Today I went out for lunch with a very good friend.
We go back a long way. In fact we have know each other since our ‘Magic Circle’ law firm days – when both of us were ridiculously young, ambitious and of course naïve about the corporate world.
It feels like such a long time ago now.
15 years later we are both married with kids and full time jobs.
My friend chose to move away from the private sector and got herself a very cool, senior role in Government.
I chose to stick with Strategy Consulting and eventually found myself a global role that is slightly less client facing and therefore more flexible (when I am not travelling).
Career? Family? Ambition? Can you have it all?
Of course the economics involved in such a decision are quite striking. One moves to a public sector role with an expectation that the hours will be less gruelling, and more compatible with family life. My friend was therefore ok to earn less, with a view that – at least for a few years – she would rather have a job that let’s her balance the many demands of family life etc.
Sometimes I feel that I should have been able to make such a mature decision. Kids first, well that’s sorted then.
But then I have a mild addiction to corporate life and the fun of working for a multi billion dollars, fast-paced organisation. Could I give up all this, or at least compromise? Why couldn’t I be grown up like my friend and many others, and try to get out of the rat race?
Despite the guilt – I decided, over a decade ago, to stick with what I know and like best – with a view that if at some point it becomes unsustainable well… I’d cross that bridge when I get there.
Today for the first time I realised that my pathetic lack of planning was probably was of the best things I ever did for my career
Work has changed
Everything has changed.
Especially in professional services.
In my law firm days I used to work a minimum of 15 hours a day. I used to work weekends, cancel holidays. I even had a friend who had to postpone his own wedding because of a deal!
Now everything is virtually enabled. My team is dotted across the globe. We all travel all the time. The concept of working hours feels like a distant memory.
I used to worry about getting to the office before my boss in the mornings (which meant being at my desk by 6.30am), and there used to be some kind of implicit rule about people leaving after 10pm.
Now work is 24/7.
This can be both a life changing opportunity, or a curse.
It is still intense of course, and there is still too much work to be done. That bit hasn’t changed. But now it is all about results and impact. No one cares if I sit at my desk (err, I don’t even have a desk anymore!) or a coffee shop in my leafy London suburb.
My bag has a laptop, phone, and headset for Skype business calls… Any place with free wi-fi can now be my office for the day. I was hot-desking at the National Portrait Gallery this morning, and took 30 minutes on my way out to check out their latest exhibition. This is work nowadays. And I like it. Because it empowers you to make choices.
But it doesn’t work for everyone
24/7 also means it can be hard to stop.
Emails keep on coming in. The temptation to check my phone every 5 minutes, even in the middle of the night, can be high. Calls sometimes get scheduled for 5am or 11pm.
Where do you find balance in a world where the only person who can make sense of chaos is.. you?
That’s right. It starts with you.
I think that today we have many options to re-think how we work by forgetting about prehistoric concepts like working hours and the old ‘work-life balance’. My boss was very clear the other day: she only cares about results and impact. In short, she doesn’t care about how I work – only outcomes. Amen to that.