Why flexible working isn’t just about mums; for me it’s about Parkinson’s
This week, to mark Parkinson’s Awareness Week, we are honoured to feature this blog by Halebury consultant Linda Kabi on why she works flexibly and how this fits with the demands of life as a carer.
Often, agile or flexible working is seen as the solution for working mums, and many forget that agile working benefits a range of people with different circumstances.
I need to work flexibly as much as any mother of small kids. Why? Because my adorable husband has Parkinson’s Disease.
Parkinson’s is a progressive neurological condition that results from the depletion of a chemical called dopamine as some nerve cells in the brain have died. There’s no cure as yet and the reason people get Parkinson’s remains unknown. Symptoms can include tremor, rigidity, slowness of movement, and tiredness. The symptoms and how quickly Parkinson’s progresses differs from person to person. Medication helps slow the progression of the condition.
My husband was very unlucky to get Parkinson’s but he has been very lucky that he has been able to keep symptoms at bay for a long time. Today, nearly 20 years after diagnosis, Parkinson’s is starting to impact him a lot more. His symptoms include loss of manual dexterity, very poor balance (leading to falls) and extreme fatigue.
I’m a commercial solicitor with 30 years experience, practising primarily in the telecommunications and IT industries. It’s a demanding life, often challenging, but always intellectually stimulating, varied, interesting and rewarding. The law requires long hours and a great deal of commitment that I’m happy to give to it. In return I’d hope for flexibility so as to meet my commitments to my husband too.
Whilst plenty of companies have adapted to some extent to agile working and, for example, allow employees to work remotely some days a week, many have not. I have a disabled friend who works for a small tech company that you’d expect to be in the forefront of flexible working but, no, the owner-managers don’t trust their employees to work productively from home. There are days when my friend’s in pain and working from home would help her greatly, but that option is not available to her. Either she makes a superhuman effort to get into work on those days or phones in sick. She could try to assert her legal rights against this employer to make reasonable adaptations but she hasn’t the stomach for a fight with them and knows it would be just that, a fight, as she says “they just don’t get it”.
The legal profession lags behind too. The traditional big law firms in the City of London, with their massive overheads and concomitant need for their lawyers to bill between 1,500-1,800 hours per year to make a decent profit, find it hard to accommodate flexibility.
Joining Halebury, an enlightened NewLaw firm, has been a godsend for me.
Halebury provides an alternative career path for senior lawyers with in-house experience, in-depth sector expertise and a commercial outlook who want to provide the best possible advice to clients take control of their career, and develop it on their own terms.
With Halebury I can work from home much of the time, and plan my visits to client offices and external meetings around my life commitments.
Contrasting the start to the day before and now as an illustration:
Before: I rise at 5am, shower, dress, do my makeup and hair. At 5.45am I wake my husband, help him out of bed, help him shower, dress and shave. At 6.30am we go downstairs for breakfast. I help him take his first medication of the day. Eating is exhausting for him but he has more energy in the early mornings and can eat more so I cook him a hot breakfast, make him a Nutribullet blast of apple, mango and ginger to drink, straining it through a sieve as he finds it hard to swallow the fibre, then make him toast with butter and honey and an espresso. After that I make myself a large Nutribullet blast of apple, strawberry, raspberry, blackberry, blueberry and yoghurt and a café latte. I clear up the breakfast things, settle my husband upstairs (who may well go off to sleep again as he is fatigued by the effort of rising and breakfasting) and set off for the two hour journey to work at 7.15am.
Today: I rise at 7am, and the start of the day follows the exact same pattern except that, when I finish the whole process of getting us up and breakfasted, I sit down at my home office desk and log on to work remotely at 9.15am.
I’ve gained two hours sleep and I’m much more alert and ready to work. I’m not dragging myself to a faraway office, arriving already tired out by the 5am start. So my clients benefit from my ability to work from home as much as I do.
As the working day progresses, I can interact with my husband as needed. I’ll pop upstairs to check he is ok every so often. At lunchtime I’ll use a fabulous new gadget, the electric soupmaker, to make a nourishing soup for us for lunch. It takes 5 minutes to put the ingredients in to the soupmaker and the soup is ready in 20 minutes so that’s efficient from the perspective of using the day to my client’s best advantage. I can ensure that my husband gets the nutrition he needs at lunchtime; Parkinson’s sufferers can become malnourished and their diet has to be watched carefully. Also, I eat a healthy lunch that sets me up for the afternoon’s work.
The afternoon might consist of a long conference call negotiating an outsourcing agreement followed by me redrafting the agreement and e mailing it to the other party. I’m more efficient when I work from home as the friendly chats with colleagues at the watercooler aren’t there to distract me. I’ll often work beyond the time I’d leave the office to travel home as I’ve no travel time to factor into my day. The anxiety caused by the vagaries of the railway network is absent too. No more phoning my husband from a stationary train mid-railway track to tell him there’s a points failure at Waterloo and I’ve no idea when I’ll be home!
Naturally some days I’m out of my home office at meetings but that’s fine too. The odd day away from home is no bad thing. Variety is good and I enjoy my face-time with clients.
What’s the downside? Well, for me it is that lack of friendly chats by the watercooler! Not good but fixable by visiting the office every so often, plus the management team at Halebury are always extremely accessible and responsive, so I feel like part of a community still. Social media has played a big part in helping me feel connected to both my team and the industry in general For my clients there’s no downside that I can see. Their work gets done as well, as quickly and as efficiently as before. Better in fact.
There are many and varied reasons why agile working is needed by a lot of the workforce. Employers lose out with people quitting the world of work as they can’t manage their home commitments and their working lives. The country loses out on the tax those people would be paying. The state welfare system picks up a hefty bill in these circumstances too. Clients must miss out when their advisers are stressed, harried and burnt out. It’s just so massively inefficient, wasteful and unnecessary.
So, UK employers: do please embrace the 21st century and open up to agile and flexible remote working. You’ve nothing to lose and much to gain.
Linda Kabi is a highly experienced telecoms, IT and commercial lawyer and consultant with Halebury. She has 30 years’ experience working primarily in the international telecoms industry, having previously acted as GC at Nowtel. Linda has also worked as a senior lawyer in high-profile tech companies including BT, Inmarsat, Hutchison 3G and Vodafone.
Follow Linda on Twitter on @lindakabi
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