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How to thrive in today's market as a freelancer and parent

Jacqueline Moore-Moroney discusses her advocacy for sustainability, tech and people within the future of work.

Jacqueline Moore-Moroney is the owner of MM Consulting and Change & Engagement Consultant at UBS, Think & Grow Partner, Vinisha, connects with Jacqueline to discuss their shared advocacy for sustainability, digital and people, especially as we navigate the future of work. 

How have you seen work evolve since COVID and how do you see the future of work panning out in the next year or so? 

I see the future of work being more flexible than what it traditionally has been. I've worked in a very remote way for the last six years. But in the last three years since COVID, this is no longer unusual. Many of us are now more inclined to work that way or at least have been forced into working that way. Due to that, people are now seeing the benefits of being more flexible in their working times as well as understanding their need for setting boundaries between work and life.

Remote working and flexible working can come in so many different shapes and sizes, from job sharing, to working permanently from home or a hybrid of home and office work. I think that’s going to become more and more popular because companies are going to realize that they don't have to source employees and contractors from the country that they're based in. They can search all over the world to find the talent that they need.

Do you think start-ups are a good opportunity to get more flexible work? 

Yes. But long-standing companies are also more open to flexible or remote working, the tech industry in particular has been good in this way. Companies of all sizes are realizing that this is what employees are shopping around for. Because flexible work means you can have that dual income without the large expense of childcare, for example. To be more inclusive and gender diverse, they need to provide more flexibility for families and people who want to work outside the traditional 9-5, Monday to Friday business hours.

As a result, we’re witnessing more women starting their own businesses, upskilling to get flexible roles and creating side hustles to fit in with their family lives. Some of these opportunities can only happen with non-traditional working hours and flexible working. 

We’re seeing tech start-ups paving the path and normalizing upskilling, giving people who don’t have those advantage opportunities to pursue their dream role and career, rather than rely on traditional networking. How big of a part do you think upskilling will play in the future of work? 

A big one. For example, when my primary client reduced their budget allowing me to work only 70% of my usual work week, it gave me more time with my family and more time to complete a few intensive university courses online (upskill) and to take on a new client. 

Upskilling, in addition to remote and/or flexible working, is something companies are realizing is very important to employees. But, it’s bigger than that – this is now recognized and normalized in our society. People can study or upskill, start a side hustle and monetize it, all without taking a huge financial hit and taking time away from their full-time job. As a result, there are so many quality courses now available online and on-demand, giving people chances they wouldn’t have even 2-3 years ago. 

And this ties into the importance of an EVP that incorporates L&D opportunities. 

You can see why. Because doing the same thing in a 40-hour/week nine-to-five lifestyle is exhausting! When you finish work, sometimes all you want to do is chill, watch Netflix or have family time, leaving little time to upskill in your own time. So, people are rethinking how they want to work. And flexibility and learning and development can provide opportunities. For example, if you want to take a couple of hours on a Tuesday morning to study and make it up later on, you can! 

It’s nice to see companies finally asking what employees want and how they want to use their working hours. The more freedom you offer for learning and development, the more attractive you appear as a company to work in.

You started a company and work with global teams. Is there an effective way of managing virtual global teams for growth and productivity? 

I do manage teams across the world, in all time zones, which can be very hectic and somewhat exhausting. So, I have a few principles to make sure that this works successfully: 

The first is setting boundaries… and sticking to them! I have my own, but I also encourage the people that I work with to have their own boundaries too. If we’re working with a European stakeholder and we've got people from Chicago logging on at 5am just to be online for a meeting that's also friendly for Singapore colleagues – I will encourage them to come up with a practical, better solution that works for everyone whilst still getting the job done. 

The second is to socialise with each other. It’s hard to do that online, so I make sure to prioritise a 15-mins casual coffee virtual catch-up with the people I work closely with so we can chat about our lives and what’s going on. We have daily huddles with team members located all over the world and every person has to start with how they’re feeling. This builds trust and open communication because in a virtual team this can be difficult. 

For example, I lead by example and am the first to explain that I’m tired because my child didn’t sleep last night and I’m anxious about the big workload I have this week. I’m honest about when I need support. Not everything is roses and nobody is a mind reader, so we need to be okay with asking for help when we need it. 

The third is feedback. I make sure there is always a two-way feedback channel - it’s so important. If I’m your line manager, I expect you to tell me if something isn’t working for you or if I’m micro-managing too much. As much as I would give you feedback on what you need training on or what you’ve done really well. Client feedback is also important to develop, innovate and disrupt. 

We understand now that flexible working is conducive to a productive and growth-mindset culture and that it’s becoming more appealing to employees. But, do you think it’s going to become more of a priority than a high-base salary? 

There are two sides to this. I believe that anyone in the privileged position to pick and choose their role and take a cut in their salary to do a job they love or to work with a company that excites them would enjoy a flexible working culture over a higher salary. 

However, that’s not the case for everyone, especially with the inflation in Australia right now and with what’s going on in Europe. We had an employee in Poland who loved his job and was so apologetic about handing in his notice recently. While we could offer more learning and development, flexibility and a great team to work with, we couldn’t match the money and he had to prioritise his salary for his young family. There will be so many others in a similar position who can’t jump ship just to have a more flexible culture or way of working. 

But, ultimately, yes. I do believe people are becoming more interested in better health and wellbeing packages or flexible working cultures than higher salaries or climbing the corporate ladder. 

How do you envisage company cultures developing as part of the future of work? 

It’s going to be very interesting to see what happens over the next year. As the world goes into the next financial state it’s heading into, I believe it’s the perks that have a bigger impact that will win over employees.

Remember when everyone wanted to work for the BigTech giants with their beer taps, ping-pong and free sushi bars? All these worked well for a time until employees realized they didn't have much time to play ping-pong and the sushi bar and beer taps were only open past 7pm. People are now more aware of what they will jump ship for and it’s no longer for the fun shiny stuff – it’s the things that will impact their personal and professional lives, such as upskilling, flexible and remote working and wellbeing. 

Mental health is obviously part of that – tell me the things you’re seeing when it comes to workplaces and what they’re providing to improve mental wellbeing. 

Burnout is real and it’s a big topic at the moment due to everything that’s going on in Australia and in the world. A lot of people are suffering from burnout and it's not just work-related burnout and stress. It's the toll of working from home without clear boundaries, managing children who are being schooled at home, and not being able to travel or take a holiday and rest. Financial stress from rising interest rates and child care costs. Our colleagues in Poland are also taking in war refugees and looking at how they’re going to heat their homes for winter. 

All of these things are creating a whole new level of burnout that we never thought we’d see in our lifetime. This is why the idolising of long hours, late nights and hopping on calls when you should be sleeping must change.

One of my clients gives free access to a mental health app with a free, confidential employee assistance hotline for every country. It’s not just for you but for family members as well. They saw a spike in people using it over the last few years. But some still felt uneasy about using it, thinking it could prevent their promotion chances. Remember, there’s still a lot of stigma around mental health. 

Around the world, I’m hearing of more and more people leaving companies and high staff turnover due to burnout and limited resources. Managers are saying: “take the time off if you need it”. It sounds good, but then someone has to cover that role as well as do their own job. So it’s a catch-22 situation.

The real solution is pre-empting the burnout before it happens and that means addressing your needs as a business and understanding your employees’ output whilst encouraging them to be honest about what they need. Most of the time, they need more people or better processes to support the workload. 

Before I joined Think & Grow, I had the privilege of taking much-needed time off where I traveled, spent time with family and reflected on what my next step was. My bank account wasn't happy but I felt completely renewed compared to what I felt before and I can’t imagine how I would have started this role, wholeheartedly if I didn’t take this time off. 

It’s exhausting – not just for the people experiencing burnout but the people who have to pick up the slack when someone takes time off. These people also have family or other personal and professional commitments. There needs to be a better way. 

It’s everywhere though, so it’s hard to escape. We want things done better, faster, smarter. So, I think there’s a whole education piece around being clear and communicating your needs. A lot of people are too scared to say they need help, they messed up or they won’t meet the deadline. My advice is to just be human and authentic about it and not be too harsh with your own expectations. That way other people won’t either. 

Especially in the start-up space where you’re always trying to prove yourself. This goes for every single role. And if you have a culture where everyone is working like crazy they’re all trying to work to this impossible standard that has been set, no one feels worthy enough to take breaks. 

Silent resignation or “quiet quitting” is being talked about a lot right now – where you do exactly what your job description says and within the hours that you are paid to work. You can continue to excel at your job, but you’re not doing the overtime hours to do it. I wish I knew that I could do this when I was “burning the candle at both ends” in my early banking career. 

And, I think people are realising that you can be ambitious and progress your career in a non-traditional way. For example, in my early 20s, my goal was to be a CEO by the time I’m 40. I fully expected to work long hours and in roles I didn’t like to climb that corporate ladder. Well, for the past five years, I’ve felt more challenged and had annual pay increases with every new project I’ve taken on even though I’m a contractor and in the gig economy. I’m the founder and CEO of my own business, taking time off when I need to and doing work that I really enjoy. I’m no longer climbing the traditional corporate ladder but I’m still progressing and I feel rewarded every day. 

You and your partner have a dynamic where you work evenings because your time zones are different and he works more during the traditional work hours. Are you seeing more of a trend or upward scale with people heading into the gig economy in order to get that flexibility? 

We certainly see the advantages of one of us working in the gig economy and one of us having a more traditional and stable income. Some weeks are harder and require compromise - which is why communication, planning and boundaries are so important. But when it works, our family thrives. 

I also think working this way is not as unusual or as ‘new’ as we think. For example, my parents shared parental duties when my mother was a nurse working nights and my dad was an engineer working days. Like me and my partner, there are a lot of parents who have made similar arrangements work for them. And, the increasing popularity of the gig economy and flexible working means that people are feeling more confident to work in a less traditional way. 

It’s not for everyone and sometimes it doesn’t work out when the kids are sick or at home. Parenting your kids all day and working nights while they sleep is hard - and there’s a large population of parents who worked full time while homeschooling their kids during COVID-19 lockdowns who can agree with that. Living like that is a recipe for burnout and probably turned many people off working flexibly. 

How can people and companies shift their priorities and make adjustments so that they avoid burning out?

For employers, it’s addressing the business needs, making sure you have the right budget and planning for shortages. I’ve worked with a client on a project that was so under-budgeted, under-skilled and under-resourced that many of us worked many overtime hours in roles that we were not equipped to do to get it over the line. 

I realised, after successfully finishing my part of the project and taking some time to assess what went wrong, that it’s not my fault if clients aren’t prepared. But, as an employee, it’s hard to know how to avoid getting stuck in that position. I’m still learning, but I think we need to understand the business goals, prioritize tasks and push back when we need to. 

Tell me more about being parents and both having demanding jobs and career goals and preventing burnout despite having so much to do daily. 

This is a great question. I don’t know how to do it successfully because we’re still working it out, week-by-week and year-by-year. There needs to be a lot of communication, compromise, flexibility and forgiveness when we get it wrong. 

First, we try to work out what we want and what our priorities are - in our careers and our personal lives. I’d like to expand my business next year, my husband wants to continue to work at 80%, and we both want to do more travel while the kids are young. So, we’ve agreed to do a smaller renovation on our house to avoid the pressure of a bigger mortgage (and more working hours) and so we can afford a camper trailer for more holidays. I think that’s a win! 

It’s so important not to underestimate the importance of communication, fixing schedules, flexible working hours and finding childcare solutions that suit your family. And to remember that your life and priorities will look very different to other people’s - and that’s okay!  

What advice do you have for people who are looking to return to work after taking time off? 

Upskill. Be flexible. And consider alternate options. Let’s say you took time off to have a baby and one year didn’t feel like enough, so it ended up being more like 3-5 years off. This is when skills are being lost and confidence has depleted because you feel out of touch with the current working world and where you fit into it. 

Going back part-time, casually or flexibly means you can keep the childcare costs manageable as well as give yourself the time to up or re-skill. This could be huge for the future economy of work because we’d see thousands of people gaining new skills, introducing creative ideas and building their confidence in returning to work. 

Thanks to Jacqueline Moore-Moroney and Vinisha Rathod, Partner at Think & Grow.


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