In a world that is increasingly connected, at a time when global businesses run 24/7 and when technology means that teams can collaborate effectively even when they are far apart in both distance and time, you might expect that flexible working would be the norm.

Far from it.

In the largest ever study of its kind in the UK, Timewise, the flexible working experts found that 87% of people in the UK were either currently working flexibly or would like to do so.  Men were almost as likely to want some flexibility as women – 84% against 91%.  And yet the same research also found that less than one in ten quality jobs – paying £20,000 ($26,500) are currently advertised as having any flexible working options.

What’s going on?  Why, when the benefits of flexible working seem clear, do so many organisations still use full time, 9 – 5 as the default option when advertising open vacancies?

We hear plenty of objections to requests for flexible working.  

“The client expects us on site all the time”

“Who would pick up the slack for someone working part time?”

“If I offer it to one person, they’ll all want it”

“It’s a 24/7 job” (though we’ve never actually met anyone who works 24/7

Rather than unpick assumptions about client expectations, team effectiveness and leadership capability, we prefer to go back to basics and look at the work that needs doing to question whether that work can indeed be performed by someone working flexibly.  By which we mean an arrangement which is somehow different from the standard 9 – 5, Monday to Friday, in an office 48 weeks a year.

Here’s a different perspective, based on our recent experience with the fabulous Digital Mums who provide companies with permanent or freelance social media managers, pretty much all of whom work flexibly.

So just what is it about a social media manager that makes the job so flexible?

  1. The job is new. It hasn’t been done for the last 100 years by a white collar man or woman working in an office, backed up by a large team underneath him or her.  And being new it doesn’t come with a whole stack of assumptions about how, when & where it needs to get done.
  2. It makes proper & full use of modern technology. You don’t need to be at a desk 9 – 5 to actually make things happen 9 – 5. Actually, technology allows you to make things happen 24/7, even better.  For a social media manager, tools like hootsuite enable messages to be bulk scheduled in advance, to suit the person doing the work whilst at the same time hitting the peak time for audience attraction.
  3. You reward on outcomes, not hours worked. If you take on a freelance social media manager, the rate you pay depends on the number of channels they manage, not on hours worked. Actually, the fewer hours worked for the same output the better, surely.
  4. Those outcomes are easily measurable. Analytical tools let you track critical data – numbers of followers, levels of engagement, reach, impact. All vital & much more relevant than the hours someone put in. “Measure me on output” is a common refrain every time we talk to women who want to combine work with a family and need some flexibility.
  5. Experience out of work is essential. Imagine employing someone to manage your social media channels who only every worked for you & spent every waking hour at a desk in an office. Just how creative would they be?

Not all jobs are new, clearly. But the next time someone asks to work flexibly, just think about whether you’re using old world assumptions to figure out what is & what isn’t possible. We’d venture to suggest that by using the technology that’s out there, rewarding on output & valuing that outside experience could actually render far more jobs flexible than is the case today.


  • Lisa Unwin

    CEO & Co-Founder of the Reignite Academy

    Lisa Unwin, CEO & Co-founder of the Reignite Academy, helping women have long term, sustainable careers. Supporting returners. Banging the drum for women at work. Writing, consulting, speaking, changing things. Mother. Reader. Cyclist. Skier. Co-author of She's Back: Your Guide to Returning to Work