With many employees prioritising a better work/life balance, whatever their reasons, remote and flexible working is becoming increasingly common. This can take any number of formats. Some people work a specific number of hours/days per week or month, while others have may have an arrangement based on workflow or other commitments. But whatever the individual situation, there are a number of ways to optimise the benefits for employers and employees. Here are some that have worked for me.
Stay in touch with your colleagues
It’s important to make sure you’re communicating with your colleagues, but even more so when you’re working remotely, because you don’t see them every day by default. Day to day, I keep in touch with hgh colleagues by phone, email and WhatsApp. Every week, I dial into our team meeting, which means I can keep up to date with projects and find out about anything else colleagues are involved with. This is also helpful for my career development, as there is generally a discussion on a tricky planning matter or the impact of planning law/policy on current projects. I regularly go into the office for CPD sessions, team meetings, networking events and hgh socials. Socials are a great way of getting to know people beyond the workplace, which makes it easier to communicate with colleagues on a daily basis.
The key benefit of working flexibly and remotely is that it gives you the freedom to balance work with other responsibilities, such as caring for young children. But as with a conventional office job, you’re still expected to manage projects and hit deadlines, so you need to have excellent time management and organisational skills – as well as the self-discipline to get on with your work in the time you’ve allocated for it. One plus point is that you get back your commuting time. I plan my work schedule a couple of weeks in advance, to make sure I can fulfil my personal and professional commitments, balancing my children’s social lives with planning applications. If I know there’s a particularly busy time coming up, I might change my hours and work at the weekend to get a head start, knowing I can take time off later.
Take advantage of technology
When I started my career 15 years ago, remote working was almost unthinkable, as planners needed access to cumbersome paper files and hard copies of local plans. Now all that’s needed is a laptop, a mobile phone and a good internet connection, as local plans and other law and policy documents are all online. I regularly dial into conference calls with clients, colleagues and co-consultants across the UK, while access to job files are on a central drive and available to access via laptop and mobile phone.
You might meticulously plan your work schedule, only to find that an urgent or unforeseen issue arises and must be dealt with asap. Although I generally have set days/hours, colleagues at hgh know that I’m on the other end of the phone if necessary. If I’ve finished work to collect the children from school and something comes up, I’ll spend time in the evening catching up. Similarly, if I have an emergency in my personal life, my colleagues know I can be trusted to take time out and make up the work.
Stay Sane! or ‘Prioritise mental health’
Remote working can be isolating, so make sure you meet up with others and take time out to do the things you enjoy. The reason I set up the North West branch of Women In Planning was to help increase the profile and opportunities for women in the profession as well as broaden their professional network and have fun doing it. Personally, it’s also allowed me to keep my leadership and presentation skills fresh and develop my support network. Outside planning, I enjoy group training, yoga and boxing classes, where I can get fitter and clear my head. It’s surprising what an hour away from your desk and a good punch can do for your wellbeing!
Jill Bell is a consultant at hgh Consulting