Five insights for successful flexible working

BY LUCINDA VAN DER HART

The sun is gleaming through the window and I’m sipping a perfectly formed flat white in my favourite tiny, west London Italian coffee shop between paragraphs. If flexible work has a benefit to be celebrated it is this – the opportunity to cruise London’s best coffee spots and work exactly where you please.

But of course, like every working arrangement, flexible, remote working has its challenges. I’ve been working this way for ten years, most of that time juggling freelance projects and commissions around a part time journalism job, voluntary roles in my church and caring for my family. Here are five of my hard-won insights on how to make it work:

Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries.

We all know about the significance of boundaries. But actually implementing them? Now that’s a different matter. One of the hidden benefits of having to punctually pick up a small person from nursery or school is the enforced boundaries that consequently punctuate your day. When you know you’ve got to wrap up a piece of work by 3.05pm in order to leave for the school run, you’ll surprise yourself by just what you can achieve before then. I’m often tempted to work late into the night when the work is piling high and my day hasn’t afforded me the space to get it all done. As an occasional habit, I’ve discovered this won’t kill me. But done regularly, it becomes counterproductive because my work quality drops when I’m exhausted. My goal is to put away the smartphone and switch off by 9pm. Sounds simple, but requires discipline.

Refine your toolkit

This past year I have discovered a remarkable number of time-saving apps making flexible work more efficient, truly enabling you to work on your smartphone anywhere. If you haven’t discovered it yet, I recommend Buffer for social media scheduling (there’s a hot debate to be had over whether Hootsuite is a better tool for this, but I’m personally a fan of Buffer’s clean aesthetic). Pocket works like a dream for saving articles that you want to read (or schedule on your social feeds) at a later date. I like to use Zoom for work calls – this can be used free for calls up to 40 minutes in length (an excellent preventative barrier to long, inefficient discussions). Multiple people can join the call and there’s a video option if you want to see each other on the screen. Find the tools that work for you, and simplify things by asking your clients to use them too.

Learn to read your client

As a flexible worker, you may only be seeing your client, boss or team on an occasional basis – I only see one of my clients every few months. I’ve come across social media managers who have never met their client in person; everything is done remotely. To make this work for you, the ability to understand and interpret your client’s approach to communications is imperative. I recommend taking the Insights Discovery psychometric test which introduces you to an easy personality styles code that you can use in understanding a whole host of relational situations. Confidence that you are truly ‘hearing’ what your client wants to say to you – and that they are receiving your messages in the right way – saves you valuable emotional energy and will ultimately increase your work output.

Focus on the immediate

If you are running your own business, or working in a freelance flexible capacity, fears about exactly where the next project or client might come from, or the way in which you’ll handle a forthcoming task, can subtly set in. Your eyes leave the page in front of you, and instead you find yourself focusing on the possible twists and turns of the road ahead. Planning comes naturally to me, and I have consequently had to partially ‘unlearn’ my organisation habit so that I can place maximum focus on the immediate.

Mind the multi-tasking

Confession: I was recently cooking my children’s supper and decided to check a social media account in between the chopping and boiling. I got entirely distracted – and burnt the rice to a tinder. Smartphones open the door to endless multitasking possibilities, but sometimes it’s best to turn them away. If you do find a life hack or two to multitask effectively, I’m all for it. Here’s my latest discovery: scheduling social media posts on my smartphone while cycling on my (very much stationary, phew) exercise bike. Productive, and good for the health.