Making the move to flexible working – my own personal Brexit by Dan Shaw

After 16 years of commuting into London I decided to take a step into the unknown and accept a new job that that offered a flexible working arrangement. As an experienced recruiter I’ve spent years negotiating flexible working arrangements for my candidates, but that had always been the odd day or two working from home. What I was considering now was the other end of the scale – total home working with the occasional day or two a week, with colleagues, in a co-working environment in London.

So, as the UK was announcing its own break from the rest of Europe, I was saying my own farewell to the world I had always assumed would be my norm throughout my working life. Okay, so disentangling international trade agreements and renegotiating with governments was a little beyond my new personal world order, but on an equally important personal level I was negotiating my way out of the annual travel card I had bought every year since 2000 and always taken for granted, and starting to realise I needed to plan much more carefully when and how I chose my days in London. (Coming in from Kent, the £20 daily return ticket suddenly seemed very real and disturbingly expensive).

Next came the feeling that I was somehow missing out – that everything else and everyone else was carrying on without me in the Big Smoke. Deals were being done, lunches being eaten, new relationships being toasted in all the same pubs and bars I had assumed would always be mine.

As I was trying to come to terms with all that, I was hit with the ultimate withdrawal: would I ever have Wasabi’s sweet chili chicken or a Pret sushi for lunch again? Even the easy – albeit tasteless – fix of a hastily-bought supermarket meal deal seemed out of my reach now.

And as I watched the various politicians on the news spinning the Brexit aftermath, I wondered how my own clients and candidate would react to me telling them I had changed my own rules of engagement but still wanted to keep all my existing contracts and relationships going…

There was only one way to find out. And so on a sunny morning in June, sitting in my lounge with my trusty phone by my side, I took a deep breath, opened up my new company laptop, and logged back into the world.

Immediately I saw the little green lights on the Skype screen of all my equally-remote colleagues blinking at me in the sunlight. A dozen or so little beacons reassuring me that this would work. Messages of welcome and support popped up in front of me and I was instantly back in the zone!

As I typed my first email to a client, I realised that I was doing exactly the same thing I had always done in an office – keying the same keys, using the same words, clicking the same buttons. Sure, I was doing it on my own terms and in my own environment, but I still had the same knowledge of my markets, the same network of candidates who would take my call, and the same access to LinkedIn and all the other online tools that I needed to do my job.

Now I know that every industry is different, so I can only really speak for the recruitment sector here, but the essence of my job is to talk to people. I talk to people about themselves, I talk to people about other people, and I talk to people about great new jobs that I can offer them. If my phone is mobile, I thought, why shouldn’t I be? I was fortunate to find an agency that shared my flexible outlook, and not every agency will do that. My advice is to put yourself first, work out what is really important in your life, and look for an employer who shares that vision.

I now manage my diary a little more carefully and try to group my London meetings together on the same day to be more effective (and cheaper on the whole travel cost of course!) and I have found that not only are clients and candidates alike very supportive of a recruitment agency with flexible workers, but many have secretly said how they wished they could work in this way too. It’s actually a great ice-breaker and the 10 hours or so a week that I now save in commuting time, I can easily reinvest in running my searches and talking on the phone.

Do I regret anything about giving up that daily grind? Not at all. I did my time, and I did it well. I’m lucky that I am working in a technically evolving world where there are so many new and exciting communication channels at my disposal.

Being honest, I think it would have been very difficult at the start of my career to be in this remote position, and to be equally honest in my 20s I loved the social and often boozy London lifestyle that recruitment offered me. The training and discipline of an office was something essential that, with hindsight, has equipped me with the self-discipline and drive to get up each morning and work hard on my own in a quiet room. I also needed to put in the hard yards to build up the specialised networks and client relationships that I now rely on.

But now, in my late 30s and with two beautiful small children who I get to see so much more of now, I wouldn’t change it for the world. It now feels okay to break up my own Union with London and find a new, better, more relaxing way to grow my own personal economy. Change is scary, but the right change is a relief.

I’d better go now, I have a chili con carne simmering on the hob and I’ve just got enough time to pick the kids up from school before my next conference call.