Fiona Fletcher-Smith

Flexible working in the Development, Enterprise and Environment team

Fiona is an Executive Director in the Development, Enterprise and Environment team.

How I started flexible working

In 2009 I joined City Hall as an Executive Director. Then, in 2010, I went on maternity leave for 11 months. I knew that I wanted to come back to work to continue my career, but I also wanted to look after my child as much as possible. A flexible working arrangement has allowed me to do both.

As I was a first-time mum, I worried about whether it would be ok for me to work flexibly. I wasn’t sure of the reaction I would get at work and how the change would be managed by my team. Nobody else had a formal flexible working arrangement at that time.

All parents understand the challenge of balancing working life with childcare. I was worried about how I would be able to balance a demanding job in the office and a demanding job being a mum at home. But it definitely is possible.

Changing my flexible working arrangements

After several years of flexible working I took a six-week sabbatical called Parental Leave (2 weeks of which were paid). I spent this time with my son to help get him ready for his move from nursery to school.

When I came back to work I needed to change my flexible working arrangements to fit with the new school run. I now do the drop-off and pick-up two-three times a week, when I work shorter days in the office. I work longer hours on the days when I’m not doing the school run.

My ability to work flexibly is supported by my manager, as well as the wider team. Our Head of Office is excellent at managing my diary – for example arranging phone calls to match my commute and responding quickly to last-minute changes. Alongside the new technology on offer, this means I can work on the move and, most importantly, I know that I can switch off when I’m with my son.

When possible I also work from home one day a week, which allows me to stay on top of reading papers, reports and strategy. This has been made much easier by City Hall’s upgraded remote working systems and new technology, allowing me to be more productive.

Why flexible working is such a good thing

For an organisation to properly support flexible working it has to be seen as normal, not the exception. Changing the way we work is much easier if we can have open and honest discussions about how flexible working could work for the individual and the team.

Before I had a baby, I thought that you needed to show your face in the office to prove you were working. I felt that this was what was expected. But this wasn’t true. Instead, there is an understanding culture at City Hall. If I’m not in by 9:00am then that’s ok, as I’m in charge of my own time and my own work. Crucially, I’m also encouraged to leave meetings on time to make sure I can get to the school pick-up.

I think City Hall understands that flexible working can have a really positive impact on staff. They also know that it can be important for lots of people, not just those with childcare and caring responsibilities.