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Eight years ago, I returned to work as a bid writer, after taking maternity leave with my first child. Going back to work was daunting. Sorting out child care, worrying how my child (and I) would cope, on top of returning to a bidding world that doesn’t stop, felt overwhelming.
When I returned to work, I managed to negotiate a job share. A colleague was already working three days a week, and I asked to work the remaining two. We were the first job share in a company of 4,000 employees, and since my colleague left, I haven’t heard of another. Part-time positions and job shares in this industry seem to be rare. Since I had my child, I have seen two part-time roles come up — two, in eight years.
The bidding world seems to think that to be a dedicated professional, you must never leave the office, that you must work through every weekend and avoid taking time off, especially when a deadline is looming. When I worked full-time, I managed five or six projects at once and would stay at my desk until they were complete, working late and coming in early whenever necessary. But this is not sustainable for anyone, let alone someone with additional caring responsibilities. The result is an industry that is stressed, overworked and burned out.
The COVID-19 pandemic has added another layer of complexity, specifically for women who are caregivers. McKinsey reports that globally, job losses for women due to the pandemic are 1.8 times greater than men’s jobs. A McKinsey and Lean In survey of North American female employees found one in four women were thinking of reducing their hours or leaving the workforce completely. The reasons given were company inflexibility, caring responsibilities and stress.
Working part-time has given me the ability to navigate this, in addition to working for a company (and, specifically, a supportive boss) that allows me to be completely flexible with my working hours when I need to be. Since going back to work, I found the following practices have helped me negotiate our around-the-clock bidding lives. These have enabled me to get my projects done from start to finish, as I always did, just more efficiently with my hit rate going up, not down.
Focusing on planning and organizing. The most important aspects of working part-time are having a plan and being organized. When I returned to work, my job share co-worker and I wrote a process we would follow on every job: We identified issues, contacts and problem questions, set standards for formatting, abbreviations, grammar, etc., and developed a color code of highlights, so when either of us opened the document, we would instantly know what stage the project was in. Any note I may have written in a work diary or notebook when I was full-time, was now included within the document.
A handover email was sent by each of us, further detailing exactly what had happened during our time working on the project and noting what aspects were outstanding.
Letting those you are working with know when you will be around also is a must. This avoids the frustration of “I called, and you weren’t there.” In addition, setting clear deadlines upfront is imperative to keeping everyone on track, especially you. This also is the time to spot any pinch points or issues that may slow you down. I no longer procrastinate; the ticking clock motivates me as I do my best work with a deadline.
Being efficient. Since my job share co-worker left, I have kept the system we developed together. The color-coded system may cause some of my co-workers horror due to its eye-watering brightness, but it saves me considerable time. It is simple: Anything standard is yellow, items sent to the main contact I am working with is blue, subject-matter experts are green, time-consuming questions are pink, and red is reserved for questions that I know are a problem.
I still always make notes and keep them in the document — when did I send an email, to whom and regarding what? This helps me avoid wasting a few minutes here and there searching for something.
Creating designated work hours. I am not sure how our industry became so positive about working outside office hours. Working late into the night is sometimes seen as a job well done, yet getting your work done in your designated hours should be the pinnacle of success. Anything else indicates a problem, most likely that the resources are not there.
I am strict with my hours. When I am in the office, I must be focused. Child care closing does not wait, so I must leave on time. I found myself regularly checking and replying to work emails outside office hours, so I have turned off email notifications on my phone. There is no work-life balance if work slips into your home life every day.
Communicating with colleagues on a different work schedule. The joy of modern technology is that there is a multitude of communication options open to us. COVID-19 has pushed this further, with increased use of virtual platforms. People who refused to use such media beforehand now have had to, as there is no other choice.
Before the pandemic, email was my preferred communication choice. I could fire off a message detailing what I needed, with a note (if it was outside business hours) saying there was no need to reply until they were back in the office. Just because I work different hours, I do not expect my co-workers to. When working two days a week, it helped — coming back after five days — to find a list of delivery receipts to quickly remind me what was outstanding.
When I make calls, I tend to make them in the morning when I know my co-workers will be settled in, yet early in my day, in case they need to return my call. I also make use of a company messenger system, and I find myself consciously making an effort to keep in touch, as it would be easy to become isolated on my short days working from home when time is at a premium.
Participating in job sharing. My job share worked well, and I loved it. My colleague and I quickly fell into an efficient routine, helped, no doubt, by each of us preferring different aspects of the job. Any of the apparent catch-points of part-time working — being unavailable on certain days or learning work hours — were removed. Having a constant proofreader was a great bonus as well. The benefits seem obvious, yet it hasn’t been adopted again, nor have I been offered such an option by any recruitment agent.
The industry seems to be missing a trick. With a job share, you get two perspectives for the price of one. In our 24/7 bidding world, you have someone to sense check and keep you on track. Most importantly, you have someone to share the stress with, who understands what it is like to constantly multitask as well as how it feels to have colleagues assume your days out of the office are simply “long weekends.”
Prioritizing my caring responsibilities hasn’t changed my feelings about my career; it has just meant I have needed to adapt. Working part-time has allowed me to successfully continue in the career I love, while being able to be the mother I want to be and my children need me to be. It has allowed me to prioritize what is important at work and at home and to enjoy all the roles I hold in my life.
Polly Dauncey, CP APMP, is a bid writer for a global construction, civil engineering and facilities management company. She has 14 years of bid and proposal writing experience. Her focus has been in the construction market, where she has supported hundreds of proposal efforts, including multimillion-pound framework submissions.