So, you might have secured more flexibility in your working life, but what should you do with it? The benefits of a better work life balance have been espoused by many as the way to not only improve an individual’s life by allowing them more time to spend with their family, travel or devote to another passion project, but from a business perspective, the benefits of more flexibility means better performance from staff and higher levels of retention.

For example, in Singapore, the Ministry for Manpower recognises, “flexible working arrangements (FWAs) make a supportive and conducive work environment. Implementing FWAs benefit both employees and employers. Employees are better able to meet their work-life needs. Employers are better able to attract and retain talent and improve the productivity of their workforce.”

Across Asia-Pac, more businesses are waking up to the benefits of offering flexible working and not just in law firms. In Australia, Ernst & Young have recently announced their ‘life leave’ policy which gives employees the opportunity to take between six and 12 extra weeks of leave each year. This time is so employees can work part-time, travel, spend time with children or simply relax. Commenting on the business reason for this change, EY Oceania’s people partner Kate Hillman said, “Flexible work policies like this are necessary because of increased competition for talent.” And the policies are “intended to address a growing demand for flexible work environments in general, not just working parents.”

Two factors are arguably also contributing to an increased need for flexible working in the legal sector – higher reported stress levels and the simple fact that people are working for longer. Thankfully, mental health awareness is increasing under the spotlight in the sector, with more firms allocating mental first aiders, encouraging more open conversations about mental health and rolling out all-encompassing wellbeing programmes. At Pinsent Masons for example, our wellbeing programme is based on three pillars: personal (mental and physical), social and financial. This includes an array of offerings including compensation and benefits, an Employee Assistance Programme (providing the means for employees to raise concerns), an employee-led Disability and Wellbeing group, private health insurance, yoga, massages, running clubs etc.

As people are working for longer, flexible working polices are likely to prove even more effective and vital in the legal sector.  Nowadays, we’re all living longer and for many, a life on the golf course post-60 doesn’t appeal – working into the seventh decade is made all the more possible with flexible, agile working throughout a career.

However, there’s no doubt that flexible working presents a culture shift for many lawyers. According to The Randstad Workmonitor, three in four employees in Singapore have the flexibility to work from home, or outside office hours and this feeling of autonomy means that 87% of those surveyed agreed it helps boost productivity and job satisfaction. However, in the same survey, 76% of Singaporeans agreed with the statement: “At my employer, we still work in a traditional manner; everyone works at the office during opening hours.”

From my position – providing legal consultants to businesses across Singapore and Hong Kong, the traditional working day is certainly alive and well. But what is required to facilitate this switch? Changing work cultures is difficult and a slow process – simply offering more flexibility isn’t going to mean employees change their working habits overnight. Instead, senior members of staff need to practice what they preach and talk positively and openly about this way of working – it’s then likely the benefits of working in this way will influence the rest of the organisation.

But then another question arises – once you’ve secured your flexible working arrangement or sabbatical, how do you make the most of it?

Working at Vario and seeing lots of lawyers changing their working patterns to make the switch to working as legal consultants, I have seen lots of positive examples of individuals really making this change work for them. I’d recommend:

  1. Think about what you enjoy about work
    At Vario we see lots of lawyers making the jump to legal consultancy not just because they want more flexibility, but because they want more variety in their working life. Working in this way offers you the opportunity to work for a wider range of big-name businesses, which appeals to many.
  2. Don’t see a sabbatical as a career break
    For many, taking a sabbatical provides them with new softer skills which they can bring into their working life post-sabbatical, whether this be increased patience after time at home with small children or better emotional intelligence after travelling the world and being exposed to new cultures – it’s not an extended holiday, it’s all professional growth!
  3. Embrace technology

So many companies now utilise cloud-based technology and that means you can often work remotely – one of our Varios in the UK spends time in Italy, for example. So, the travelling doesn’t have to end just because you’re working.

  1. Don’t save your passion projects for a rainy day
    A huge number of our Varios also run businesses, in addition to working at legal consultants. Flexible working allows you the time, space (and money) to satisfy your entrepreneurial desires, be that a wine tasting company, sailing business or working as a DJ (all Vario pursuits!)

Flexible working is thankfully becoming more mainstream but sometimes people don’t always know how to best utilise this time – hopefully these tips will help you start thinking about how you can transform your own work life balance.

Posted by Matthew Kay

Matthew Kay is Director of Vario, from Pinsent Masons

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