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The joy of agile working

Chris in churchThe BBC recently shared the news that UK commuters are willing to travel further and longer to work, with the average commute lasting 57.1 minutes. Most alarmingly 3.7 million workers travel for two hours or longer every weekday. Long commuting is undoubtedly putting a heavy strain on workers and their families but is it really necessary?

Flexible working policies, including home working, have been common place for many years. In my own view having such a policy is simply a nod from senior management allowing you to work away from your office desk with the exact details of how you implement this left to the individual to arrange. This view is endorsed by an organisation called GoROWE which stands for Results Only Work Environments. In essence this organisation believes in promoting working cultures where it doesn’t matter how and where you work as long as you get the job done. This leaves you to decide whether you spend traditional work hours (9-5) on the golf course, in bed or at a desk in the office. Obviously this won’t work for all jobs or sectors but modern technology might one day enable this concept to be available for more people.

As a husband and father of two young children, I have experimented with countless work-life balance techniques and life hacks. Some work a treat, whilst others (possibly the most novel) have lasted less than a week. In this article, I share my own experiences of building a balanced working life whilst also enjoying some unusual benefits.

Flirting with the office timesheet

Over the years I have become a veteran of juggling commitments as a working parent. This involves carefully balancing my time in a busy office, being available for childcare pick -ups and helping with after school commitments. Over time I have become increasing aware of unconscious trade-offs I have made in order to squeeze more time for myself and my family. This includes waking at 5 am each working day to ensure I can practice my hobby of learning Spanish, have a healthy breakfast and still catch the earliest train into work.

The early mornings are a good trade-off because I am able to finish work early and see my family for dinner, bath and bed-time reading. This doesn’t leave room for much evening entertainment but I have now successfully reversed engineered my traditional evening activities into my early morning routine. I appreciate this isn’t something everyone would see as a positive adaptation but it works for me.

Agile work in the community

In 2016, I was determined to find a new way to enable me to be closer to home during work hours. So I decided to test the boundaries of my company home working policy. The easy part was getting my boss to agree to my home working wishes but the hard part was actually the working from home part-time. I have never seen working from home as a gift. Homes are filled with irresistible dChris in MABS Officeistractions, television, food, pets, children, dare I say it….cleaning. I still strongly agree with Boris Johnson’s views on homeworking made during 2012 Olympics where he famously challenged a Government decision to advise people to work from home by saying home working was “very overrated” and meant “Sitting wondering whether to go down to the fridge to hack off that bit of cheese before checking your emails again”. Home life distractions are a huge problem for me. Working at home is a constant battle with temptations of eating, catching up on domestic tasks and playing with I two year old toddler. Fortunately, the answer to my problem conveniently floated down from heaven, quite literally, as it centres on an opportunity found at my local church.

In 2016, I discovered my Church, St Andrews in Enfield (North London), was extremely keen to improve its environmental footprint and had a desire to work towards the Eco Church standard. All they were missing was a competent expert to guide and manage the project. As an experienced sustainability consultant I was very keen to support their needs and I immediately agreed to help pro bono. One barrier proved to be extremely limiting: I wasn’t able to regularly be at the church to oversee the changes needed.

Fortunately I found out the Parish Office where St Andrews’ MABS (Making A Better Society) team are based had plenty of free desks and strong Wi-Fi. Their team of youth, children and community workers spent a large proportion of their week outside the office which meant there was room for hot-desking. I agreed with Rev Dr Steve Griffiths that I would work from this office once a week, in return for committing at least one hour of this time to St Andrew’s Eco Church project. So far the arrangement is working out extremely well. My commute to MABS office is 15 minutes, the office has nearly all the amenities I have in my central London office and I can connect easily with my office throughout the day (VPN, email or mobile). This flexible working practice provides benefits to St Andrews Church, the world’s environment and to me, with my desire to work nearer to home. It is still very early days and at times it can be more convenient to be in my normal office environment but I place a high value on the short commute and extremely welcoming culture which is St Andrews, Enfield provides to me.

NB. I am writing this article on a train between London and Birmingham, another favourite agile working location of mine.

Chris Whetstone PIEMA, Corporate Responsibility Manager,  GVA
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