Making Work, Work

The future of work is already human. We just need to be more human, more of the time – Roger Steare, corporate philosopher

If you were following the #workischanging event hosted by CIPD this week, there were some interesting insights into the future of work, with flexible working and technology being two of the main topics discussed. Mobile technology, computerisation of traditionally human led job roles, reinventing the office and office culture, and the rise of the freelance economy; all these developments show our working world is a much different picture to the 9 to 5 cubicle office life that we still have the tendency to see as the traditional default.

What these changes really have at the heart is human endeavour and wellbeing. Shaking up office culture is all about creating the conditions to get the most out of workers, by making them happier in work and more able to balance their work and personal lives.

Obelisk has also been hearing what people would do with the time made available to them by working smarter and more productively in a flexible environment, as part of our #MyMillionHours campaign. We’ve looked in detail at the economic gains that can be made by reactivating talent and allowing people with fluctuating personal lives a way to continue working in harmony with those priorities. The numbers don’t lie, but what the discussion keeps coming back to is the prioritisation of worker’s wellbeing enabling everyone to do a better job at home and in their work, and remain happy and committed to the job they are in.

Expecting people to be boxed into work conditions that don’t accommodate their real, everyday lives should have long been dismissed as counterintuitive, yet it has been an accepted normality for so many for so long. By treating workers as human first, and shaping our changing working landscape around human life patterns and emotional reactions, while developing technology that enables us to do our jobs better, more efficiently and in more locations than ever, that acceptance gives way to innovation and change.

The very nature of modern business is fast paced, requiring businesses and people to be agile,  proactive, and reactive, with weekly and daily changes to projects, marketing campaigns, customer service responses, legal contracts and much more. Bringing in freelance workers on a project by project basis helps fight those daily fires, and allows businesses to bring in the specific talent and expertise required at the time. By doing so, a pool of latent talent is being tapped, and people who previously felt locked out of work or unable to progress their careers find their skills and experience reactivated, with their confidence and drive increased as a result.

It doesn’t need spelling out what an increase in confidence, wellbeing and ambition can do for the economy and society as a whole. Injecting 1 million hours into the legal sector can bring a much needed improvement to working patterns and wellbeing within the industry. Work for the majority of us is our passion – for many it is a vocation – and the feeling when it no longer is compatible with our lives is a devastating one. Seizing the opportunities presented by the changing working landscape could mean that no one has to experience that feeling again, and that talent can be brought back to life and used to make the lives of clients easier too. Changing work for the better is a matter of putting humans at the centre.

Family & WorkObelisk In Action

Obelisk community manager Lucinda Acland shares her #MyMillionHours story of carving a path to work through her ever-evolving family life

When I first heard the term ‘portfolio career’, I was delighted to have a rather dignified description applied to my somewhat idiosyncratic working life. My experience is certainly not unique and since I have joined Obelisk Support, I have come across hundreds of others who have also had to cut-and-paste themselves into a variety of different working styles.

On a personal level I can identify strongly with the #MyMillionHours campaign as the question of having the time to devote to family whilst working has been at the heart of my life. I have worked in the legal sector on and off for the last 25 years. In the 1990s, I spent several years practising in commercial litigation, both as a solicitor and as a professional support lawyer in the use of technology and litigation for an international law firm. As a solicitor, I returned from maternity leave to my full-time job, as I was the breadwinner. I was still a junior assistant and the ethos was to work long hours to meet billing targets, and attend client and firm events. It was then that the day-to-day reality of the tension between competing interests of our two careers and parenting responsibilities hit home. My husband and I alternated between going in early and staying late and working weekends, and we shared a nanny with another couple.

When our third child came along a few years later, I decided to leave work and return to full-time stay at home parenting. It gave me the freedom to focus on our own family life, which needed stability during some very difficult times. I continually looked for ways of returning to work, but in a way that would cover all the bases of the moving targets of family life. I certainly experienced the ‘loss’ of myself without a separate individual endeavour. I also felt that I had somehow failed professionally and lost economic independence. I knew many other women who had opted out of various careers to focus on their families and who had huge amounts of skills and experience that were going to waste.

I needed to get back into the job market but it felt too difficult to re-engage with my previous career. In 2007 I started work as a writer and presenter, and then Legal Editor for The College of Law (now University of Law) for their online CPD course. It was full time in the office but I was able to work 8am to 4pm, which worked well for school hours. This was a good way of using my legal knowledge, research and writing skills. I also enjoyed interviewing people and the filming process.

When my eldest child was doing her GCSEs, I decided to look for a more flexible home-based solution. This came from the launch of a new legal services provider Riverview Law in 2012, where I oversaw the social media campaigns and managed their online presence. This was quite a change as I had to learn the principles and application of social media from scratch.  Nevertheless, I knew about the legal marketplace and the structural changes it was undergoing and was able to promote the company in an individual way and harness the interest in the new law environment. I could do a lot of it remotely, I liked the buzz of being involved in a new start up and felt my efforts made a difference. The hours suited me very well as I could choose when and where I worked, but I knew I was on the look out to do more than just social media.

In 2015 I joined Obelisk Support in the new post of Community Manager. I work 30 hours a week, with flexibility to work from home. The business is growing and expanding fast. The role involves being the day-to-day point of contact for our pool of consultants, developing a learning and development programme of events and involvement in our tech-enabled operational platforms and tools. I am also involved in the First 100 Years charitable project set up by CEO Dana Denis-Smith, which is the creation of a digital museum to celebrate the journey of women in law.

It is important to me that I can work within a team where the atmosphere is collaborative and supportive. It is by far the most impressive organisation at which I have worked in terms of having an authentic ethos driving the commercial activities. Working at Obelisk aligns with my values of encouraging people to have confidence in themselves, and recognise the value of their experience. I believe it helps promote a growth mind set, so that we develop curiosity alongside wisdom, fostering new ideas and innovation when applied to the workplace.

I speak regularly with lawyers who are keen to use their professional knowledge and abilities but, because of family and childcare responsibilities need a flexible working pattern. One of the hurdles that we aim to help them overcome is self-esteem and confidence. Often lawyers have come from a high achieving background and they can feel cut adrift when they step outside the career path. It’s important to stress that this is not just a women’s issue – we have many men consultants who are working in a different way too. Previous constraining attitudes are giving way to support and recognition of modern life’s demands on family and careers.

Family & WorkObelisk In Action

This month, as part of #MyMillionHours, The Attic is sharing personal stories of talent being reactivated into the workplace.

I never imagined that I’d be given the opportunity to re-enter the workforce, to join one of the fastest-growing technology scale ups in London after an almost 7-year career break. But here I am – motivated, determined and more alive than I felt when I left to have children. Time out of work provides perspective and children even more so. I always knew that I wanted to return to my career and that the terms on which I would return would be dramatically different and in many ways challenging to employers on the receiving end. I wanted to find a role where I could manage my work and life responsibilities without feeling like I was succeeding in one and failing in the other.

To be honest, when I did decide to actively pursue such a role, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that there were indeed businesses who were offering flexible working opportunities, and who were open to accepting returners and not discrediting their experience due to a break in their careers. In fact in most instances this was a complete non-issue. So I stopped making it an issue for myself and instead, focused on my experience, skills and expertise, coupled with gratitude for having spent time with my children, and having the under-valued skills that being a parent gives you, thus making me a valuable asset to any business.

Obelisk has given me the opportunity to live that truth and I have a deep sense of pride in my personal/professional story that has boosted my confidence and self-esteem. I have a stronger sense of clarity and purpose about my life; that I am a multi-faceted woman working smarter to live a life that I am already proud of.

I could only do this because I knew that returning to work needed to be different this time around on a values-basis – I knew for sure that I wanted to use my skills and be engaged in purposeful work. When the opportunity came to join Obelisk and work in a business that is focused on women in the workplace, I grabbed the opportunity with both hands – and it didn’t matter that I had zero legal experience! In fact, this was another non-issue that was refreshing and open-minded – a business that values my experience and what I have to offer even though I don’t know the industry – after all, what you don’t know, you can learn. Purpose really kicked in for me though with the talent pool that Obelisk is trying to reactivate back in to the legal industry. Even though I’m not a lawyer, I identify with these women and men who want to work differently and give 100% to achieving both their professional and personal ambitions. They, and we, shouldn’t have to make a choice between one or the other; they should and can work side-by-side.

Obelisk is currently running a campaign that is focused on bringing awareness to the available talent that legal businesses can tap into to help manage their workflow and make legal work work for them. All I want to say about the #MyMillionHours campaign is this: choosing to not explore different ways of working is choosing to stay in a comfort zone where there is no room for growth and innovation, which should get you thinking about what your business will look like in time to come – and if you’ll even have a business to look at? Not reactivating talent is choosing to participate in a wasteful economy, and that quite frankly is making the decision to not be and do better as a business, and as a human being.