“We’d like to see you in the office more.”
“The team usually works between 9-5, hope that’s okay.”
“If you make sure you’re in the office when I am then I can answer your questions.”
We are often encouraged to behave the same as others in the workplace with underlying emphasis on how things would be easier if we all worked in the same way, the same hours and same location. I believe that flexible working is the key to an effective team. If managers trusted their team members to work flexibly and team members trusted their managers to support them, I believe workplaces would be happier and more productive places to be.
It can be hard to establish your own working pattern when new to an organisation. You are usually expected to work the same hours as colleagues, at least initially, to receive training and support, and it can be hard to subsequently change this. It is difficult to change established work patterns in response to changes in circumstances. Colleagues used to seeing you in the office 9-5 may wonder what has happened if you start turning up at 10am or start leaving early on Wednesdays.
The definition of flexible working (according to gov.uk) is:
“a way of working that suits an employee’s needs, for example having flexible start and finish times, or working from home.”
I am disabled. I was diagnosed with my condition at 17 and I am now 30. I have learnt, over many years, how to work efficiently, effectively, and in a manner that prevents my symptoms worsening. For me, flexibility is key. Some days I work most effectively in the office. I like to chat through ideas informally with colleagues over a cup of tea, make use of office equipment that I don’t have at home, and work on sensitive documents in a secure environment. Other days I work most effectively at home where I can audio dictate without disturbing others, use my rest break to do some yoga, and take extended work calls without needing to leave my desk and find a quiet room. In short, I, like many others, work most productively when I manage my own schedule. This does not mean that I am not a team player or I never attend meetings in person; it means that when I flexibly manage my own work pattern, making decisions according to my symptoms and goals for the day, I am at my most productive.
Over the years, I have had managers who have supported me to work flexibly and others who have not. I have learnt a lot about how to initiate these discussions. Here are three important things to consider when thinking about or discussing flexible working:
- Don’t assume that everyone wants to work the same way you do. If you always want to be in the office from 8am to 4pm then that is fine. Just remember that others may feel differently. You do not all have to work in the same location or work the same hours in order to be an effective team.
- Set up a system so that all team members know where everyone else is working from; I recommend using a shared outlook calendar but use whatever system works for you. Please remember that if you’re going to ask your team to notify you of their location, you should also be notifying them of yours.
- This final one is perhaps the most important; always remember that you and your team share a goal. You all want to produce high quality work efficiently. Trust your team members to know what is best for them.
Many thanks to Melanie for sharing her personal experiences. Flexible working aids well-being, retention and continuity in teams. A core value of scientists and engineers working in Government is that of caring, we join government because the science and engineering is important to society and because we care for others in society. Supporting each other to manage individual circumstance such as helping colleagues with disabilities to work most effectively for them is key. As is supporting each and every colleague dealing with the myriad of curve balls thrown by life. Support is an essential act of human kindness. Are you a supportive of flexible working as a manager? If not, why not? Self-reflection for all is good practice, consider the barriers you perceive around flexible working and how you can use your management and communication skills to minimise your own concerns.
Vicki Chalker Chair of the GSE Diversity and Inclusion Action Group
Melanie rightly reminds us that what is important is having a happy, functional team where every individual is enabled to deliver in a way that suits their circumstances. This certainly does not rely on us all being in the lab or office at the same time. As Melanie’s current manager I can honestly say that since we discussed her specific needs following recruitment her disability has never affected her consistently delivering everything that was asked of her and being a committed team member. She clearly knows how best to manage her condition and my role is simply to support her in doing that.
David Kenyon Chair of GSE Disability work stream and Head of Diagnostics, Wildlife & Molecular Biology, Scottish Government Agriculture and Rural Economy Directorate
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