As we closed the office door, Claire and I high-fived. After a year of research, redrafting a business case and patiently waiting, we had finally got what we wanted. A job share.
We were the first-ever joint heads of internal communication at Lloyds Banking Group. That was nearly four years ago and since then we have gone from strength-to-strength working together. We are currently entering the next phase of our joint career: looking for an external role as a job share.
Back in 2014, before we started our partnership, we were both working part time, four days a week, as heads of internal communication for different parts of Lloyds Banking Group. I had two young children and needed to spend more time with them. In trying to work out how to do this with my mentor, we wondered about a job share.
Claire and I had worked as peers for some years and she was the only head of internal communication working part time. So I approached her to see whether, by any wild chance, she wanted to job share with me. Outside of work, Claire had been volunteering for a long time and amazingly wanted to increase her volunteering hours. A year later, once we had won approval with our business case, our partnership started.
Through our network, we were put in touch with two senior job sharers in the civil service. The job share that Claire and I developed was significantly influenced by their experience. They, like us, each work three days a week and advised us to share rather than split the role.
They explained that in order to share, we needed a very robust governance around our week so that we were seamless in front of all our stakeholders.
What this means in practice is that Claire starts the week off by reading my updated status report on Monday morning. It details all the important conversations I have had, all the decisions I have taken and any news that she needs to know about.
The handover also includes a list of actions. Claire works Monday to Wednesday and on Tuesday afternoon, she writes me an update which I read before meeting her on Wednesday. Wednesday is our crossover day and typically we organise any important meetings then with our team and the executives we are working for. Claire heads home at the end of the day and I work the rest of the week, finishing it off by updating the status report for her.
Developing a double act
Our first role was as joint heads of internal communication for group executive functions. We had a small communication team and we business partnered several Lloyds Banking Group executives. We knew that they were wondering how the job share would work. Over time, we realised that they actually enjoyed having both of us. We brought different strengths and a broader range of options to them.
The thoroughness of our handovers meant that a conversation with one of us was relayed to the other. Claire and I had agreed very early on that any decision taken by one of us, would be supported by the other. This was important for our bosses and our team.
Two years later, our next job was as joint heads of the group corporate affairs creative team, where we led a much larger team. By this time we had fine-tuned the job share. In our old team, our direct reports had reported into both of us. But their experience was that this was confusing. In our new team we divided our direct reports between us. This enabled each of us to form closer relationships with them.
Although we share the job, we do of course, play to our strengths. Sometimes one of us will lead a project because they have more relevant experience. Sometimes one of us will lead because they want more experience. And, sometimes one of us will coach a team member because they are more skilled in the particular topic.
Pros and cons
So what are the benefits and pitfalls of job sharing? Lloyds Banking Group values diversity, classifying 90 per cent of its roles as agile. It estimates that job sharers are significantly more productive than other colleagues. Job sharers can also be offered larger roles because many, like us, work six days a week rather than five.
The benefits to Claire and I have been huge. Part time workers will know how hard it is to not work on their days off. When I come back into the office on Wednesdays, having switched off completely from work, everything has been taken care of.
Claire and I trust each other completely and are confident that the decisions that are taken when we are not there are the right ones. We work harder and to higher standards because we do not want to let the other one down. Claire often says that one of us has an idea and the other one makes it better. We have so many examples of that working in practice. We can apply both our brains, skills and experience to solve problems. And we have a lot of fun together.
"We work harder and to higher standards because we do not want to let the other one down."
Of course, it has not all been plain sailing. We have built in a quarterly thinking day. A few days before our thinking day, we solicit feedback from our stakeholders about how the job share is working so that we can enhance it. And we do encounter scepticism. Especially as we look for our next role externally.
Someone recently told us that we would be “double the risk”. We believe we are double the opportunity. In fact, going forward in the digital economy, robots will do the ordinary, and people will do the extraordinary. With two collaborative minds, we believe this creates even more extraordinary opportunities.
Visit Claire and Louise at www.poweroftwo.net.
3 things to consider if you want flexible work
by Jane Johnson, Managing Director, Feel Communications
- Stop thinking 9-5: the biggest mistake is to think jobs are done part or full-time. Global business is transacted 24/7. So thinking 9-5, Monday-Friday is as outdated as the chequebook. Explore aspects of the role that could be done flexibly and would benefit both the business and the employee. If you always miss that US call because it’s at 8pm, someone else could cover but might start and finish later.
- Be creative: output not hours put in. Do you need someone in by 9am five days a week? Few jobs can be done in three days. But if you’re creative or consider applications from jobsharers, you’ll attract more high calibre candidates and two brains are always better than one.
- Nothing is forever: this is often unchartered territory especially for an SME. What if a client calls on your day off? Will the floodgates open and everyone make a flexible request? How will you keep in touch with the office? Every employer’s challenges are different. Doing a three month trial gives both employer and employee a better picture of the reality of flexible work.