Flexible working has always had a place in the fast-paced world of business events. Our clients often need us around the clock, so it’s the nature of event organisation that there is requirement to work long hours, late nights, be flexible with weekend availability and take calls 24/7. Yes, flexible working is rife throughout our industry, the problem is that traditionally all the flexibility has been provided by employees, not employers. If the increased productivity promise of better work life balance is to be achieved, this arrangement is going to have to become a little more two-way.
Flexible working—the policy of allowing employees to work flexible hours (whether that’s job sharing, working from home, working part time, compressed hours or flexi time) rather than 9-5, is said to make people more productive, because they are better rested, feel more positive about their work and suffer less stress. The challenge to achieve flexible working in the MICE sector however, is that we really do need to be there for our clients whenever they need us, and with so many events taking place overseas and in different time zones, this can be at any time of the day.
The advantages to businesses offering flexible working is that they have a greater pool of employees to choose from. Talented people are being kept out of the work place, or forced to work part-time in low skilled jobs, due to other commitments, such as parenting (especially for women) preventing them from working ‘normal’ hours in the office. These skilled and valuable people can be attracted back to our industry, if the working conditions are made to work for them. Widespread flexible working would be good for the business events sector. A balance must be found.
- Is technology the answer?
While digital technology is enabling the stressful ‘always-on’ culture, if combined with four other important factors (planning, organisation, discipline and delegation), it may also present a solution.
Look at technology as a liberation; we no longer need to be in the office to work, take calls or meet colleagues. All of this can be done from pretty much anywhere using our laptops and mobile devices. This freedom to work anywhere anytime is a good thing for flexible working, it just needs to be controlled so that when we’re working from home, we’re only doing the hours we want, and this is where planning comes in.
- Make a plan
Planning is all about knowing the outcome you want to achieve and putting the steps in place to ensure you achieve them. So, decide how many hours a day you would like to work, which times of the day you are ‘online’ and where you will be. Sync that with reality and then do the same thing with your personal life, covering what you want to achieve and when you want to be doing it. Be aware though, that it may not be perfect. You’ll likely need to redo your plan often as things will change, and some juggling of priorities and delegating tasks at the last minute may be involved, but you’re an events professional and organisation is your thing – you can do this!
- Remember the key word is ‘flexible’
Remember, this is flexible working, so if a client really wants to call you for a 15-20-minute project update at 9pm, is it really such a big deal? Yes, if it happens more often than you feel comfortable with and eats into more of your evening than you are prepared to accept, but not if it’s only occasionally and the trade-off is some time off during the working day, when it suits you. If you’ve been organised and supplied your clients with all the information they need before you switch off for the evening, these calls need only happen on rare occasions.
- Be disciplined
When you find the realities of working life in the events industry are making their presence felt and ruining your flexible working plan, you will find discipline is the key. Give yourself the power to recognise the problem and say ‘no’ if necessary (to the situation, not your client) and see if there is a better way to manage it for the longer term, rather than just accepting the situation.
Delegation is often referred to as an art, and it’s a useful skill to master to help maximise team productivity as well as free up more of your precious time. When done well, delegation should allow you to work on things that you excel in, build team morale by providing team members with interesting and exciting tasks to help them grow, and help the whole team get results faster. Successful delegation requires ensuring that the person you’re delegating to has the skills to do the job well, that they clearly understand what’s being asked of them, with dates for when you will check in with them and a deadline for when the work is due by. The other trick is to ensure the tasks are interesting (no one likes a manager who dumps all the boring tasks on them!). And don’t forget that tasks can also be delegated up; if there is someone in your organisation with specialist skills in a certain area, they may be the better person for the job.
Finally, view your working life itself flexibility – it is a work in progress, and something that you will get better at over time by applying the principles of planning, organisation, delegation and discipline. Review your successes and identify where you still have changes to make. Eventually you will find it all comes together naturally as you achieve the working flexibility you desire.