It has been bothering me for some time what flexible working means in our industry and how the stereotypical view of flexible working is holding back the incredible benefits both men and women can bring to the industry.
The traditional image portrays a ‘Mum’ working in-house or agency doing their old job on a part time basis.’ So you get to work less hours in the week, tick; you still do all your work (probably 5 days worth), tick; and your pay gets pro –rated (fair..ish) despite still doing all your work and bringing the strategic level of consultancy you have always brought, tick. So what’s the problem?
Our industry is very much built to treat flexible working as an ‘hours’ problem. I am not saying that is wrong, it is totally understandable and the main driver for people needing to work flexibly, but I really believe we are all missing a trick. Not just the agencies and organisations that employ us, but those that want to work flexibly no matter what gender you are!
Those people that want to work this way need to focus on the type of work that enables them to do this as well as what their core strengths are without settling for a ‘lesser job’ with ‘lesser pay’. But this is hard in an industry which is great at being good generalists. Account structures and teams may not be flexible enough to allow people to create bespoke roles for themselves, nor is it something that a client is always happy with. But if we could prove that bespoke roles or teams that just work on projects is commercially beneficial to us all, then maybe there is an opportunity to change the stereotype.
Try and compare what I am saying to the age old dilemma of working on retainers or on projects for clients. Agencies and clients love retainers for many reasons but most of all it gives them security. But clients are moving to be more project-orientated. It gives them clear focus, they can really see how their money is being spent and what the return on investment is. The same could be argued for ‘flexible workers’. This type of worker is incredibly committed to the project they work on, has clear focus, timescales and deliverables. The client is happy and the job is done in full, but in your own time.
The world is changing and technology allows us to do everything wherever we are. Our industry needs to embrace this and treat flexible working as a skills set and not just an hours problem. Below are some tips from me to help people through it.
- Focus on the type of work you can do on a project basis first and not on the contractual hours
- Know what you are good at and create a role that fits that and the business needs
- Encourage your organisation to re-think how they structure their teams to accommodate the skills of flexible workers
- Prove that it is a win win for everybody involved
- Don’t make this a gender issue – everybody should be allowed work in this way if that’s what they choose
I have worked in-house and now as an independent consultant flexibly but I would die if any of my clients thought that I didn’t give them 100%, all of the time. Remember as long as the client is happy, it’s about the type of work you do, not how and when you do it.
Lara Molins Caplin is part of the PRWeek Mentoring Project