Flexible working bends outdated rules governing the time and place for getting work done. It helps
employees who want to meld their career with competing responsibilities and interests outside the
office. It is deemed useful to women especially, as they generally shoulder the greater proportion of
In practice, however, employees and organizations are finding that flexible working involves
navigating unforeseen outcomes along the way.
“I vividly remember my daughter being very young and me sitting on the side of the pool trying to
engage in her swimming lesson — and be on a conference call at the same time,” says Pauline Yau,
whose career as a technology consultant spans multinationals, start-ups, and a variety of working
She has also launched a podcast series, The Flexible Movement, which explores pitfalls and
successes of working flexibly. One of the obvious traps is that “on the day you’re not supposed to be
working you end up getting sucked into meetings and calls”, says Ms. Yau. “I ended up doing 100
percent of the role for 80 percent of the pay.”
Culture matters too, she has found. At one start-up, “I had to give up any desire to progress my
career because there was no way I could have moved into . . . a more senior role, because I was the
only one working part-time and people wouldn’t have entertained that.”
In 2012, Ms Yau joined tech group Microsoft as a full-time employee, working from home one day a week.
“It ended up like some form of torture because it was back-to-back conference calls. This was not flexibility,” she says.
Ultimately, her solution was to leave in 2016 to set up as a consultant. “The only way I was going to
achieve the flexibility I really wanted was to work for myself,” she says.