Once your colleagues and clients have confidence in your judgement - and not just your availability - flexibility could be easier to attain.
I don’t want to cause any readers a personal crisis of introspection, but I have to ask a couple of questions. I wonder – do you know why you have a job? Do you know why clients come to you?
Flexible working has been in the mainstream news this week, with the launch yesterday of the ‘Cityfathers’ network, addressed by deputy prime minister Nick Clegg MP.
Cityfathers joins the lengthening list of people and groups that would like to see a ‘cultural change’ in the workplace. Often, eyebrows are raised by paternity leave, many Cityfathers members related, and flexible working requests are seen as career-limiting.
Being in the vanguard of change isn’t always comfortable. But flexible working, even in the City, becomes a more straightforward proposition if you have reassuring answers to the questions I put at the top of this article.
I hope that by the time you need some flexibility you are, to borrow from Edmund Burke, in demand not for your industry only, but your judgement also.
It’s about confidence.
If you, your colleagues and your clients have confidence in your competence, then that should be the starting point for a conversation about varying the way you deliver the value you do.
That should be true for fathers, mothers, those with other caring responsibilities, or even a demanding hobby or a serious outside commitment such as membership of the Territorial Army.
Not all firms, organisations or teams, I realise, are good at identifying the value delivered by the people who work for or with them. But the ones that are, I suspect, will increasingly outperform those that aren’t.
Penelope Warne, CMS’s new senior partner, is one proof of that – it’s a firm where the energy team, which included many lawyers who worked flexible hours, outperformed colleagues in more ostensibly high-octane practices like corporate. Interesting.
To close on some personal experience here I saw a change in my attitude – and, yes, confidence – between the birth of my first and second daughter.
First time around, being new to it all, there was some reticence on my part about the demands of this huge new commitment – trusted colleagues would semi-covertly cover for my ‘flexibility’, and I had some reluctance about arrangements I needed or wanted to make.
Second time, my mind was focused by the dramatic demands of a child with a serious heart condition and, evident later, other disabilities. Of course, she lends a degree of moral authority to any request – attending appointments with names like ‘cardiology’, ‘neurology’ and ‘genetics’ involves more drama than ‘sports day’.
But remove the drama, and what was developing was a much better knowledge of what value I brought to the work I did, and a bit of thought about how that could carry on fitting in.
I suspect that many people are slow to lose the insecurity of their early days of work – when they were trying to make a good impression, being available all hours to pick up the work that will provide us with the experience to progress, and so on.
For most, by the time greater flexibility is needed they should be valued for something more than unlimited availability. They might, though, need the confidence to recognise that – confidence I hope any lawyers joining groups like Cityfathers are able to find.
Eduardo Reyes is Gazette features editor