Flexible working - Small changes leave a significant positive impact
Lucian Firth is a partner in our financial services team and specialises in investment funds. He has been working flexibly since his first child was born five years ago…
“Every morning I’m in charge of our two children, getting them ready and then dropping them off at school and nursery before coming into the office. School doesn't open until 08.55 and so after an hour’s commute I am in the office from around 10am rather than the usual 09.30.
I started this arrangement as a mid-level associate. I initially discussed it with one of the partners I worked for at the time who was very supportive, but asked me to consider whether I thought my clients or my colleagues would need me during that half hour window.
Most of the time, in my field of work, not being at my desk for that half hour isn’t critical. However, I do check my BlackBerry in the mornings and if I see something that needs immediate attention I’ll go straight home after the school drop-off and get on my laptop or call the client or colleague - I can be fully online from 09.00 if necessary.
Being in the office just 30 minutes later than “normal” on most days means I’m much more involved in my children’s school and nursery lives. It also means my wife can leave for work early – she also has a busy job in the City.
My main message to other working fathers is that small changes to how we work can have a significant positive impact on family life. But do think carefully about how these changes might affect your clients or colleagues and what else you may need to do so that we continue to deliver the level of service our clients expect. Different clients have different needs and different teams work in different ways - there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution."
Nick Benwell is the head of the Crime, Fraud & Investigations group. With over 25 years’ experience, Nick advises on a wide range of corporate crime, corruption and fraud-related matters. Nick joined Simmons & Simmons in 1989 and became partner in 1999.
"I work a four-day week, and aim not to work on Wednesdays. This arrangement started a year ago.
Taking the step towards flexible working
Making the request for flexible working was very easy. The hard bit was actually deciding to make the request! I made the decision while on my sabbatical at the beginning of 2016. I felt that there were a number of things that I wanted to do, but just wasn’t getting the time to do any of them.
The reaction I got, from clients, from other partners and within the team, was very positive and supportive, in some cases surprisingly so.
A day away
How I spend my time during my day away has changed pretty radically over the year. When I started the arrangement, I would do a range of things: go cycling, go away on long weekends, see more of London. But in January, my partner Emma and I had twins, so life has changed fundamentally. My day off is now spent doing all the things you would expect with two new babies!
Can you really stay offline?
Ensuring you are truly offline can sometimes be difficult. For example, Wednesday this week was due to be my non-working day but I had two meetings that I had to attend. Last week was similar. Having said that, I have actually been able to take my day off for most weeks; I guess this is what it means to work flexibly. I aim for a Wednesday, but move this around depending on work commitments or weekend plans.
Looking after twins is a gruelling process, so being able to do that with Emma three days a week rather than just weekends makes a big difference.
Tips for working fathers
I highly recommend that more men take up the flexible working opportunities that Simmons & Simmons provides. If you opt for flexible working, you need to be pretty disciplined in terms of making the arrangement work.
When I started, I found that I was working very late at least a couple of nights a week, as the work got squeezed out from my day off. I was also finding that I reviewed emails on quite a few occasions in a day to keep on top of things. There is then a real risk that you just end up working throughout the day. As time has gone on (and particularly since the boys arrived!) I have been forced to become more efficient, and more disciplined at limiting the number of times a day when I look at emails. I emphasise that I can be contacted by phone if something urgent arises, but once you look at emails, it always takes time to disengage mentally afterwards. "
Flexible working – not just for female colleagues
Julian is the international head of employment at Simmons & Simmons. He joined the firm in 1999 and became partner in 2003. Julian was listed in the Financial Times inaugural “Power Part Time” list of the top 50 UK leaders working on a part-time basis.
“I don't come into the office on a Wednesday. I work from home in the morning and I am off in the afternoon – I have been doing this since 2005.
I found it very easy to arrange my flexible working programme with Simmons & Simmons. There was just a three-week gap between raising the request and starting the new arrangement.
Working flexibly has never been a problem with the team or clients. I tend to see if things can wait until Thursday morning, but they all know they can get hold of me if it's an emergency.
A typical Wednesday for me involves a run, school pick up, helping with music practice and homework, cooking dinner, and getting regular feedback on my contributions to all of the above. I'm certainly not tied to my blackberry but will check it occasionally.
It means we have a mini-weekend in the middle of the week and the children and I feel more connected. As for other fathers, don't see this as just something available for female colleagues. And I hope the fact that I've become an international practice group head proves that flexible working is no barrier to career progression. ”