https://pds.blog.parliament.uk/2017/06/08/balancing-the-beach-with-big-ben/

Balancing the beach with Big Ben

Charlotte and her child on the beach

I’ve worked for Parliament, on and off, for almost twenty years. Since 2011, I’ve had three children, leading to some of those off periods. During my last maternity leave, my family moved from London to Jersey, in the Channel Islands when my husband got a great job out there. We weighed up the beaches, the clean air and the rural lifestyle against the life we had in London and decided to give it a go.

Was it career break time

I’ll admit my initial thought was that this was career break time. Before we’d even packed up the house though, I realised I was ready to get stuck back into my career. The only problem was, I was about to go and live on an island quite a long way from the UK.

My existing skills only allowed me to get a job there working for my other half which wasn't exactly appealing. I didn’t feel like I had many selling points to be honest. Mother of small children. Living in a different country (yes, the Channel Islands are NOT part of the UK). Wants to work weird hours, many of them from home. Oh and feeling a huge lack of confidence after having children.

Flexible working pattern

A colleague working in PDS suggested that I apply for a secondment there from the House of Commons. She was sure that senior managers wouldn't be put off by my working requirements and I could also get new skills. She was right on every count.

The phone interviews I did with my director before starting were entirely about my experience and skills. Only at the end did she ask what my working pattern would be. I tentatively suggested that I work full time over four days, with two days at home and two in the office. ‘Sounds fine’ was the answer. So I was in.

Over the past year in PDS I’ve developed a whole new profession in business change. I’ve led the user engagement team from a group of six to a team of 18 as they work across several programmes with increasing demand for their services. I’ve done formal qualifications in programme management and change management, I’m a Head of Profession and I'm involved in planning at a senior level.

Maintaining a balance

Using post-its at home

My week is busy. On a Monday I drop my children at school and nursery before getting down to work in my living room. I line-manage five people so I have 1-2-1s with them. I attend team meetings via Skype and keep on top of planning and emails. I carve out an hour to do some much-needed exercise and I sing in a choir in the evening.

Tuesday morning starts at five am as I pack and head to the airport for my longest day. Commuting by plane via Gatwick and Southern Rail is not something I’d recommend as a fun pastime. It’s reliable enough barring island fog, industrial action, a lack of de-icing equipment for the wings or trees on the line.

I’m in the office for ten, having already caught up with emails on the train, which means I’m able to spend my office time pretty strategically. I can build relationships with others across Parliament, find out what my team and PDS colleagues are up to, run recruitment campaigns and bring others together to develop ideas.

Although I miss my family, I can work really long days while away. I can also have a child-free night a week for carefree socialising in London. This represents a 100% increase on that opportunity before we moved.

I’m back in early the next day, and run off at 5pm for the reverse journey to the airport. I’m met off the plane by my husband and children keen to tell me all I’ve missed. Thursdays are almost a repeat of Mondays, although I tend to be winding up the week’s work rather than setting hares running at this point.

Technology helps

It hasn’t been a completely smooth run. I spent three days in the office for several months but it was just too much for my stamina and my family life. As we’ve been using Skype more and more, my manager suggested I try two days at home again and it’s now working brilliantly.

My team is on a smarter working pilot, with far more people than desks. I’ve been very clear with them that all we care about is good outcomes rather than how we get there. They’re free to work where suits them best and the work they have to do.

The technology we have allows us to do online meetings, virtual stand-ups and collaborative development. Senior management have been nothing but supportive. I’ve been able to expand my role and skills in a way I’d never have thought possible. I've been able to do this by working around the downsides of having to plan my office time weeks in advance, breaking training down into small chunks and convincing the camera shy to give Skype a go.

When I close down my computer on a Thursday evening I’ve got a weekend of swimming in the sea, beach barbecues, cliff walks and castle exploring with my kids ahead of me. I’m grateful to PDS for not just supporting me but encouraging me to build my career against the background of my decidedly left field lifestyle choice.

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2 comments

  1. Elisa

    I am really pleased this is working for you and that PDS is supporting you. Maybe there is scope for me to go back home (Spain) and still work for Parliament...

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  2. Kamila

    Wow, I am very impressed that you manage to balance your full time job and family life (abroad!). I can't imagine commuting 5 hours myself but I understand it's definitely worth it.

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