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Flexible Working Keeps Me Balanced


We catch up with geo-environmental engineer, Cassie Ellis about her approach to flexible working. She shares how balancing life and work means being able to excel at a demanding career, while staying on top of the complex needs of her growing boys.

Why are flexible work hours important to you?
Without them I couldn’t pursue and enjoy my career, contribute to the household financially, and look after all the things that are most important to me. My children both have long term medical conditions, so I need to be able to go to healthcare appointments. And because my husband works long hours and travels often, I need to be able to do the school run and manage the family home.

What was your situation before you went onto flexible work hours? 
After my first son was born, I returned to work part time to balance work and motherhood. But when the credit crunch hit in 2010, I was made redundant. I couldn’t work regular hours because we don’t have family around to help and childcare is so expensive. It became obvious to me that my chances of finding another part time role was slim. And as we wanted to have a second child, I just decided to stay at home. When my second son was about four, I started freelance report writing, which was perfect, as I could fit it around family life, but unfortunately it didn’t pay very well. For the next few years I had several interviews but companies weren’t offering flexible packages. A former colleague contacted me with the news that Atkins, a member of the SNC-Lavalin group, Birmingham were looking for someone with my experience. I had always considered the one hour commute to Birmingham to be too far, but when I was offered the job with flexible working hours, I knew I could make it work. It was the best decision I could’ve made!

What is your flexible work arrangement at Atkins?
I work a 24-hour contract, usually spread over four days, however during the holidays I generally do three longer days, which my team are happy with.

Are any other members of your team on flexible hours? How do you all stay in touch?
Yes, there are a couple of other people on flexible hours. We use Skype for business, which is brilliant. We can see who is online, message, call and share our screens to discuss what we’re working on, no matter where we are.

How did you decide on the best flexible work arrangement for you?
To figure out how many hours I could reasonably achieve at work, I had to look at what childcare was available for my children, and how long the commute would be. If I didn’t have to travel to and from the office, I could get more hours in—but I think it’s important that I have a presence in the office on most days. It makes it easier to build relationships with colleagues, discuss projects, stay abreast of current events and do on-the-job training.

How did Atkins support your decision to go onto flexible hours?
They were brilliant. The allowed me to set my own hours. And as long as I work these hours and meet my deadlines the company is happy.

As a flexible worker, do you feel you have the same opportunities for promotion as anyone else with your ability and experience?
Yes. I don’t feel there is any difference in promotion prospects, the main issue for me is to get chartered before I can be promoted.

How do your life experiences outside of work make you better at what you do?
Most mums would agree that being a mother teaches many skills which can help in the workplace, from juggling tasks to working efficiently, mediation [laughs] to tolerance and management.

What challenges do you face with flexible working and how do you overcome them?
Sometimes life doesn’t go as planned. If I need to be at a specialist’s meeting, or if my train is late, I know that with my flexible contract I can make up my hours on Friday or in the evenings. The main challenge with a lower hour contract is I’m not always able to be on site, but this was understood when I took on the role.

How do you ensure your responsibilities outside of work don’t restrict you at work?
It’s all about scheduling my time sensibly. If I have a parenting commitment, I make up my work time after hours, and if I have an important work deadline, I just rearrange my other appointments.

How do you keep in touch with team and project developments?
I try and maintain a presence in the office as much as possible and read all the news articles sent from the company.