The joy of flex

Berkshire Life - - Front Page - WORDS: Jan Ray­croft

Flex­i­ble work­ing is chang­ing Berk­shire’s work-life bal­ance

It doesn’t come bet­ter than liv­ing and work­ing in Berk­shire, es­pe­cially if you are one of the grow­ing

band not re­quired to make a five-day com­mute

So Cross­rail is com­ing – our Berk­shire stretch is due to be up and run­ning by the end of next year – and we’ll all be able to com­mute faster and fur­ther across the cap­i­tal. But what, if by then, more of us are ac­tu­ally spend­ing less time tak­ing the strain in­side the packed train, or clog­ging up the M4, and in­stead reg­u­larly work from home? And per­haps eas­ily switch­ing the days and hours of our labour to avoid rush hours or to fit bet­ter with fam­ily life, be it chil­dren, el­derly rel­a­tives or even pets?

The flex­i­ble work­ing rev­o­lu­tion is well un­der­way, and it’s not only Lon­don-based busi­nesses of­fer­ing schemes that al­low em­ploy­ees to ap­pear at their ac­tual desks for fewer days each month. When it comes to life-work bal­ance, the will­ing­ness of em­ploy­ers to of­fer ‘agility’ can be a perk con­sid­ered by many to be worth more than a rail sea­son ticket loan or cor­po­rate deals re­duc­ing the cost of such treats as gym mem­ber­ship or West End show tick­ets.

Anna Samp­son, win­ner of this year’s In­spi­ra­tional Woman Award spon­sored by Read­ing Univer­sity in the San­tander Thames Val­ley Venus Awards, is a cham­pion of flex­i­ble and re­mote work­ing.

She may be the boss as

Creative Di­rec­tor at New­bury’s Boomerang Creative de­sign and dig­i­tal agency in Ox­ford Square, but as she says: “I’m also a work­ing mum with two chil­dren

and two step-chil­dren. But I con­sider my­self a pro­fes­sional and it’s ridicu­lous that in the 21st cen­tury we still have sit­u­a­tions where school life and work life are in­com­pat­i­ble.

“If you rule out those who would thrive through flex­i­ble work­ing you lose out on di­ver­sity and half of the bril­liant peo­ple who could be work­ing for you.”

Anna’s own ‘light bulb mo­ment’ came when an em­ployee handed in her no­tice be­cause she needed to move to Sur­rey be­cause of fam­ily com­mit­ments. “I said ‘You don’t have to be in New­bury to do your job well, you spend much of your day sit­ting at a com­puter. Move to Sur­rey, but do your work from there.’ If you re­ward peo­ple with flex­i­bil­ity you get loy­alty.”

She still comes across em­ploy­ers who view flex­i­ble work­ing neg­a­tively but points out those who do of­fer it record fewer sick days and their staff work bet­ter with­out the stress of wor­ry­ing about the likes of a sick child or school hol­i­day care.

Boomerang Creative al­lows peo­ple to ‘buy’ ex­tra hol­i­days through un­paid leave and Anna her­self does this. She con­sid­ers her­self ‘part time’, putting in 30 hours a week dur­ing the so­cia­ble hours of 9am to 3pm.

WHO’S UP TO SPEED?

Par­ents and car­ers have a le­gal right to re­quest flex­i­ble work­ing and com­pa­nies are ex­pected to help achieve this un­less there are good busi­ness rea­sons not to. Sur­veys show that more and more peo­ple liv­ing in Berk­shire are putting flex­i­ble work­ing at the top of the ‘tick list’ of what they’d like in their next role. A re­cent poll re­vealed that nearly half of Read­ing adults want to move away from the tra­di­tional 9 to 5 work­ing pat­terns, and into jobs that pri­ori­tise flex­i­bil­ity and en­able them to pur­sue com­mit­ments out­side of work. The source may sur­prise you – it’s fast food restau­rant chain McDon­alds, as part of a ma­jor study to bet­ter un­der­stand work­ing lives in the UK to­day and how this will shift in the fu­ture, and so ef­fect their and other busi­nesses.

We did a bit of re­search our­selves, sim­ply by putting

‘flex­i­ble work­ing’ and ‘Berk­shire’ into jobs web­site in­deed.co.uk. Get ready… up came nearly 6,000 roles, and while some were just over the county bor­der they in­cluded highly skilled pro­fes­sional roles, with many em­ploy­ers high­light­ing the flex­i­ble work­ing schemes they op­er­ate.

For in­stance, Grant Thorn­ton at Read­ing, part of the sixth largest ac­count­ing net­work in the world, may be seek­ing a Se­nior Re­sourc­ing Ad­vi­sor, but right from the start the wel­come mes­sage is there: ‘We value the com­mit­ments you may have out­side of work and will con­sider all flex­i­ble work­ing ap­pli­ca­tions’. A wide range of roles at The Univer­sity of Read­ing make it clear ‘Job-share, part-time and flex­i­ble work­ing ar­range­ments are wel­comed’. In­surance groups, hous­ing as­so­ci­a­tions, the NHS, tech­nol­ogy ex­perts, from cor­po­rates to start-ups up and down the county, they are re­al­is­ing that this could well be a ‘seal the deal’ of­fer that money can’t buy.

Vo­da­phone at New­bury have been ahead of the game for some time, pro­duc­ing a re­port record­ing that three-quar­ters of those equipped to work re­motely say it has boosted their job sat­is­fac­tion and a sim­i­lar pro­por­tion say it has ac­tu­ally im­proved their work-life bal­ance. As for their em­ploy­ers, Vo­da­phone be­lieves flex­i­ble work­ing can po­ten­tially save around £34bn by free­ing up desk space and con­cluded: ‘It is seen as a valu­able weapon in the war for ta­lent.’

HOME TRUTHS

Of course to get the ben­e­fit of liv­ing and do­ing at least some of your work in Berk­shire, you need a home here. As a re­sult es­tate agents know that for some po­ten­tial buy­ers a prop­erty with a home of­fice – or the space to pro­vide one – is a sell­ing point. As is a house in an area with fast and re­li­able in­ter­net ac­cess. At one time it was sim­ply good lo­cal schools that might tip the scales but now, cour­tesy of the dig­i­tal rev­o­lu­tion, that work-life bal­ance for the grown ups is hop­ping up the ‘must have’ list.

Claire Pul­leyn, re­search an­a­lyst at Haslams in Read­ing says: “With new de­vel­op­ments we are find­ing that with larger fam­ily homes those with an of­fice are pop­u­lar. It’s not the main driver, school catch­ment still out­ranks that, but con­nec­tiv­ity with in­ter­net to the door rather than a box at the road­side is con­sid­ered im­por­tant.” And many of the agents them­selves are mov­ing to­wards less rigid work­ing for their own ne­go­tia­tors. High end agency Knight Frank is putting flex­i­ble work­ing into the pot with a re­or­gan­i­sa­tion of its Home Coun­ties let­ting di­vi­sion, which in­cludes As­cot.

Anna Samp­son cham­pi­ons flex­i­ble and re­mote work­ing

ABOVE: Get­ting down to busi­ness at home can boost that work-life bal­anceTOP LEFT: Voda­fone nat­u­rally cham­pion be­ing able to work ev­ery­where

“It’s ridicu­lous that in the21st cen­tury we still have sit­u­a­tions where work life and school life are in­com­pat­i­ble” ABOVE: And why not? Even fit in ‘walkies’ be­tween the work­ing hours. It will put both of you in good spir­its!

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