The joy of agile working

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

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Overwork and a poor work-life balance are problems familiar to many. The BBC recently shared the news that UK commuters are willing to travel further and longer to work, with the average commute lasting 57.1 minutes.

Most alarmingly 3.7 million workers travel for two hours or longer every weekday. Long commuting is undoubtedly putting a heavy strain on workers and their families but is it really necessary?

As a husband and father of two young children I have experimented with countless work-life balance techniques and life hacks. Some work a treat, whilst others have lasted less than a week. In this article I share my own experiences of building a balanced working life whilst also enjoying some unusual benefits.

Flirting with the office timesheet

Flexible working policies, including home working, have been common place for many years. A nod from senior management can allow you to work remotely, choose the hours that suit you and embrace a better work life balance. This view is endorsed by an organisation called GoROWE which stands for Results Only Work Environments which believes in promoting working cultures where it doesn’t matter how and where you work as long as you get the job done.

In my case, applying the principles of ROWE begins with choosing the time of day I want to both work and play. Many years ago I reversed engineered my traditional evening activities into my morning routine. After a going to bed very early the night before, I wake each morning at 5 am to learn Spanish, enjoy a healthy breakfast and catch the earliest train into work. As a result I finish work around 4.30pm and see my family for dinner, bath time and bed-time reading. This decision is obviously not the favoured lifestyle for everyone.

Agile work in the community

Today, many people look for something more meaningful than just financial reward from their job. They want the chance to give something back to their communities and to good causes. Applying the principles of ROWE can not only give you more time but it can help you to contribute to society rather than just show up and grind out a day’s work.

In 2016, I decided to test the boundaries of my company home working policy and started to work from my local Church, St Andrews in Enfield (North London) once a week. St Andrews is working towards the Eco Church standard and I have agreed with the local vicar that I will act as a competent expert to guide and manage their project in exchange for a free desk. My commute to the parish office once a week is 15 minutes and the office has most of the amenities I have in my central London office. I now also help run their church youth club on a Monday evening. Using the Office for National Statistics ‘unpaid work calculator’, I estimate the earnings I would have been paid for my volunteering whilst at St Andrews to be in the region of £4,500 a year:

Inspired by the above and asking yourself how you could devote more energy and time to an agile working life? The following quick tips should help get you off to a good start:

  • Work smarter not longer - Allow yourself a certain amount of time per task – and trying not to get caught up in less productive activities.
  • Closure - if you must take work home with you, confine it to a certain area of your home – and be able to close the door on it.
  • Make people wait - Manage colleague’s expectations about how quickly you will reply to emails. Make replying within 24 or 48 hours the new normal.
  • Set your own rules - Where able set your own work pattern. There will be days when you feel guilty for not being in the office or at your desk but give yourself a break, you are the person in control about what work you do and where you choose to do it.

NB. I am writing this article on a train between London and Birmingham, another favourite agile working location of mine.

For more information contact Chris Whetstone, Corporate responsibility manager on 020 7911 2014 or