Flexible working is great in theory. The term conjures up an image of working when and where you like, at your own convenience. No more sweating it to make it to the childminder’s before you rack up another hour of her time. This sort of working involves being present to suit your needs; it’s all about tailoring your hours to fit.
It sounds very modern and liberating to work for a company that endorses such boundless boundaries but are we getting more freedom or are we simply shackling ourselves to an invisible desk, without even realizing it?
The trouble with no boundaries and unrestricted flexibility is exactly that. Flexible working has become a bit of a catch all, open to abuse by those who instigate it and, sometimes unthinkingly, abuse from those who engage.
Apart from the obvious negatives, if you include zero hours contracts, (which is a whole other can of worms), flexible working often equates to never being off. It means that the lines between home and work life become blurred as we automatically check our gadgets wherever we are to see who’s saying what. Sometimes it’s social, sometimes it’s work but it’s a habit that means you’re never fully present in the home as mum or dad, wife or husband during those precious hours that equate to downtime.
Fact is, there will always be emails to check when you are working flexibly – unless you set boundaries yourself.
The Guardian recently covered the latter quite neatly with an article on ‘how to stay in the moment on holiday’. ** The article deftly pointed out that if we split ourselves mentally between holiday and office, and constantly check emails while we’re away, we ultimately do both a disservice. It’s impossible to fully relax and get the benefit of the holiday if we are checking in with work regularly and reading and responding to emails. Nor are we fully engaged with the work coming through - although we may set off a chain of emails which infers to those in the office that we are.
The writer essentially advocated putting boundaries in place before the holiday is taken - and the same has to be true of any flexible working commitment.
Flexible working has largely come about – certainly on the scale it currently operates at – due to the increased sophistication and usability of today’s technology. However, just because that technology is there and available doesn’t mean we have to make ourselves slaves to it 24/7.
To keep this type of working largely a positive, let common sense prevail and give yourself very strict boundaries so that everybody knows when it’s time for time out. Flexibly doesn’t have to mean all-consuming as long as you remain in control.