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Renee Wilkinson flexible work

Why I owe my career to flexible working arrangements

It seems flexible working arrangements and working from home are the new black, with COVID-19 forcing many people (and employers) to operate this way for the first time.

While there may have been some initial concerns, I suspect that on the whole businesses are discovering employees are more productive and happy when they are simply trusted to get on with their job – wherever that job may be.

At Cannings Purple, flexible working arrangements have been in place for so long, I cannot imagine working any other way.

In fact, I have been doing it now for 12 years, something LinkedIn reminded me of on the weekend!

My story is not uncommon.  After having a baby in 2004, I didn’t want to return to the workforce in a role that had me in an office (and away from my baby) for long hours. In fact, I didn’t want to leave my child at all.

At the time I had no other choice than to work full or part-time in an office or not work at all. I chose the latter.

After my second child was born, I happened across a third option.  I approached a friend in Warrick Hazeldine, who had just opened a small PR firm (Purple Communications as it was then known) with only a handful of employees.

Renee Wilkinson Purple Communications

The early days of Purple Communications.

Warrick agreed to take me on as a consultant and let me work from home, excluding client and other meetings and occasional events, for which I would come into the office. I had a set number of hours to work each week and, as long as my clients received the love and attention they needed, I could do that work whenever I wanted.

And work odd hours I did. I made phone calls and had the occasional face-to-face meeting during the day and completed my computer-based work late at night when everyone else slept.  No matter when, I always took calls from my clients (or called them back very quickly if I couldn’t answer the phone) and I never felt the restraint of being limited to working ‘set hours’.  If my client needed something turned around with short notice, I would do it.

As my children grew and started attending school full-time, my hours increased and I started going into the office – but I still left by 2.30pm every day.

There were times it was tricky. I can remember sitting with my laptop at athletic and swimming carnivals reviewing work between races and running off to meetings between school drop-offs and concerts.  But I would not have had it any other way.

It took a great deal of trust from Purple in those early days. This was certainly well before flexible work became part of normal corporate Australian life. Would I let my clients down? Would I do a sub-standard job? Would I ‘cheat’ and not work at all?

After 12 years and many happy clients and successful projects, I have certainly proven that I – and flexible working arrangements – do work.

The same goes for the rest of the Cannings Purple team. We now number more than 40 staff, all of whom make use of flexible working options as needed.

When it came time to transition to working from home at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was as close to business-as-usual as could be for Cannings Purple. It was something that we were all quite used to.

I honestly believe that without the chance Warrick gave me 12 years ago, I wouldn’t be doing the work I do now.  And he would have missed out on a committed, flexible and hard-working employee.

My experience aside, there are statistics to support the value of flexible arrangements.

Even before coronavirus, there was a gradually growing trend of Australians working regularly from home – from 29 per cent in August 2015 to 32 per cent in August 2019, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics data. Meanwhile, research commissioned by job search website Indeed, found the majority of Australian employers believed the ability to work remotely increased staff productivity and morale, while employees said it contributed to better work-life balance and reduced stress.

The lesson for employers, I believe, is not to rush back to mandating staff work long days (and weeks) in the office. That way of thinking doesn’t get the best out of employees and, even worse, it may mean missing out on a massive pool of talented and hard-working people, who are ready to go the extra mile to serve clients but seek some flexibility in how they do it.

I’m still very grateful that Cannings Purple allowed and continues to allow me that flexibility.

Renee Wilkinson is an Associate Director in  Cannings Purple’s Government Relations team and an expert in helping clients build relationships with government and the community. Email Renee.

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