Due to the nature of a consultant’s work, some people can wrongly assume that working in a consultancy does not offer much flexibility. The main reason for that being we can potentially be away from home for up to 5 days a week on a client site, working on full time projects. The reality of this is partially true, however, the last two months have forced not only consultants but all of us to work in very different ways, thus challenging how flexible our working environment can really be.
As a consultant, we are required to be able to work remotely in whichever locations we are needed, with the necessary technology and systems in place for support. Whilst this is an essential tool to enable flexible working, there are many other elements which are important for an organisation to be truly ‘flexible’.
The notion of flexible working first became important to me when I had children. When my daughter was a baby, I was one of the first people to take Shared Parental Leave so that I could have a month with her before she started at nursery. It was a really special time and everyone at Capgemini made it very easy for me to do.
Before Covid-19 and the lockdown, I was working mostly from home, supporting various internal initiatives and bid work as well as preparing for my next on-site project. It meant that as a Dad of two young children, I was able to see them every evening which many Dads aren’t able to do.
Adjusting to a new normal
Then the pandemic hit, and we were all asked to remain at home for the foreseeable future. Whilst this did affect me, it was immediately apparent how well set up Capgemini is to deal with this, so my world didn’t really change.
For my wife however, who works in London at an advertising agency, it was a different story as I witnessed first-hand her struggling with Microsoft Teams, VPNs and adjusting to video conferencing. All things that were second nature to me but brand new to her and her organisation. Capgemini’s ability to pivot the company to meet the government restrictions meant that there was little or no immediate effect on my working life. But the next test was about to come.
Early in March, we had a call from our children’s nursery that our daughter had a temperature and she had to come home, along with her brother, and we all had to quarantine for 14 days. This was something that we hadn’t prepared for. The prospect of both of us working full time, and a 2 and 3-year-old at home with no childcare was a huge change from being away from home for five days a week on a client site.
Testing the flexibility
Suddenly, the need for true flexibility was apparent. To be able to manage our day to day lives, we needed to both be able to juggle childcare and full-time work. We took the approach that we would split our days into morning and afternoon shifts, with one person working in a separate room and one person looking after the children.
I spoke to my line manager and the wider team who I was in regular contact with to explain the situation. I also decided to use some annual leave so that I could drop to a 4-day working week for an 8-week period, enabling my wife to have one full working day. Needless to say, that everyone was very supportive. Pretty quickly after that, all schools and childcare providers were shut down meaning suddenly this was our new reality for the foreseeable future, so we had to make it work.
My team were very understanding, and it meant that we were able to create a semblance of a routine for our family. That’s not to say that it was easy. There were many times when calls would appear in my diary that were outside of my ‘shift’ which meant negotiations with my wife about whose call was more important! It also meant that any hours we missed in the day were made up in the evenings, both of us sat side by side at our kitchen table quietly tapping away on our keyboards in solidarity.
Light at the end of the tunnel
Today was a milestone in our lockdown life as our children went back to nursery. We have decided to stagger their return, only doing two days a week at first but it feels like a weight has been lifted. We were both able to focus for a full day meaning we have been more available for our colleagues and our evening is free.
As lockdown lifts further no doubt things will ease further still however this period of time has made me grateful for a few things.
Firstly, and most importantly, that me and my family are all safe and well. Secondly, that I was able to spend more time with my children at a time when they are young enough that they are happy to hang out with their Dad and thirdly, that I work for a company that allowed me to do that.
Capgemini has at all times, been supportive of my flexible working. This period has pushed the definition of flexible working for us as a company along with many other companies. I hope that of the many things that will no doubt change after Covid-19, the opportunity to work in a different way will remain, giving many of us the work life balance that we all deserve.
Chris is a Senior Solution Architect in SAP BI & Analytics within Capgemini’s UK Insights and Data business unit. He has over 15 years’ experience providing technical and architecture expertise to clients from a range of business sectors.