I’ve lived with an autoimmune disease since the age of 18. This means that I experience joint swelling which can make it painful to walk, let alone commute across London, and itchiness which makes working in an office environment hugely uncomfortable.
And yet, pre-COVID and mass WFH, this was the working reality I was faced with.
Things got really bad when I was working in a demanding investment banking role. Stressed and unable to fit in exercise around work (which I rely on to relieve inflammation, for mentally decompressing, and for the preventative powers of a little work-life balance), my flare-ups became unbearable. Finally I was left with no option but to speak with my employer.
It was a reasonable request: to work from home roughly one day a week. And yet it led to my being sacked.
My employer’s initial response – rather than simply to believe that I knew my body best, and how I work best – was to send me to an occupational therapist for an assessment. Their recommendation was that I registered as disabled to protect me from discrimination.
Shocked & naive
I was shocked. Perhaps I was also naive, because just 10 days later I was presented with a settlement package, asked to sign an NDA, and told to leave immediately.
It was crushing – it was the very discrimination I didn’t think I needed protecting from. But it also set me on a path to where I am today.
Whilst looking for my next role, I discovered how little transparency exists about flexibility: whether it’s available at all and, if so, to what extent. Vague offers of ‘flexible options’ on job adverts were sometimes only actually available on request, and other times only granted in line with staff tenure, or as an exception. It felt uncomfortable, uncertain and alienating as a job seeker.
Meanwhile, my partner – now also my business partner – Maurice was running into the same problem from the opposite standpoint. He’d had the benefit of flexibility in his last role, and wanted assurance that his next job would enable him to work in the same way. But there was little to distinguish an employer like my ex, from one an employer like his ex. And from countless interactions with other workers, I knew we weren’t the only ones looking for the latter.
So Maurice and I, alongside our CTO and third co-founder Tim Leppard, built Flexa Careers in 2019: a platform designed to create transparency around flexibility, and empower all those who want it to discover what companies really offer.
Entirely by coincidence, the launch coincided with the work-from-home revolution. This meant that our user base quickly grew from those who have long relied on remote work to accommodate health conditions (like me) or to accommodate childcare, to encompass the newly converted, too. They included people who were simply discovering that offices aren’t their only option, and that, for whatever reason, working elsewhere suited them better. The platform itself has also had to evolve to encompass – beyond remote work – the many other different meanings which flexible work has come to take on since the pandemic.
Flexibility could mean starting and finishing work earlier or later, or working summer hours. Or it could mean access to a dog-friendly office, access enhanced parental or fertility leave, or even access to unlimited annual leave. We’ve built a system based on hundreds of thousands of data points, which vets and verifies all these flexible benefits and more.
The 4-day week & WFA
That the platform is now able to showcase so many different companies offering so many different benefits is a testament to how far company culture has come since I was fired for asking to work from home. They’re part of a movement of companies big and small who are joining trials of four-day weeks, and embracing year-round work from anywhere schemes. But I worry about the companies hitting the headlines for the opposite reasons.
Too many employers elsewhere still subscribe to the myth that presenteeism equates to productivity, and are using this as a justification to ramping up back-to-office mandates. Amongst their ranks, who knows how many people wanting to work differently might be vulnerable right now – just as I was all those years ago.
We’ve come a long way, but we still haven’t come far enough. Flexible work is the future. Employers who are struggling to attract and retain staff need to realise that they can either adapt and embrace it – and reap the rewards of more engaged and fulfilled workforces – or be left behind.