If you’re returning to the workforce after a career break, fractional – the new name for part-time work – or flexible work might be exactly what you need to get you back in the swing of things. With the competition for STEM talent heating up, more and more companies are offering flexible working schedules.
“Returners often need to balance their return into the workforce with a decreasing caring workload, eg as children go to school,” says Caroline Plumb, founder of Fluidly, cash flow management software.
People are attracted to fractional and flexible working arrangements for many reasons, not least of which is balancing work with caring responsibilities, which still rest predominantly on women’s shoulders.
A ‘fractional’ job is a part-time role where the employee works for a specified fraction of a full-time equivalent (FTE) role, for example a 0.5FTE role would be for half of a standard 35-40 hour working week. Flexible roles allow employees to choose when they work, often including hours outside the standard work day. They may also include the option to work from home. Both fractional and full-time roles can be worked flexibly.
Flexible working offered as standard
In the UK, anyone who has been employed for six months may request flexible or fractional working, and companies are increasingly offering fractional and flexible roles as standard.
Inga Rudzitis, Operations Manager from Float, a cash flow forecasting app, says, “Our founder, Colin Hewitt, has always been keen for Float to be a family-friendly place to work, so we’ve always been flexible about things like school runs and making it to sports day.”
“I think it’s important for employers to think about this intentionally and build this into their values so that there’s trust and employees feel comfortable managing their work and personal lives. If you lay this foundation, you can adapt to people’s changing circumstances and have open conversations about what needs to change and what will work for all parties,” she says.
Exactly how these roles are managed can vary not just from company to company, but from employee to employee.
“As someone who’s personally taken three periods of maternity, my experience is that there is no one-size-fits-all process for any returning process,” says Plumb. “Employers need to support not just with a variety of potential working arrangements, but easing the transitions around returning – from building confidence, ensuring there are no limits on potential and being willing to flex arrangements over time as needs change and children grow up.”
Rudzitis agrees: “By its very nature, flexible working can mean so many different things! There are some structured methods, such as specifying core hours, but for us at Float it’s more of an attitude. We know that people have lives outside of work, so being flexible means being adaptive to people’s circumstances. Sometimes people will leave early to do the school run and work from home for the rest of the afternoon, others prefer to stay a bit later in the office and have more of the morning to themselves.”
Flexible working is not just for carers
Not all flexible workers choose that model because of caring commitments. It’s also valuable for those who want to get more qualifications, or for students who are transitioning from a higher degree into the workforce.
“I started working part time on four days a week to give me time to finish my post-graduate degree,” says Rudzitis, “and decided to continue working this way after graduating. So flexible working for us includes some remote and fractional working.”
When we talk about remote working, where staff work from a location that’s not the office, we often think about jobs such as software development where workers need to spend a lot of time focused on specific tasks. But the very nature of flexible working is, itself, flexible.
“I think any kind of role can be flexible,” says Rudzitis, “you’ve just got to be intentional about how you set it up. You’ve got to know what’s important to you, and how that can work with different types of working patterns. If team meetings are important, make sure any remote workers can join via video call, and make sure they get a chance to speak. Make sure that your part time workers can join by scheduling them at the right time.”
Communication is key
A lot of employers now use communications software that makes flexible working even easier. Tools like Slack, video calling, Google Drive, Dropbox and even project wikis are often used by teams even when they are sitting next to one another at the office, so extending that to provide a communications platform for remote workers is easy.
“We use Slack to communicate a lot,” says Rudzitis, “even when we’re in the office, so people who are working from home don’t miss out on the important things that are being discussed. Having said that, as a company we’re looking ahead to the future and are considering whether we might want to set up an international office in a year or two, so we’ve already started to talk about how we’d manage that.”
Fractional and flexible roles are becoming more common as the technology improves, and as attitudes become more accepting. Some industries, such as engineering, are so short of skilled employees that companies are radically rethinking how they work and how they can tempt women back into the workforce.
If you’re finishing off a doctorate, caring for elderly relatives, or would like to work alongside caring for your children, then fractional and flexible working could be for you.
The Finding Ada Online Careers Fair for Women in STEM was sponsored by Xero, a beautiful, easy-to-use online accounting software for small businesses and their advisors. It has over one million subscribers in more than 180 countries, with more than 250,000 of those in the UK.