How to make the case for a flexible role

Quotation of ACCA members

Meet our panel

  • Shakil Butt: an ex-accountant, multi-award-winning HR executive and writer
  • Helen Morgan: a financial director from the technology and financial services sector
  • Zoe Whitman: founder of award-winning bookkeeping start-up, But the Books

According to the Timewise Flexible Jobs Index, only 11% of jobs over £20K FTE are advertised as flexible. If you’re looking for a new role, why not widen your search with full-time roles and then negotiate flex?

We talk to our panel of accountancy professionals to find out the best ways to turn a full-time role into a flexible one when negotiating with a prospective employer.

Don’t be apologetic

First things first, you need to think differently about flexible working. As Shakil Butt, ex-accountant, HR executive and writer, says, “Many people think it’s just for people with caring responsibilities and parents. Yet legislation says once you’re 26 weeks into a role, any individual can apply for flexible working. And from an HR point of view, when it comes to accessing talent, there are many very capable and professional people out there who are best suited to flex, so we need to shift our mind-set.”

Focus on skills, not just flex

Although the majority of job ads don’t mention flexibility, many employers are prepared to consider it for the right candidate. As Zoe Whitman, founder of award-winning start-up, But the Books, points out, “If you’re a genuinely good fit, don’t be afraid to put yourself forward. Lead on your skills, then when they compare one candidate against the other, they’ll want the person who can do the best job.”

Research prospective employers

It’s worth trying to find out if the employer has a good flexible working record. Check out the careers pages of their website. If they talk about wanting to build a diverse and motivated workforce, that’s a good sign. Or you could try to get in touch with people who already work at the company, maybe on LinkedIn, and sound them out. 

Another good place to look is Timewise Jobs, a jobs board which only advertises part-time and flexible roles.

Get to grips with flexible working

Shakil says, “Look at all the flexible options and understand fully what they mean. It can be part time, working around term times, job share or compressed hours; it can be working towards an outcome rather than a set amount of hours; it can be home working, it can be mobile working – it can be many different things.”

Be realistic about your request

Think carefully about the role. Are you sure you can cover the requirements while working flexibly? As Helen Morgan, a financial director from the financial services and technology sector, says, “Understand the requirements of the job, and the pressure points, and think through what you would do. Make sure you have a plan of how you can manage it.”

Think about when to ask

The big question is, when should you bring it up? There’s no hard and fast rule, although it’s generally agreed that it isn’t worth mentioning in your CV or cover letter. Depending on how the conversation is going, and how the prospective employer approaches flexibility, it is something you could raise at interview.

Zoe’s view that it’s best not to leave it too late. “It’s professional to deal with it earlier and it can be tricky for the employer if they offer you a job and then you say you only want to work three days a week. When I’m recruiting, I like to feel I’m employing someone who feels like they can’t talk to me.”

However, the flexible working experts at Timewise Jobs suggest waiting until you have an offer. So you’ll need to weigh up the attitude of your potential employer to flexible working, then follow your instincts.

Back up your ask with a business case

You’ve thought realistically about how you’d manage the role flexibly. Now it’s time to prepare a business case which carefully explains how you propose to manage your workload.

Helen has a few thought starters: “If the busiest periods are at the month’s end, could you do longer hours then and take them back when it’s quieter? Or, if you need to consider critical times of the year when budgets are due, think about that. If it’s a role you’re already in, work collaboratively with the rest of the team, as someone else may want to work flexibly. Could you job share? Could you collaborate and support each other with different shifts?”

Be prepared to be flexible yourself

Of course, you may need to compromise. Helen says, “It’s a two-way street – you can’t demand. Come in with a plan, tell them your ideal, then work backwards and always keep in mind how far you can move.”

And remember, some asks are bigger than others. A day a week of home-working, flexible start and finish times, a compressed week, and even a four-day week, are relatively easy for an employer to accommodate. But a two or three-day week may be too difficult for the employer. Consider the design of the role – could you apply as a job share with a colleague?”

Don’t be put off – because flex works

Flexible employees are a proven success in many businesses. As Helen says, “I work flexibly myself and I have people working flexibly in different countries, on different projects in different time zones. If you do this, you can create a 24/7 operation. So there’s a very strong business case for flex in certain organisations.”

Finally, make the most of technology

It’s worth remembering that today’s technology makes flexible working a real contender to the traditional nine-to-five working day, especially in accountancy. As Shakil points out: “As accountants, we are knowledge workers, not manual workers. The work we do doesn’t happen in offices – it happens in our brains. And it can happen anywhere, at any time that works for you.”

Tools and software our panel recommend to make flex work for you

  • Skype and Zoom – for conferences and meetings with anyone, anywhere, any time
  • Trello – handy for scheduling and controlling your workload
  • Slack – to collaborate and share projects with other colleagues
  • Phone – don’t underestimate the power of picking up the phone and talking rather than always relying on email

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