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Before COVID, it felt that asking for flexibility as a working mum in the corporate world meant that I had to apologise for needing it, or sacrifice my career advancement, opportunities or pay. I recall a pay conversation when I was told that working flexible hours, (7:30am to 3pm), was why I was paid under market rates. It didn’t seem to matter that I worked longer hours once I was home and put immense effort into delivering to a high standard – I was asking for “special treatment”. It was exhausting and stressful to ‘hide’ or workaround my responsibilities as a mum, as well as carrying the ‘mum guilt’ than many of us feel for not being there at school pick up and for sports days.

A few months into the pandemic, I was working for Here, and I noticed how liberating it was to see so many people now working from home without question, or the need for career or pay sacrifice. The unspoken barrier had been broken, working from home and balancing home and life needs was the norm. We could openly admit, without judgement that we needed to do things for our families or our wellbeing. We became more open and honest about these needs and more importantly, we were respected for saying so.

In November 2020 we got a puppy as we had promised my children that we would get one 5 years before “when mummy has a job where my hours allow it”. This has bought much joy to our house and relieved anxiety, bonded dog walking friendships (my dog has a better social life than me!). It also built into my day much needed reflective time on dog walks when problems could be mulled over, or the mind simply left to wander.

As working from home became the new normal, I began to think about how else I could adapt my working pattern, and I realised that I had two things that I now needed to fix: I wanted to work less when the children were around and find some work boundaries when they were not.

I decided that I would work a magic hour in the morning from 6:30am – 7:30am when I would focus on just one piece of reading, writing or problem solving. This is my golden hour before the children are up for their breakfast and I have always been an early bird. Admittedly, my physical appearance would scare horses at that hour, but my brain is thinking its clearest. It also solved my second problem that if I found myself in the evening getting started on a chunky piece of work, I would deliberately pause it and leave it to the next morning as my big thing for the magic hour. This stops me working too late and sets a boundary.

This extra hour meant that I could have alternate Friday’s off, which I now really look forward to. It means I get the whole day to do what I want to do, whether it’s exploring a new walk with the dog, baking, meeting a friend for lunch, or simply housework followed by watching something on TV until school pick up.

When I read the vitriol in the popular press about civil servants needing to get back to the office, it makes me sad that some business have not learnt from the benefits to their workforce of allowing flexible working. I know not all roles are suitable, but the judgement and the need for sacrifice has started to creep back in some sectors.

As someone who is responsible for the HR function at Here, and who has experienced both the good and bad of flexible working, I am passionate about continuing to build on the benefits that we have reaped individually and as an organisation from flexible working at Here.

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