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There isn’t a single office job that can’t be done flexibly

There isn’t a single office job that can’t be done flexibly

Catherine Brooks

I recently heard of a company that rejected a mother’s request to return to work part-time because apparently the job just had to be done on a full-time basis, writes Catherine Brooks.

The mother was incredulous. She was in a senior marketing role and she was required to manage four other marketing roles. Meaning that four other people were already performing the marketing function and her job was to manage them. Why couldn’t this management work be done on a part-time or flexible basis?

The employer cited operational requirements and wouldn’t even give the mother a chance to prove that the role could be done differently.

I, like the mother in this scenario, categorically refute the employers position that her role couldn’t be carried out on a part-time or flexible basis.

Indeed, I put the challenge out there that there isn’t a single office job that couldn’t be done flexibly.

To law firms out there that have refused flexible work arrangements, I implore you to change your ways. Come join us in this new working era.

Let’s look specifically at the roles within the legal profession.

Personal assistants, receptionists and support staff have long proven to firms that they can successfully share the role to carry out the duties of the job. I once worked for a partner who worked such long hours that she required two PAs, one that started at 7am and the other that took over for the evening shift. I’ve also worked with many PAs who job-share across the week - one working Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and the other working Thursday, Friday (for example).

What about lawyers? I’ve worked with many lawyers successfully working flexibly. Most recently a male partner in our firm commenced flexible work arrangements (which involved him not being in the office on a Wednesday) to care for his child as his wife finished her PHD and then embarked on a new role.

But what about litigation lawyers I hear you say? Years ago I worked for senior litigation lawyers who job-shared across the week, and it worked wonderfully. They had solid protocols in place for communication, handover of files and the clients always knew who they could reach on any given day.

What these litigation lawyers taught me, and what many personal assistants have taught me, is that flexible work requires careful thought and consideration. It asks of you to think beyond the standard nine-to-five hours. It can take you out of your comfort zone, but like with anything that takes you out of the norm, it can be very rewarding.

So next time you receive a request for flexible working arrangements, challenge yourself to think outside the square and before you say no, consider the following:

  • Flip your perspective and first think about how you can make the request work so that the job is done and the person making the request can do what they need to do outside of work (whether that’s caring for children, older family members or completing professional development). It may require tweaking of the request and a negotiation process, but don’t just say no. Have a discussion first.
  • Implement a trial period. Perhaps what is being requested is new in your office and you’re unsure if the job can still be done. Well nothing has to be set in stone. Implement a trial period with review stages to check in to see if it’s working for all parties (employer, employee and clients).
  • What type of people do you want in your firm? Do you want the best personnel that will bend over backwards for your firm? Then implementing flexible work practices in your firm will help you attract the best talent and keep them. You have to give to receive, and trust me, grateful parents will give back tenfold and tell the whole world about what a great workplace you provide.
  • What do you want to be known for? A workplace that prevented a parent from seeing their child or a workplace that overcame challenges to ensure that both parent and client is happy? You want your staff to be project managers and resilient enough to roll with the punches, well you’ve got to be prepared to demonstrate those skills too.
  • Look for examples of people already working flexibly. They are everywhere and these people are proving it works. Learn from their errors and mistakes and take their success stories and apply them to your firm.

So before you say no and fight for the status quo, remember my challenge to you. There’s no office job that can’t be done flexibly. If you disagree, or you’re in HR and the responsible partner is about to refuse the request, call me – let’s talk it through. It’s the least I can do to say thank you to all those people who showed me that the law can be practised flexibly.

Catherine Brooks is a principal at Moores.

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