Time to flex those working patterns
A view from Nicola Kemp

Time to flex those working patterns

Her sense of relief was palpable. "I feel like I am coming up for air." Yet another senior woman in the industry was sharing with me why she was opting to take time out or, as she put it bluntly, "choose life".

It is 2018 and yet combining a fulfilling creative career and having a life are still often seen as mutually exclusive pursuits. When you add the yoke of technology to the pre-existing long-hours culture and high staff turnover, it is easy to see why the result can be burnout.

This is a profoundly unhealthy status quo, fuelled by the continued idealisation of a macho culture in which we deify business leaders not for their strategic prowess, creative ambition or empathetic and inclusive leadership skills, but rather their ability to reply to every given email at any time of day or night. In this environment, it is easy to see how leadership can drive a race to the bottom when it comes to staff well-being. 

Just 9% of people have their best ideas in the office

But there is another way. As The Fawnbrake Collective co-founder Amelia Torode’s out-of- office email response eloquently declares: "Part of the mission of The Fawnbrake Collective is to beat email as opposed to letting it beat us, so with that in mind, I check this email at the start of each day and the end of each day."

But this isn’t just about better protecting staff from stress and burnout. Embracing the opportunity afforded by flexible working drives better business results. Research from Creative Equals shows that just 9% of people have their best ideas in the office, so why are we still wedded to our desks, in thrall to the cult of presenteeism?

Flexible working is now the preferred option for a large proportion of both men and women across generations. This is shown by Timewise research from 2017, which found that some form of flexible working applies to 73% of the UK workforce. The commercial rationale for enabling this is clear.

However, as WPP UK country manager Karen Blackett warns in Timewise and Deloitte’s "A Manifesto for Change: A Modern Workplace for a Flexible Workforce": "Unfortunately, there is a generation of leaders in our industry that believe that men need to work in a certain way, and that flexible working is frowned upon. We need to normalise that situation." While Cilla Snowball, chairman of Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, adds that "managers have got to be braver about trying new solutions".

Yet despite the industry’s love for the rhetoric of bravery, the truth is that it is fear that is holding us back; whether that fear is of not appearing to be "always on" or that your staff will mysteriously lose their ability to deliver if they aren’t sitting in the same chair every day.

But as Jules Ehrhardt, former co-owner of Ustwo, explains, simply standing still is no longer an option: "Behind the generation of career-coasting marketers maintaining business as usual sits a frustrated, hungry, product-focused and purpose-driven generation of progressives."

We may be in the midst of the on-demand era but life doesn’t hit pause while you reply to yet another email. At a time when our attention is only ever partial, the danger is we not only lose the space to breathe but our compassion for the people surrounding us. 

Tomorrow isn’t here yet, but today is all around us and it falls to all of us to make it a better one.  

Nicola Kemp is the trends editor at Campaign. 

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