The secret to flexible working: be creative, stay focused

Donna SmithDonna Smith, Senior Business Partner at Grant Thornton

I'm a qualified leadership coach, facilitator, and I’ve been in people roles for the past 15 years. Originally I started my career in the retail sector, and then moved to Professional Services. I’ve been at Grant Thornton for 5 years as a Senior Business Partner in the North West, leading our people strategy.

It’s important to me to balance a fulfilling career with having quality time with my husband and my Duracell-powered 20-month old son, while spending time with both sets of Isaac’s grandparents who live at opposite ends of the UK. I love running, spinning and live music; this summer, I also developed a passion for camping which is a real adventure with a toddler.

So life at home is fun and busy, and work is demanding too. I’ve found it’s possible for me to get the best out of all parts of my life – by working flexibly.

Everyone benefits from me working flexibly

I spend quality time with my son on a Monday which is my non-working day. I also leave work in time to collect him from nursery four days a week, and pick up anything urgent in the evenings. If I work from home, I tend to try and fit in some exercise at the end of the day or at lunch which helps me manage pressure and focus.

And it’s not just me and my family who benefit; Grant Thornton are getting the best from me, too. What’s brilliant about working for Grant Thornton is that we truly embrace agile working. Flexible working has helped me prioritise more effectively and be laser-focused on what’s important. Working four days a week has helped me recognise the value I’m adding and the impact I’m having in my role – rather than just focusing on the hours I’m working. I am really grateful to work for an organisation and leadership team that understands the benefits and trusts me to deliver.

I passionately believe if we make flexible working more accessible to a broader range of people, regardless of the reason, we’ll reap the benefits in our communities and cities. I would love us to see people being able to carve out more time to volunteer or get involved in local initiatives – it’s about so much more than caring responsibilities alone.

The other key success factor in widening participation in flexible working arrangements is to encourage more men to consider it. My husband does the nursery drop off every day, but when I suggested that he consider working a four-day week, his view was “It just wouldn’t work for me.” We need to challenge and change these ingrained attitudes if we are going to enable everyone to participate in the economy and reach their potential.

My advice for people who are thinking of asking for flex

If you’re thinking of requesting a flexible working arrangement, don’t be too rigid; explore a few options and see which would work best. Try and find a solution that gives you what you need personally, but also delivers commercially for your clients and colleagues. Also, don’t be afraid to suggest a trial period to your leadership team, and be prepared to make tweaks if needed.

Be creative, and be positive. Be prepared to compromise, but be clear about your boundaries. If you focus on the most important priorities in your role and ensure these are delivered, you won’t go far wrong. Lastly, share your story! There is nothing more powerful for who are thinking about flexible working than hearing from people who are doing it differently – and doing it well.

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