I have been thinking a lot about flexibility recently. It is obviously a question that comes up in my professional life with clients asking legal questions about the rights and risks of flexible working requests, the relative merits of flexible working for different parts of the workforce and what to do when there are seemingly competing requests, opinions and business needs. It can be tricky and the legal answer is not always intuitive. Equally, the legal answer and the best outcome for all in a particular situation are not always the same. It is important not to let the legal issues and procedures get in the way of good working practices – pragmatism from everyone involved (including the lawyer advising!) is essential. Of course, getting good advice and understanding the legal underpinning is essential so do get in touch if you have any tricky issues you are dealing with at the moment.
Apart from the dilemmas I work through with my clients, flexible working is on my mind because I work flexibly myself, with all the benefits that can bring to my personal and professional life as well as some of the pitfalls common to many working parents. Working flexibly is a flexible thing in itself and my needs, client needs and the firm’s needs change all the time – in my case, my youngest child will soon start school and this will probably mean a change in my (and my husband’s) flexible working arrangements. To add to all this flexibility, my children’s school has recently introduced flexi-schooling – a child can be taken out of school for one day, or half a day, each week to spend positive learning time with their parents. This may be one flexible step too far for our working household, but I like the fact that the school is providing this option.
I am proud to work for a firm which has an open attitude to flexible working and I know we attract and retain good people because of this. It is something our new senior partner, Anne-Marie Piper, is proud of too and she goes out of her way to make a virtue of our firm’s flexibility and diversity when speaking about Farrers as part of her role. She pointed out that two of our five new partners work flexibly – and many of our more senior partners and business services staff do too.
For those of you wanting a reminder about the law on flexible working, I refer you to Anna Gregory’s article on managing the legal rights of all permanent staff to request flexible working (this article was first published in Managing Partner in June 2014 and is reproduced with their kind permission. It remains good law and, though primarily aimed at law firms, is of relevance to all types of organisation). In that article, Anna reminds us that there is a strong link between flexible working and employee engagement, wellbeing and productivity. So while flexible working requests can undoubtedly pose challenges, the shift towards flexible working can also be an opportunity for both employers and individuals willing to embrace it.