What homeworking means to me as a working mum

As a working mum and recording artist, the flexible schedules and support provided by Sensée makes a massive difference to Kirsty. Here is her story.

After many years working in Account Management roles within the food supplies sector, and then helping build a start-up solar energy business, Kirsty decided on a career change.

When not working, she is a recording artist and plays lots of gigs, which is demanding on her time in terms of rehearsals, travel etc. She also wanted a better work-life-balance.

Kirsty sought a part time role and, after finding Sensée online and successfully applying in 2015, she started work as a service adviser for a leading UK car breakdown service. She quickly fell in love with homeworking and was promoted to a Quality Analyst and, in 2018, to a Team Leader working for a well known insurance brand.

In late 2018 her biggest dream came true and her daughter was born. Kirsty is raising her daughter on her own due to circumstances out of her control and started to build a close support network with her family and friends.

Kirsty returned to work at Sensée for the same insurance client in January 2020. However it hasn’t been all plain sailing. In April 2020, for example, she was forced to isolate with her 14 month old daughter due to a Covid outbreak at nursery and was quickly forced to seek help.

Kirsty’s managers placed her onto an account which would allow her the flexibility she needed to raise her daughter and maintain her income.

Throughout lockdown, Kirsty adjusted her schedules to fit in meetings around her daughter’s naps and other times when she would be quieter or could be easily distracted (e.g. with Pepper Pig!). She even occasionally brought her along to team meetings.

While there were times when things got tricky as her daughter started to find her feet and became more adventurous, Kirsty has had constant support – with team members more than willing to jump in and cover matters as and when required. Her daughter became an account mascot and everyone was made up to see her big smile in weekly huddles.

Kirsty works a 40 hour week and that sometime means working 7 days a week, and during evenings, to fit in all her hours. “Things have been tough for many colleagues during lockdown and I frequently hear people say we are all in same boat” says Kirsty “But I’m not sure any other job would allow that me the degree of flexibility I have at Sensée”.

As we emerge from lockdown, her daughter is back at nursery and thriving. Working at Sensée allows Kirsty to work around her nursery pick up and drop off times without a long commute, as well as maintain a great work-life balance.

We Are Hiring – Everyone Wants To Work From Home!

I was recently featured as a guest on an episode of the CX Files podcast. You can follow the link to listen to the entire conversation, but I wanted to highlight one of the key points that I discussed.

I explained to the podcast host, Mark Hillary, that there has been an epiphany around work-from-home (WFH) in many boardrooms because of the Covid pandemic. In fact, it could be argued that there has been an epiphany both for corporate executives and the workers who needed to continue their normal tasks from home.

On the corporate side, many companies found that they could continue operating with an entirely remote team. This has opened many eyes in management because there is the potential to reduce real estate costs and also hire from anywhere – if the office no longer exists as a single hub for all employees then you no longer need to restrict hiring just to those within commuting distance.

On the personal and employee side, there has also been some thought and analysis around jobs and employers. Many people have been re-evaluating what they are doing with their life. The pandemic has taken millions of lives across the world – very few of us have been unaffected in some way by this tragedy. In the US they are already calling this period ‘The Great Resignation’ – over 4 million Americans quit their job in April this year and vowed to do something better.

Many employees are reconsidering where they live. If remote working is possible then why live in a city centre? Why not live somewhere cheaper or even somewhere nicer, but usually impossible as an option – such as living by the coast far from a major city.

WFH has also demonstrated to many people that a better work/life balance really is possible. There was always a lot of discussion before the pandemic on this subject from business school academics and wellness coaches, but millions of regular employees saw for themselves that if they could forget about the commute and adopt more flexible hours then work really could fit around their own life and commitments.

This has led to an interesting dynamic. Companies are now seeing that WFH can allow them to be more flexible, especially around resourcing during busy periods, and employees appreciate the flexibility so that builds a greater level of trust and loyalty into the relationship. Employees are now exploring how to maintain some of this flexibility as we gradually see the economy and workplaces return to something closer to normal.

At Sens̩e we can really sense that a change is taking place. We just announced 500 new jobs Рall WFH positions. This is one of those nice business problems Рwe need to get hundreds of new people on our team as fast as possible.

More clients and prospective clients are asking about WFH customer care solutions and more people are interested in working in these positions because they have seen the flexibility that is possible and they want to maintain that lifestyle.

So what happens when companies just say that the UK restrictions are now over – everyone needs to get back into the office? I don’t think it’s possible to force your employees back any longer. They have experienced a different way of working that was productive both for the company and for the employees. Any change now needs to be in partnership with employees, rather than being a top-down decision.

Companies that start forcing old working practices on their employees will find that they force many of them out Рthey will search for new positions that allow them to earn a living and manage their commitments at home too. With so many WFH opportunities at Sens̩e right now their loss will certainly be our gain.

Work-Life Balance Requires More Than Just WFH

The American psychologist Lillian Moller Gilbreth was the first academic to write about an explicit connection between time, motion, and fatigue. She wrote many books and papers in this field and is considered to be a pioneer of industrial and organisational psychology. Her work created the idea of a ‘work-life balance’ and it’s almost half a century since she died.

As most people know, managing a work-life balance can be complex. The equilibrium between your personal life and your employment affects both these areas and over the past few decades an entire industry has been created, focusing on happiness at work and how to achieve the right levels of rest and leisure time balanced with efforts at work.

Work-life balance is a subject that many employers and employees have aspired to for many years. Employers believe that their employees will be more productive and engaged if this balance is improved and employees generally agree – but with so much focus on this area and such a long history of analysis, why is it still so difficult to achieve? Why aren’t those Chief Happiness Officers more effective?

The first issue is the number of variables. The government creates laws and regulations that define how people work. Employers create the job opportunities, and employees undertake those jobs. Each actor has their own set of expectations about what will make them more productive and more engaged. The reality of many modern working arrangements may also have evolved much faster than legislation can catch up – so there is often a disconnect.

Working from home (WFH) is a good example. Many employees were asked to work from home during the Covid pandemic and many are planning to continue, either full-time at home or using a hybrid model where they sometimes visit the office and sometimes stay at home. But WFH needs some preparation, so why is a desk and chair considered to be tax deductible and yet Internet access is not?

In the past year, the British tax agency HMRC has been flooded with people asking for tax deductions for all the purchases they were forced to make to ensure that their home working environment is safe, secure, and allows them to work productively.

The government doesn’t have a simple answer to these questions because nobody really expected such a dramatic shift to home working, but now we can see that many people intend to remain working from home, some clear guidance and regulations would be welcome. Government agencies, employers, and employees all need to work together to define how the future of work is going to look.

At Sensée, we believe that one of the fundamental changes is around personal control or ‘agency’ as the psychologists would define it. All our teams work at home, but they are not expected to work 8 hours a day from Monday to Friday. We empower them to self-schedule their work hours, providing greater control and flexibility to blend their personal life around work. This could be as simple as taking a couple of hours off in the afternoon to pick up the kids from school and then logging in later for a shift once everyone at home has been fed.

It sounds simple, but companies cannot just offer this flexibility overnight. It’s not just the fact that someone works from home that defines their job as flexible, it is also how the employer allows the employee to manage some of the parameters around when and where they are working. This idea of flexible workforce management is where the process can really evolve and improve – both for employers (who can benefit from higher employee engagement and productivity, and lower attrition) and employees (who frequently cite a better work-life balance as well as benefitting by losing the travel to and from work).

Work-life balance studies have been taking place for almost a century, but at the end of the day it is not working from home alone that creates flexibility. Employers and governments need to recognise this if we are going to create a new framework for how modern companies operate and look after their people.

How Will Companies Manage The Transition From WFH To Hybrid?

Each day is now bringing more positive news about the end of the pandemic. Although there are still concerns about the variants, the situation is far better than a year ago when we had no vaccines and idea how long the crisis would run for.

Many governments, including here in the UK, are now actively working on plans that should see a a new phase where the public is expected to remain cautious, but the various lockdowns, restrictions, and mask mandates will all be relaxed. The next key date for the UK is July 19th. After this date, the government will remove all Covid restrictions and this includes the advice to work from home, although the PM Boris Johnson has said that it will be up to individual companies to decide on whether to recall everyone to the office or to continue some home working – there will no longer be any direction from Whitehall.

Naturally this is going to have a big impact on companies and the use of offices. Every office-based employee moved to a work-from-home (WFH) environment in March 2020 and now the discussion is focused on how to return to the office. Naturally, when there was a crisis, it was easy to mandate that everyone has to work from home. Now that we are seeing an end to restrictions, the situation is less clear cut. The government is making it clear that they are now leaving it up to employers.

Last month, the British government announced a flexible working taskforce to explore all the potential future options. One of the suggested ideas was a default right to work from home – so all office-based employees would automatically have the right to tell their employer where they plan to work from.

The situation is fairly confusing, because this taskforce is just exploring ideas – these are not new rules or regulations yet. Many companies, including most of the tech giants, have announced that they will permanently embrace flexible working. Many of their employees enjoyed the increased flexibility of WFH and want to keep it as an option. So if you work for Salesforce or Twitter then it’s likely that you can pick and choose the days that you spend time in the office and time at home.

Spotify is a good example, because they have at least thought about it carefully. They will repurpose all their office estate so employees have office facilities, but it may not look like it did before the pandemic – individual desks for use by one person are probably now entering the history books.

But the confusion over this return to the office demonstrates that the creation of a productive and positive network of home-based workers is about far more than just connecting people together on Slack and allowing them to work anywhere.

The most recent Harvard Business Review podcast features some thoughtful suggestions from Professor Nicholas Bloom of Stanford University. Professor Bloom has studied the economic effect of home working for several years and he makes some valid points in the podcast. These include the problems of managing real estate use if employees have complete freedom over when and where they work. Also, the difficulties of planning meetings where some team members are on Teams or Zoom and some are crowded together in a meeting room.

Professor Bloom advises that companies will probably need to mandate the days that can be used as home working days – either at a company level or with individual team managers deciding. Either way, for meetings to run effectively he believes that everyone should be entirely remote or all in-person.

Whether you agree or not, what Professor Bloom is pointing out is the danger of a twin-track workforce. He argues that, when everyone works from home, it is more likely that their performance is measured on output – i.e. what do they deliver? Once some team members are visible back in the office then the old problems of judging people based on perceived effort, hours at the desk, and who has lunch with which manager all come back into view. The playing field is no longer level.

It takes effort to make a fully remote team work well together because it is about more than just the process. It requires organisations to adopt a virtual mindset across everything that they do – from recruitment to training, management, security and scheduling.  It also requires them to recognise the importance of flexible working and self-scheduling to  enable homeworkers to enjoy an improved work-life balance.

At Sensée we’ve been focused on WFH since 2004 – long before the pandemic arrived – so these are issues that we’re very familiar with.  Nevertheless, the point should not be lost.  The key question for many organisations is no longer ‘how do we make homeworking work?’ it is ‘how do we make hybrid working work?’ And that calls for a whole new mindset.