What’s your #Workstyle? Are you judged on outcomes — or where you sit?

Toby Mildon
Jan 18, 2019 · 6 min read

I’ve been very fortunate to have worked for organisations that’ve embraced agile and flexible working. Some of these organisations overtly promote their agile working principles like Deloitte and some quietly get on with it. Working in such agile environments has been a blessing for me given the added complexities of living with a disability.

Agile working is a way of working in which an organisation empowers its people to work where, when and how they choose — with maximum flexibility and minimum constraints — to optimise their performance and to do their best work

There have been occasions when my wheelchair has broken down, I’ve been stranded at home but could continue my job over Wi-Fi. Or the many occasions I’ve had a chest infection (due to the respiratory issues with Spinal Muscular Atrophy) but could keep on top of my work through my mobile devices! But despite working for supportive and understanding managers (in these agile work environments) I usually felt a sense of guilt or of letting people down if I arrived late to meetings or missed a deadline due to disability-related issues.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

One of the reasons I set up my own Diversity & Inclusion Agency was to have 100% flexibility and more control over my #Workstyle. Alongside developing my own business, I’m part of the Hoxby Collective as they’re radically reshaping work by creating a new model that is inherently without bias, so it becomes less about diversity and inclusion per se, and more about everyone being judged equally on the output they deliver.

Despite working for myself, this week, I faced my fear again of letting people down and not being good enough. But was quickly reminded about the advantages and necessity of agile working. I was to spend a morning in Canary Wharf meeting contacts at Clifford Chance and KPMG. I live in south-west London about a 10 mile drive from Canary Wharf, over one hour in rush-hour traffic and a very expensive taxi fare. I really did not want to face rush-hour madness on the tube or the trains. How on earth was I going to get to my meetings on time?

Then genius struck! My boyfriend reminded me that we only live a three minute walk from the River Thames and that I could get a boat to Canary Wharf!! I could cruise along the river at speed, no crowds, a cup of tea on board and it’s practically door-to-door! And with my London Freedom Pass my PA and I can travel at half price! I told myself that this had to be the ultimate #Workstyle. I wasn’t wrong. I posted a picture of me on LinkedIn from the deck of the boat and received over 6200 views!…

I managed to get on the boat but I couldn’t actually get in it! My wheelchair is fitted with a “bolt” underneath, which secures me into my car when travelling as a passenger. If you are wondering why somebody didn’t drive me to Canary Wharf then this is a very good question — but none of my PAs currently drive. When I tried passing through the door of the boat the “bolt” got caught and stuck on the ridge of the door. Since I couldn’t get into the boat I spent the whole journey (about 45 minutes) sat on the freezing, blustery and damp deck outside — it was about 8°C, partly sunny and 11 mph winds. By the time we got to Canary Wharf my hands was so cold that I could not drive my wheelchair. This is what I call the SMA Claw.

I managed to get off the boat (and the pilot had to manoeuvre the vessel for me especially because I couldn’t get my wheelchair through the door, through the cabin, to the exit) I made a beeline for the café beside the pier. I had one thing on my mind and that was to warm up so I could join a conference call that was about to begin, which ironically, was about the physical disabilities campaign with Hoxby.

Entering the café was amazing! I think they could see I was frozen half to death and made me a cup of tea. I was desperate for the toilet (probably induced by the cold winds) but the café (as is rather common) was using the disabled toilet as a storage facility. They sheepishly cleared out the toilet (but left several bottles of olive oil and the vacuum cleaner behind).

Feeling somewhat relieved by now, I returned to the table and quickly wrapped my hands around a hot cup of tea that the barista had prepared for me. I only had seconds to go before I was due to join the conference call. But my hands were so cold that I could not operate my iPhone to log in to Google Hangouts. If I was going to get any work done that morning my priority was to get my hands functioning again. By the time my fingers could wiggle, I had missed the conference call and so I sent an apologetic message to my team on Slack:

The grammatical and spelling mistakes in the above was because I was using Siri to type the message whilst my hands were wrapped around a hot cup of tea!

I am so thankful that my Hoxby colleagues were so understanding and supportive:

I had to remind myself that I’m my own boss! That I mustn’t beat myself up because of my physical limitations and that I must focus on creating value rather than where I’m sat or what hours I put in.

Living with a disability does add complexity to my working life. But then again it’s no different to people who have young children and need flexibility around school pickups, or somebody who is caring for an elderly parent, or somebody who juggles other roles like being a magistrate or in the territorial Army.

The fundamental lesson here is that individuals and businesses flourish when they fully embrace flexible and agile working. They trust individuals to do the right thing, they trust them to do their best work, they are not judged on how many hours they work or where they physically sit. Lots of organisations are flexible but with some caveats like a restriction on how often somebody can work from home, or that the technology is not as good as it could be (so people don’t have the tools to do their job wherever they are). Companies that embrace 100% flexible working (like Hoxby) will be the organisations that flourish in the future.

If you would like to talk to Toby about how to improve agile and flexible working in your business or how to support your disabled employees — please do get in touch with him at toby@mildon.co.uk.

Toby Mildon

Written by

Diversity & Inclusion Architect. I like psychology, tech, ideas, design and food (esp. curry). Live with SMA.

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