The future has to be flexible

A few days before lockdown, I sent TeamEV home to work, not knowing when we’d be back in the office together again. As I write this, five months on, we’ve still not returned and here’s the shocker… we’re not actually planning to. Flexible working is here to stay!

We’re leaving our wonderful Colmore Row office to embrace the next few months (maybe years) with the flexibility it needs. Now, the timing of our office lease being up did force a decision – and may have ended in a different result otherwise – but I think now is as good a time as any to not renew it, embrace flexible working, and adapt to what’s happening around us. I think we should all be looking at the way we work and encourage change. 

EAST VILLAGE. has always exercised flexibility; I’m pretty easy going and if you’re doing great work and keeping clients (and teammates) happy, then the odd late start to wait for an ASOS order or a last-minute holiday request doesn’t start a war. The caveat, of course, is that being a smaller team makes it easier operationally, but I don’t think that’s an excuse… I still think that every business needs to be embracing flexible working; whatever it looks like to them. And here’s why… 

Flexibility forces good communication 

The decision not to renew our office lease has been a team decision; we’ve had lengthy chats about what it would mean not having our own office and how everyone feels about it, and we’ve come to the decision together. That, in itself, is key. Whilst I don’t believe in doing everything by committee, we’re giving up the office to aid a new way of working and I want flexible working to work for everyone. 

I’m the only one who, prior to lockdown, actually liked working from home – the rest of the team was never keen – so we’re certainly not just playing up to a long-felt desire. The pandemic, of course, forced everyone’s hand but actually we’ve seen productivity massively increase and thanks to Slack and Zoom, we’re communicating much better with each other, rather than just relying on being in the office together every day. 

Flexibility breeds mutual respect 

Respect is a massive part of the TeamEV culture and it’s a value that we all share. When we first introduced flexible working, a few years ago, it was after one of the team had returned from maternity leave and we all respected that she had new responsibilities. We introduced the choice for all team members to decide to work either at 8am, 9am or 10am; finishing at 4pm, 5pm or 6pm. Nothing ground-breaking but a change that meant we could all make the best use of our day. For Nicole, who was a new mum, it meant that she could start work early given that she was up at the crack of dawn but also allowed her to be home well before bedtime. It was our respect for her new journey that was the catalyst for flexible working hours, which were brought in to benefit everyone.

As well as the working hours, we also looked at responsibilities and how we could support her as Head of Events. Of course, before becoming a mum, she happily did a lot of late nights and weekends but the team wanted to help her move away from feeling that burden. Instead, without changing job roles, we just split responsibilities between us all in a way that was still fair but helped everyone have much-needed work/life balance. This wasn’t about overhauling one person’s role; it was about finding ways to adapt that role, and everyone else’s, so that everyone was doing their fair share but was also supported by the business. 

Flexibility breaks the mould 

I’ve had the conversation with many business owners about why they’d never be able to do flexible working and how it would “open the floodgates”. Well, someone has to lead the way so if you can’t have an open conversation with your teams about what the future might look like, you might want to address your internal structure as a starting point. Yes, allowing people to approach you to request a new way of working can open the “floodgates” but I tell you what, if my team can’t suggest new ideas – whether that’s about their own working patterns, client strategies or how we do things as a team – then I’ve failed as a leader. It goes back to that respect and communication piece. If you’re worried about not being able to manage the requests, is it because actually you know there isn’t a good enough reason not to consider flexible working, or perhaps you can’t be bothered to work out the logistics? 

Again, I get that a boutique PR agency has fewer hurdles to overcome than a call centre, for example, but just because you’ve always done something a certain way doesn’t mean it has to be that way forever. I think that if your teams have different expectations, especially during this pandemic, maybe consider that these changes could work for your customers too. Someone has to go against the grain and lead the way, so why not let it be you? The best part about it is, you can always go back to the “old normal” if it really doesn’t work… none of this is irreversible. 

Flexibility can inspire creativity  

Don’t get me wrong, part of the decision to give up our office is financial. By the time we get to the end of our lease next month, that office will have sat empty – paid for, including all utility bills – for six months. Ouch. I have always said to the team, long before Covid-19, to get out there into the world; to work in cafes, in parks, galleries… anywhere that inspires them. I think it’s easy to say but more difficult to do, especially if the rest of the team are sat in the office; you don’t want to be the one that’s like, “Right guys, I’m off to BMAG for an afternoon of inspiration.” Without the office hanging over us, I’m hoping this happens a lot more now. 

“Working from home” doesn’t mean staying at your dining table or in your home office… it’s about being committed to your working hours and doing it from wherever you like. I hope, in the not so distant future, that our weekly team Zooms include one of us on a sun lounger, one in a gallery, another working from a cool shared office space… you get the point. I want TeamEV to be constantly inspired and, as cute as our office is, it’s still the same four walls you’re looking at every Monday to Friday. Plus, extra cash that doesn’t pay for a fixed office can be re-invested into team training, away days and retreats! 

Flexibility helps work/life balance 

As a self-confessed workaholic, I know all-too-well that work can take over your life. Mine has for years and I like it that way. But when the pandemic hit, I won’t lie, I was knackered. Tired of working too much, tired because I wasn’t getting enough sleep, tired because I wasn’t eating the right food. Lockdown, for all its faults, changed all that and made me focus on my health and finding a balance that still allowed me to be obsessed with my job, but also look after “me” a little bit more. 

I’m also really conscious that I can never expect TeamEV – no matter how much they love their jobs – to be as obsessed as me. It’s my business, at the end of the day, and I’m also in that odd group of people who like the heart-palpitations of having too much to do. As an employer (and someone who genuinely cares about the team’s welfare and wellbeing), I have a responsibility to lead a business that looks after its people. If they give EV. blood, sweat and tears (which, at times, PR requires you to do), making things more flexible for them is the least I can do. 

Flexibility can attract a diverse workforce 

There’s also a real benefit when it comes to how flexibility can create a diverse workforce. Yes, I say this even though TeamEV is made up of young, privileged women – which is something we’re working on with the TeamEV Charter – but having a business that is open to diversity and inclusion is so important… regardless of size or sector. 

By being more flexible in how we work, I’m hoping that we can appeal to a wider pool of talented and passionate people who might be single parents, young carers, or more experienced but looking for fewer hours. PR can be seen as a very young and elite industry, and this has to change. We have to open up to new communities; not to tick boxes but because we should. I also, personally, think that diversity of thought is so important, especially when you’re communicating messages to a variety of audiences. Having a workforce that all come from similar backgrounds isn’t effective, so ensuring that our team represents the world we live in, is key! 

So, yes, making the decision to give up our office is a big one but it’s something I’m excited about. Everyone will assume it’s about saving money but, for me, it’s not… it’s about using our money in a better way to benefit the team. I want us to lead the way with this and see how we can really make flexible working, as a result of the pandemic, become the driving force for changing the working world. There are so many benefits and, at the end of the day, if we finish the year desperate to have our own four walls again, we can always go back to the “old normal”. Plus, with a more balanced lifestyle (and more cash, from removing the daily commute), the team can go and spend even more money in the shops, bars, restaurants, cafes and destinations that they love.

Good luck to any business not, at least, exploring what flexibility might look like for them. You certainly won’t attract the change-makers and I don’t think you’ll keep your teams for long either because everyone, especially a younger generation, will expect something different of the working world. 

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