For our series of blogs focusing on flexible working, Beverley Wood, a partner with Morton Fraser LLP, explains how flexible working has developed through her career and the opportunities it can bring for both employers and employees.
When I started out in my legal career as a trainee, there was much chatter amongst my contemporaries around the hours everyone was putting in at the office. That seemed to be the fixation - it wasn't about the quality of the work you were given, but rather how late you got home!
Without wanting to entirely reveal my age, back then there was no ability to log on to the system remotely from home. We were still in a world where every email, letter and document was meticulously filed in hard copy, you dictated by recording on a cassette and handing it to your secretary, and you could only work if you were physically present in the office.
Moving away from presenteeism
Thankfully technology moved on very swiftly following my traineeship and the presenteeism mentality did too, or at least it did in most quarters.
We all had the ability to catch up with work at home and access emails via our phones. But even ten to 15 years ago, concepts like 'agile' and 'flexible' working weren't commonplace in a private practice law firm.
The point at which I really reflected on my working pattern was on my maternity leave in 2012.
I wanted to ensure that I had a healthy work-life balance, without compromising my promotion prospects. I knew I didn't want to look back and regret not spending time with my family, but I also didn't want my career to stand still. I had no idea how I would deal with 'the juggle' and, if I am totally honest, I worried that being part time would leave me lagging behind my peers and give the impression of a lack of commitment.
However, I bit the bullet and embarked on what I consider to be stage two of my career as a part-time worker.
I reduced my working hours with support from my boss and colleagues and, what became affectionately known as Mummy Monday, was my non-working day.
But I did find it difficult to shake the feeling that I somehow wasn't contributing in the same way or that I would ultimately be overlooked because I wasn't as committed to the job as someone who was a 'full timer'. I used to feel guilty for not working on my contracted non-working hours, which is ridiculous really given I'd taken the commensurate reduction in pay for the privilege!
Looking back, that anxiety was entirely of my own making and not the thinking of those around me.
I definitely became more focused when I was in the office and, ultimately, far more productive. Within 18 months of returning from my maternity leave, I was promoted to partner and no-one questioned that I could carry out that role part-time.
It was simply assumed that would continue to be my preference and there were no objections made from a business perspective. I wasn't challenged on how I would manage my time, as I had already demonstrated that I was doing that effectively and keeping client service at the heart of what I did.
I was also in the fortunate position that many female partners in Morton Fraser had already paved the way and demonstrated that, not only was it possible to be in a leadership role working part time, but that it could actually facilitate better engagement and productivity.
Ten years on
I've now spent nearly ten years working part-time and continue to do so, although sadly Mummy Monday is no longer a thing and I've had various working patterns along the way.
I feel fortunate to have been at a firm that has a progressive approach and had adopted a flexible working environment many years before COVID-19 shook up our working patterns.
Pre-pandemic, I was already working from home at least one day a week, because it helped me achieve a better work-life balance. Many of my colleagues in the team did the same. We all have flexibility in our hours too, when we need it, as long as client service is maintained (and in my experience it is maintained, because fundamentally it is in our interests just as much as it is in the firm's to ensure that flexible working patterns are successful).
My worry that working flexibly would hold me back proved unfounded. If anything the trust and support I've been offered throughout my career has instilled in me a sense of loyalty and commitment, which has allowed me to continue to develop and take on new opportunities.
I've been assumed as a partner, been elected to the managing board of the firm and currently sit on the executive team and am responsible for the management of the corporate division. I think that demonstrates it isn't about where you happen to do the work or when, but rather how you do it and the ultimate service clients receive.
Hybrid working is here to stay
I fully appreciate that the impact of the COVID-19 lockdowns has revolutionised how we work, but we need to see the opportunities that flexible working patterns can bring not only to 'part timers' like me, but to businesses across the country.
Hybrid working is here to stay, so let's embrace it - it shouldn't hold us back.