I don’t know about you, but lately my LinkedIn feed is split, not evenly, I’d say a good 70/30, but there is a split. The split? It’s around that one topic which excites the ‘laptop class’ the most: working practices.
Working practices as in when, where, and how you work is a modern-day miracle. Why? It’s the first topic I have seen in over a decade that actually cuts across the age or social spectrum and brings people together.
Don’t get me wrong working practices, in particular working from home v working in the ‘dreaded office’ is divisive as hell. Like all things that divide, this topic has the potential to boil over. People become entrenched into their position, get locked in an echo chamber, and only leave the chamber to attack others that dare to dissent. That’s not cool.
This past week or so it feels like this topic has flared up again. My feed seems filled with people screaming from their sofas, cool roof-top office space, spare rooms converted to look like the office they once worked in (ironic,) and those who have are back on the face to face events trail. Events are back right, and back in big way?! A topic for another day.
Anyway, all this shouting about how great people’s working locations, hours, and freedom has become, is normally followed by the unrivaled positive impact this has had on their ‘work/life balance.’
Now I should be clear, for those who might be first time Simon Brown blog readers (welcome by the way,) I have long had issues with work life balance. When I say long, believe me this pre-dates the pandemic, BREXIT, and even the 2008 financial crisis. However, it was not until coming out of the pandemic I realised I did not have a ‘problem’ with work/life balance, I just had a different view and perspective on work compared to many.
Let me explain by means of an example.
In 2008 I was promoted from being a Recruitment Consultant at Reed to a National Account Manager, a year later a became a Business Development Manager. A role that also came with a national remit. As you can tell from the title of the job, although I lived in the Liverpool at the time, my role covered the UK. I have Cola Cola for example with a site I recruited for in Inverness out of the Glasgow office, which meant going their each month. I also had Serco as a client, their head office was in Hook, Hampshire, I went their every month. I had clients in Uxbridge, Wakefield, and London, so it’s fair to say I was on the road, rail, and airlines a lot. However, due to this vast amount of travel, which I was not the only one doing by the way (division of 30, team of 6,) we were allowed to work from home, not Reed offices, if we wanted to. I was never sure if this was actual company policy, but every Director in the National Accounts Division led by example and encouraged this practice. Sorry if this has given the secret away 14 year after the fact!
Most weeks I worked from home at least one day a week, sometimes two.
This was in 2008.
Although I was an early adopter of the what is now given the modern title of ‘hybrid’ working without even knowing it, I still had work/life balance ‘problems.’. I would often work from home on a Friday as traditionally clients would like to try and get away early on a Friday, and UK motorway travel on a Friday afternoon is not fun. I would also tell myself this was my chance for an ‘early dart’ and an extra treat ahead of the weekend. My director never rang me after 2pm on a Friday unless to chat, catch up, and just be a nice person (shout out Chris Thomson, one of the best in the business!) So, I was never under any pressure or the watchful eye when it came to ‘skiving’ off on a Friday afternoon. However more often than not I would still be sat at my laptop, in my little box room working away well into the evening on a Friday. Still sat half formal dress from the waist up, as the clock ticked past 7pm. Normally my mates ringing me (no WhatsApp – oh the freedom that gave) to find out when I was coming down the pub, as it was ‘my round.’ It always seemed to be my round, I was always last there, that always came with a forfeit. They were the days.
So even when I had the freedom to work remotely, to come and go when I pleased, I still could not find balance and it has been the same ever since.
From 2011 – 2016 I was very fortunate to do well in my career, progress and become a Director, I worked for another amazing woman in Sue Cooper. Again Sue embraced freedom and flexibility when it came to work, but I still had balance issues. From 2017 I became a Managing Director, I literally made the rules! But, I still had ZERO balance, arguably the worst in my history of working; gym lunches, early Friday finishes, and mental health days. I put them all in place, none worked for me personally. Now I own my own business, and today is a classic example, I want to finish at 2.30pm for a personal commitment, I already know I will therefore work on Sunday to ‘make it up.’ Balance issues right?
The moral of this long winded story is that work/life balance, freedom, and flexibility, in my opinion have absolutely nothing to do with where, or how you work. Balance comes from within.
I repeat. Balance comes from the internal, not external.
Yes I guess you could argue that you need to be in an environment which allows or facilitates this, but let’s be honest the laptop class have this good, with the majority working for businesses which allow flexibility.
It is not your ability to work from the sofa which gives you ‘balance,’ it is your mindset in relation to work which gives you the opportunity for ‘balance.’
It is not your business, and or employer which controls the balance in your work/life, it’s you. It’s what you want from work, how you want to work, and what you personally derive from work.
For me, I know I put too much importance on work in many people’s eyes, that’s fine, that is their view of me. What’s important is how my relationship with work makes me feel, not others, and this has nothing to do with working hours or location.
Wherever you are working from today just embrace you, embrace how you feel about work, and absolutely smash it. Don’t let other people’s vision of the world impact yours. And to businesses who are trying to navigate the absolute minefield of what it means to employ and even grow a team at this moment in time? Listen to your team, be true to yourself, and your beliefs, but realise, not everything is on you. We as individuals play a huge part in this.
This article was written by Simon Brown, sat at the island in his house, drinking his favourite coffee, as the Founder of Digital 51. Simon would love to hear your thoughts, so drop him a line on