As part of our series on flexible working, Mimi Stewart, a legal director at Morton Fraser LLP, explains why self discipline, responsibility and being reminded "you don't work on Fridays" helps her to manage her work-life balance.
I think everyone will agree that this year has been one like no other in terms of working life as a lawyer! Everyone having to adjust to working from home; getting to grips with your IT skills (or lack of) in order to communicate with clients on numerous platforms, such as Teams and Zoom; checking in on your team remotely; juggling home life; conducting social events and business development online, not to mention home schooling…
It will be interesting to see if the profession will embrace a degree of hybrid working, spending time between the office and home. Time will tell.
Flexible working has been around for a long time, also synonymous with part-time working. I have never liked the phrase "part time", as there was always the feeling that you have more days off in the week than your colleagues or that you are bunking off.
But the reality is that you still have a responsibility to your clients, you still have the deadlines to meet, you still need to prioritise your work and manage your clients' expectations. The bell doesn't ring at 5 o'clock.
My own experience is that I have worked and continue to work four days a week for the last 11 years, Friday being the day I do not work.
The trigger was pregnancy and being immobile during the latter months of my pregnancy. After the baby was born (sorry, his name is Max!), I contacted HR and we briefly discussed flexible working and the partner approved my application. The application asked for a reason and my reason was child care. I don't think I paid attention to the other 'reasons' or if I would have qualified to work flexibly had I not had Max.
Choosing a Friday had its endless benefits. It was a longer weekend. Grandparents and cousins live in the West coast, so travelling on a Friday meant more family time with loved ones. Even now, and after another child (her name is Mila!), Fridays are still my day. Edinburgh schools finish at 12pm allowing early pick up and spending time with the kids before getting them ready for extra-curricular activities.
"You don't work on a Friday"
Initially, flexible working didn't start well. I would check e-mails, try to respond, make an exception when there was a completion on, and so I would often forget I didn't work on a Friday, or maybe it was guilt.
As the years went on, I have got better at this. It's largely due to reliable and trustworthy colleagues from the start of my flexible working life to this day, who would cover my work on a Friday or at the very least send a holding email to clients until I returned. They will often remind me "you don't work on a Friday". In any event, clients also acknowledged I didn't work on a Friday and that helped greatly.
Enjoying my own company
Whilst child care was the initial reason for me working flexibly, other benefits followed. Now that both children are at school (albeit they finish at 12pm), I have some time for myself before family life takes over again. I can exercise, meet a friend for coffee or go for a walk. Simple activities, but very fulfilling. I have started to enjoy my own company.
I am seeing more and more people working flexibly, either because they have to or they choose to.
One initiative that has worked well in my firm is 'agile working', not to be mixed up with flexible working. My firm fully supports agile working, seeing the primary benefit as the employee's well being. It allows you to work your contracted hours from where you wish to - a combination of working remotely or in the office.
Everyone in our profession has now been forced to 'wfh' in the last year and so know all too well whether that suits them or not. Agile working allows us to balance work and home life, giving the flexibility of taking breaks, yet remaining productive. Travel is a huge part. Whilst I only live 15 minutes' walk from the office, many have a long commute and so, breaking up the week by working from home some days if you choose, saves valuable time.
Self-discipline and responsibility is important
There needs to be a degree of self-discipline and responsibility that comes with agile working. We run a business after all and so client service is key. However, the main point I would like to make is the support I have had over the years. We don't all get to choose our colleagues. With time, we build important relationships with them and build respect, trust and reliance. My team at Morton Fraser has always supported my flexible working and I know I can rely on each of them to cover any urgent work on a Friday, which gives me great comfort.