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How Flexible Working Benefits the Industry

Rachael Flint, Associate, Michael Grubb Studio

Flexible working has become a familiar term in recent years since the surge of people working from home due to the effects of the pandemic. Yet flexible working does not just refer to working from home, it encompasses a wide range of different working opportunities, including part-time hours, flexitime, and working in locations other than a fixed office.

Ahead of the Curve

For award-winning lighting design practice Michael Grubb Studio, flexible working is nothing new. The studio offered several options of flexible working to employees before it became commonplace, with many team members working around school hours and part-time to suit their personal commitments and create a healthy work/life balance.

This is one of the reasons that Rachael Flint, Associate at Michael Grubb Studio, was attracted to the role. She shares her experience with flexible working in the industry and the benefits of this, “Prior to joining Michael Grubb Studio I had been on maternity leave, so I was delighted when Michael agreed to my request of a phased return to work and ongoing part time hours. Returning to work after having a baby is a huge adjustment, and I was keen to do a phased return to ensure I could give my work 100 percent as I adjusted to my new routine. I started at two days a week and moved up to four days a week. Working part time as well as working from home enables me to keep a good work-life balance while my child is young.”

Rachael also reflected more broadly on how flexible working undoubtedly allows employees to have more control over the locations in which they work and often, their pattern of work too, which is often seen to help manage and enhance a better work-life balance. Flexible working has been proven to reduce stress and increase overall job satisfaction as employees can schedule their work around their children, health, and other needs. It also reduces the need to commute to the office, which not only has a positive impact on wellbeing, reducing the additional stress this can cause, but is also beneficial for the environment by reducing the number of cars on the road and therefore lowering carbon emissions.

Rachael states, “The key thing with flexible working is trust from leadership, and Michael intrinsically trusts the team to get the job done. Other members of the team work part-time to create a better work/life balance and several team members work around school hours. By allowing people the space and time to conduct their work in harmony with other commitments in their life, this makes the team feel happier, valued, and empowered to do their jobs and live their lives.”

Yet flexibility in the architectural and construction sectors is notoriously difficult to come by. A 2010 study by students at Nottingham Business School found that – after interviewing a cross-section of chartered architects employed in a variety of settings – there were significant concerns over maintaining a satisfactory work-life balance within the sector. Long hours, travel and a lack of general flexibility around work were all cited as reasons why architects felt despondent in their jobs.

The AIA Compensation Survey Report 2021 recorded that 72 percent of architecture firms offered full-time or part-time remote working options in 2020, up from only 13 percent in 2019. However, despite this significant shift in flexible working, it seems that many firms are yet to fully adapt to and embrace flexible working as standard.

Rachael adds, “Many of my friends have referred to my role as a ‘unicorn role’, in that it’s too good to be true. It seems almost unheard of to have this ability to work so flexibly around my child, home life and personal needs. I believe this should be offered to everybody, not just for the benefit of employees but for the benefits it ultimately offers businesses too.”

Flex For Success

An in-depth report commissioned by leading construction firm Sir Robert McAlpine in partnership with Anna Whitehouse – the social media maven behind Mutha Pukka and founder of The Flex Appeal, has demonstrated just how beneficial flexible working is to companies and the economy. In the report, entitled Flexonomics, the impact of flexible working on the UK economy is revealed to be a staggering £37bn and that further increases to flexible working rates could result in a net gain of a further £55bn, alongside the creation of over 50,000 jobs. Another staggering finding from the report revealed that the cost for businesses that refuse flexible working requests is almost £2bn a year. Another cost comes from absence rates, with the absence rates of remote workers at 0.9%, compared with 2.2% of traditional workers.

The most up-to-date legislative changes to the rules surrounding flexible working are also falling in favour of the employees, who can now ask for flexible arrangements to be put in place from day one of their employment, a huge change from the previous legislature which stated that an employee had to work for their employer for at least 26 weeks before they had the right to request flexible working arrangements. The government has also committed to simplifying the process, encouraging open dialogue between employers and employees and making flexible working the default.

Opportunity Creates Equality

Greater flexibility in the workplace could also be the silver bullet for levelling the gender playing field in the industry. A survey by Architects Journal discovered that a larger percentage of women than men worked part-time, 18 percent compared to seven percent, and more women worked regularly from home, 60 percent of women compared to 51 percent of men.

Research released earlier this year shows that a huge 52 percent of women in the UK workforce have stated that they have considered leaving or have left their role due to a lack of flexibility.

Rachael shares how flexible working arrangements, for both herself and her husband, has provided equality not just between gender roles but between parenthood and working roles, “Having a baby is a huge change for the entire family, not just a mother, with discussions around childcare and partners taking on more of a parental role on the return to work. My phased return to work made this process so much easier, rather than it being a huge immediate change, it was instead a smoother transition.

“Working part-time allows me to enjoy motherhood without feeling conflicted about my roles between home and work. This way I can give full commitment to my role when I am working, and when I’m not I can take my child to appointments and do what I need to for my family. Flexible working has allowed me to fulfil both of those roles better, as both a mother and an employee.

“It’s invaluable having both my husband and I working flexibly, and this creates an equality between us as we can both be available to do nursery pickups or drop-offs when the other is working away. If one of us was working full-time in the office, we wouldn’t be able to do our careers in the same way we do now. His flexibility supports my career so that I can do all aspects of my job well, and me being flexible supports his career in turn.

“I would love to see more flexible working options offered within the architectural and design industry. This is something I strongly believe will help encourage equality in the industry and wider sector.”