The joy of flex
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.’
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!