Working In A Way That Optimises Family Time

4th Aug 2020

I tend to front-load my week so I do longer hours Monday to Wednesday in the office, and then leave early on Wednesday to get home and work shorter hours, maybe finishing around 4:30 or 5 on Thursday and Friday when I’m working from home.

Hey Oli, thanks so much for joining me today to talk about flexible working! Could you tell me a bit about your flexible working arrangement?

As you know, I’m Oli and I’m Head of Commercial Operations at Betfair. I have always worked quite a long way from home. I used to be based in the Stevenage office and I live in Suffolk, so it was a good 3 ¼ hours commuting per day. Then that office was closed down, and my role was relocated to Dublin… which obviously wouldn’t have worked. I had a very young family at. My situation probably came  that time, and even outside of that, commuting to Dublin wasn’t something that I was interested in.

I then managed to negotiate a new mostly London-based role, with the ability to work from home more regularly. However, I was still doing alternating weeks with 3 days in Dublin, 2 days at home, then 3 days in London, 2 days at home, so it wasn’t ideal. Then I was lucky because it got moved fully to being London based, so I spend 3 days in the office in Hammersmith and 2 days a week at home now.

And how does that work week to week for you?

It’s worked really well. I tend to front-load my week so I do longer hours Monday to Wednesday in the office, and then leave early on Wednesday to get home and work shorter hours, maybe finishing around 4:30 or 5 on Thursday and Friday when I’m working from home. Fundamentally, I want to be able to help out more at home than I’d be able to if I was commuting daily where I was leaving at 6am and getting home at 7:30… I wouldn’t see the kids and I wouldn’t be able to help out.

What was the reaction to your request?

Actually, everyone was really open to my suggestions. I think that my request happened before flexible working was completely accepted - for a good four years I’ve worked the best part of half the week from home. I wouldn’t be doing the job if I couldn’t work flexibly, as I live in the middle of nowhere and it just wouldn’t be feasible.

It’s interesting at the moment now that everyone is working from home - I think that it’ll become more normal and it won’t be such an awkward thing to raise.

Is this your ideal working pattern? Or what would be your ideal working pattern?

Probably 3 days a week at home, 2 days a week in the office. I am obviously a huge advocate for flexible working, but I do see the benefit from being in the office sometimes.

You’ve mentioned about having a family, is spending time with them the biggest positive impact has flexible working had on you?

Yeah, the most obvious one is just more time with my family. Living where I live and being able to drop the kids at school, pick them up, spend time with them in the evenings, they can live near their Grandparents, and all of that really matters to me. Traditionally if you worked a London-based 9-5 you just didn’t get that.

From a professional perspective, it’s also good for me to be able to manage my workload. It’s not like everything shuts down at 6pm. It is helpful that I can pick up emails in the evening, and whilst there should never be an expectation that I will be online post-6pm, having the option and the ability to balance your time where if you work for an hour in the evening, you can take back an hour at a quiet time the next day. I don’t think that set working hours and being expected to be at a desk is productive for anyone, whether it’s the company or the employee. I can manage my diary, my workload, and my team better now.

What is it about flexible working, day-to-day, that matters the most to you?

It’s the ability to move around your week to work in a way that suits you. I just had an hour meeting that was cancelled, so I ran to pick up my car from its MOT. The fact that I can do that in the middle of the day, and do that hour once the kids are in bed later, is really valuable for me. Everyone has different needs, and that’s why flexibility is so great, because everyone is given the freedom to work in a way that suits them.

If you were ever looking for another role, would you worry about finding the same working pattern?

Absolutely. If I ever lost my role I would worry that this way of working wouldn’t be easy to find again. Would I be able to have the same work-life balance elsewhere? Probably not. Betfair has always been progressive and supportive when it comes to flexible working.  It needs to be more freely available, and I think that what you guys are doing is going to bring it front of mind for more companies.

I have interviewed in other places in the past, and I was quite forthright with asking about flexible working, and the response was never “yes”. It seemed like it was ok for it to be ad hoc working from home, but never part of a contract or a culture.

If I was made redundant tomorrow, I’d feel really awkward about asking. I’d panic and would worry that it would harm my chances of getting a job that I needed urgently, so I’d avoid asking until I had an offer or even when I was working. Then I’d risk wasting 12-18 months of my life working in a way that made me unhappy… It’s amazing that avoiding asking about flexible working is still the case.

Absolutely, it’s such a problem that a stigma is still attached to flexibility. I really hope that it changes for the better post-COVID.

I do think that the norm will change a bit because of COVID but it’s a shame that it’s taken a pandemic to change people’s minds! It just makes sense to me. Thursday and Friday are the days where I do my most focused work at home. Monday to Wednesday in the office are valuable for meetings and interactions, but it’s not productive for focused work. For me, home is my most productive place and I wish that everyone was given the opportunity to find out where they work best.

Yeah, it’s been a weird time because we’ve gone from being predominantly office-based to being 100% home-based, so no one has had the chance yet to work out what flexibility suits them the most.

It’s about finding the right mindset and motivation to find a balance between home and the office. I had significant motivation to make it work for me, and I think that so many people have a motivation for working from home but they’re not given the chance. Also,  organisations worry that their employees aren’t working when they work from home, and they forget that it’s just as easy to not do any work when you’re in the office!

I couldn’t agree more. Thanks so much for sparing the time to chat to me about flexible working!