Flexible working, and steering away from the traditional 9-5 structure, has a central role to play in increasing productivity and enhancing workplace equality. COVID-19 has posed intense challenges for the UK’s working parents and carers and, according to a recent Working Families survey, an ‘overwhelming majority’ of care givers ‘do not want their employer to revert to business as usual after lockdown is lifted’. By welcoming flexible working provisions, experts agree that the UK has an opportunity to enhance workplace equality and re-evaluate working lives.

On 21st April 2021, IDEA at Oxford hosted a webinar on the timely topic of ‘Working Flexibly’. This webinar was proposed and led by Sarah Haywood, Director of Advanced Oxford and Executive Director of MedCity. Sarah discussed flexible working as a crucial tool for career success and provided personal highlights from her varied career in the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), and the UK health sciences sector, with leadership roles in companies including London and Partners and MedCity.

Sarah shared top tips for using flexible working patterns to maximise productivity and to ensure that busy professional lives could be balanced with childcare-friendly schedules. Sarah’s advice is incredibly timely, especially with the BEIS expanding the remit of its Flexible Working Task Force to focus on COVID-19 and developing policies to support employers offering flexible working.

As an experienced mentor, Sarah’s top tips relate to professionals at all career stages and focus on setting realistic, sustainable working patterns. Highlights include:

Set your own boundaries and respect them.

Set clear expectations with colleagues and teams over your working patterns which may vary according to professional and managerial responsibilities. Sarah advised on the importance of setting and committing to boundaries around the working day (eg. avoiding sending out-of-hours emails). Be clear when your team can contact you to meet occasional non-negotiable deadlines and ensure you sign off at the end of working days.

Set priorities and to-do lists at the beginning of working weeks and stick to them.

To-do lists help professionals structure their working week and ensure that working hours are dedicated to key priorities. Workplaces offer a range of distractions and it is easy to focus on activities which are not key responsibilities of your role. Weekly lists assist in ensuring completion of key tasks and punctual logging off at the end of the working week.

If you manage a team, don’t micromanage.

As a manager, building an effective team is essential. Ensure that you’re not micromanaging or doing your supervisees’ work. Your job is to provide environments which empower them to work effectively and take responsibility for their roles.

Book diary times for essential tasks.

Working hours can often be used for face-to-face time with colleagues and leading important tasks. However, this means that essential administrative tasks may fall off the radar, requiring you to catch up on administration and email outside work. Be sure to book calendar time for low-level, yet necessary, tasks.

Finally, manage devices and keep work emails off your personal phone.

It’s very tempting, and sometimes standard workplace practice, to set up work email alerts on personal devices. This is detrimental to work-life balance and can result in distractions during rest time essential for productivity during working hours. Keep work emails off your phones and enjoy time off.

Sarah provided valuable insights into the necessity of flexibility working for workplace equality. Professionals should respect both their own and colleagues’ time and set boundaries to prioritise workplace productivity and support thriving professional and personal.


IDEA and Enterprising Oxford has a fantastic calendar of events focusing on women in startups, business and entrepreneurship in Oxfordshire. Search Enterprising Oxford’s events calendar and sign-up to the IDEA mailing list and join the IDEA LinkedIn group so we can keep you informed about upcoming events.

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