"Flexible working means I can be a truer version of myself"

#NormaliseFlexibleWork

11th Mar 2021

Hi there! As part of our campaign to #NormaliseFlexibleWork we are publishing a series of interviews with brilliant people for whom flexible working is key to success.

We believe that flexible working should be for everyone, but there are still dated perceptions and stigmas around flexible working that we desperately want to shift. Without offering flexible working to everyone, we can’t achieve true equality as there will be a “normal” way of working for most people and those who can’t work “normally” will be treated differently and “othered”.

We are delighted to feature Steph Melodia, Founder of Start-Up marketing agency, Bloom. Her unusual condition means that traditional working patterns just don't work for her, but flexible working has allowed her to thrive. Read all about her experience below.

Can you introduce yourself and what you do (professionally and for fun!)?

I run a marketing agency for startups called Bloom; a nimble team of creative and analytical minds for early-stage, high-growth companies to help take them to the next level in their exciting business journeys. Voted UK’s Top 20 Most Influential Female Founder, I am passionate about cultivating a workplace that allows people to be their best selves; one I would have liked to have seen throughout my career - particularly in the early days. 

Why does flexible working matter to you?

Flexible working matters immensely to me because - newsflash - people are human beings. The best business leaders today need to recognise this and allow people to be themselves, tapping into what works best for them and spotlighting their natural strengths and talents. This naturally results in higher team satisfaction, which in turn reduces churn and increases the level of quality in output.

The traditional way of working has an expiry date on a macro and micro level; the old notions of presenteeism is falling by the wayside with how the working world is moving at large, and on a specific level there’s only so long someone will tolerate arbitrary rules in their workplace, with average employee churn increasing all the time.

Where this hits home for me on a more personal level is due to my DSPD (Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder) - a rare genetic condition where my natural circadian rhythm is off-kilter compared to the norm, and longer than the usual 24-hour cycle (which essentially means I’m permanently jet lagged!) So where most people may go to sleep around 11pm and wake up at 7am (to be in the office at a reasonable 9am), it’s in my nature to fall asleep at more like 4am, and wake up later. 

The stigma attached to this is huge, and makes me extremely uncomfortable. The glorification of being an early riser and associations to success stand in stark contrast with my work ethic and ambition, so I would never even dream of raising this with a past employer. It’s taken my risk of founding my own company to work the way I like, and I’m on a mission to create that same freedom & flexibility for others.

What has flexible working allowed you to do? Or what has a lack of flexibility stopped you from doing?

Flexible working has allowed me to take back control, and be in charge of my own schedule. I know myself well enough to know when I’m at optimum performance (and it certainly isn’t any time before 10am!) The sense of freedom attached to that is incredibly liberating, and with time it naturally starts to trickle through to other areas - allowing you to be a truer version of yourself instead of putting on a “work front,” as we may typically do sometimes.

One of the many positive results from this freedom is the promotion of relationship-building and team bonding, too. By allowing people to operate as their truer selves, we’re more comfortable in sharing stories or comparing anecdotes, where people may find they have surprising commonalities or simply a genuine interest in understanding the richer tapestry of this other human being!

Do you think that flexible working has historically been a female thing? If so, why? Or if not, why not?

I do believe flexible work has historically been a female thing, much to my disgrace. Feminism is a hugely important topic to me, and eradicating the gender gap in our lifetime is one of my personal missions. The causes of the inequities are of course complicated, but one of the contributing factors is the unrecognised, unpaid labour put upon women (including household chores) coupled with the fact that the burden of childcare typically defaults to the mother. This pressure can force professional women to have potentially uncomfortable conversations with their managers and be the ones to step forward and make a request. With Flexa, that need to request flexible work is totally eradicated.

What has your experience been with accessing flexible working?

The jobs I’ve held throughout my career have required me to be in an office during typical working hours (Monday - Friday, 9am-6pm). From the very beginning, it completely baffled me why I had to be present in a physical location at set times dictated to me by someone else in order to do my job! The few occasions I’d need to take time off work to go to a doctor’s appointment or the dentist were allowed with no issue whatsoever by my employers, but the guilt and stress I’d internally suffer would be immense! It was only in my most recent position before starting Bloom in 2017 where our boss allowed some working from home or even working remotely from a shared office space. This was revolutionary! Everyone loved this hybrid way of working, we were more productive, and felt so much happier with this level of flexibility.

What do you think needs to change in terms of working environments? 

I think the NUMBER 1 thing that needs to change in working environments is better management, which includes having the trust, the emotional intelligence and the empathy to better understand your team, and therefore ensure everyone is operating at their best.

What do you think has the biggest impact on flexible working uptake?

Like most movements, it’s the confidence of the first people to raise their hand, come forward, and catalyse that change. Of course this pressure is not fair on anyone, but as soon as the wheels are in motion, it normalises the new way of working and becomes much more socially acceptable.

You can check out Bloom's company page and read all about their working practices here.