction.  

Here I look at how I found an agency that embraces flexible working, the challenges of working flexibly and how, and why, businesses can be more flexible.

Returning to work
Coming back to work with two small children, I knew what my ideal role would look like, but in all honesty my expectation of finding it was low. I wanted something that would challenge me, offer flexible working, people I could learn from and a chance to trust my gut instincts and experience. Key areas I thought should be available for everyone, not just returning to work parents. But this wasn’t what I always found when I started looking for a new role both in-house and agency side. Babel, I thought and have since had confirmed, was a different kettle of fish.  

The challenges
But there is still a wider challenge. As we work in a client services industry that to some extent demands an “always-on” culture particularly for clients across different time zones, making flexible working actually work in a practical sense is difficult. Debating if you need to be working from the office vs remote working, client meeting diary juggles, and whether the job specification and employer expectations can actually be met within less time per week are some of the many different variables.

Steps to becoming more flexible

1. Trust your staff
Back in 2012 Volkswagen stopped its servers sending emails to employees when they were off-shift in an effort to reduce employee stress. This might be too extreme an approach though, so perhaps we need to take a leaf from the civil service where compressed hours are very common. Both these approaches could offer the communications industry a new perspective – but underpinning them is a culture built on trust. Trusting your staff to get the work done and to a great standard, but also trust between the employer and employee that there isn’t an expectation for more work to be squeezed into flexible working time. It’s a tough conundrum!

2. Find out about Flex Appeal
Flexible working can offer so much more than opportunities for parents to spend time with their children. Enter someone that I think is awesome, running a campaign that is equally awesome. Anna Whitehouse, or Mother Pukka, quit her job after she was denied a 15-minute earlier start and finish time in order to pick her children up from nursery. She thought that the reason of “opening the floodgates to similar requests” was silly (as it is), and started campaigning for something called ‘Flex Appeal’.  

Whilst Mother Pukka is mainly for people who happen to be parents at its heart, Flex Appeal is actually for anyone. The theory being that the more control you have over your work/life, the happier you will be. This could be because you want to spend more time with your kids. Perhaps it’s that you’re training for a triathlon, or you just want to get involved more in your local charity. It isn’t a big leap of faith to say that being more involved in these things will probably make you happier. And guess what? Happier people tend to do better at work, be more loyal, and have a knock-on effect of goodness to their clients.

Flexibility requires flexibility!
Ultimately, it comes down to trust and faith in your employee and realising that one size fits all doesn’t always work. The realisation that listening to employees’ needs will bring about happier, healthier and more loyal teams, must take place. Being difficult about it will inevitably foster resentment and may well damage relationships, so why not do something that cultivates happier people instead?

Written by Jenny Mowat, director at agency Babel PR