Single dad Simon says working flexibly in exec level job at Cisco has made him a happier person and a more loyal employee
When your boss tells you not to bother coming into the office, that might sound like bad news.
But for Simon Gray of tech giant Cisco it was anything but.
When Simon became a father his enlightened employer insisted he rethink his working day. He explains, “She understood that fatherhood was going to change my outlook, she said ‘I don’t want you in the office if you don’t need to be there, you’ve got a long commute so work from home and have that time with your baby instead’.
“That is quite typical of the tech sector, it’s a west coast, Silicon Valley kind of approach but it’s increasingly necessary.”
Simon is regional head of executive talent acquisition for Cisco giving him a particularly clear vantage point when it comes to seeing changes in the way we work. He knows what works when it comes to attracting talent to the company, and he knows what works for him as a single parent who shares custody of his toddler daughter.
His job title only hints at the extent of his responsibilities. He may be a ‘regional head’ but his region covers basically everything east of New York – over 100 countries.
Increasingly firms like Cisco need a new lure to fish in that big pool of potential employees.
“When you look at the demand for talent in the tech sector, we have to fight to get good people to come across and join us. Opening the chequebook and offering a big salary in return for a 70 hour week just doesn’t work,” he explains. “The question candidates ask of us these days is ‘what’s the culture like at your company?’
“If you want to attract the talent you must do things differently.”
That means dumping old ideas like presenteeism and fixed hours. “The approach to management is very much ‘you know the objectives, you know the outcomes and you know what you’re doing so run your team as you see fit. That breeds a very strong sense of loyalty.
“There’s an understanding that you have a life beyond work. There’s an old saying: ‘If you’ve got a happy wife you’ve got a happy life’. It’s an old-fashioned way of saying it but it reflects that idea that if your home life is stable then that’s better for the business.”
Perhaps inevitably given he works for Cisco Simon cites technology as a key part of changing work patterns.
“A lot of my team’s focus is on candidate shortlists and CVs and the like – we can do those meetings virtually. As long as I have a laptop and an internet connection or a personal hotspot on my phone I can work anywhere.”
That flexibility courtesy of the technology is clearly vital when Simon has to travel. But the flipside of that is that the rest of the time he can work from home and make his job fit round his three-year-old.
He talks about knocking off for a bit to take her to nursery or attend an event or simply to spend a morning with her knowing he can pick up his work in the evening once she’s asleep and no-one will judge him for it.
“I have friends that do 9 to 5 or later every day and they are tired out at the weekend and they don’t want to do anything.
“Flexibility has enabled me to be there and to be present from the moment my daughter was born. I didn’t miss her first steps or her first words, to borrow the Cisco slogan: I was there for the moments that matter.”
And vitally his work hasn’t suffered of course. “Home based working is often more effective than being in the office.”
When his relationship broke down Simon became a single dad with sole responsibility for his daughter for half of the week. Again work has flexed to accommodate his new circumstances understanding and accepting that he has different demands on the days he’s with his daughter to the days when she’s with her mum.
The tech sector has been focussed in recent years on bringing more women on board, opening up the traditionally male-dominated industry to new people perhaps in part because it’s the right thing to do but also largely because there’s a competitive advantage in employing people with a broad range of experiences and outlooks.
Simon thinks single dads can bring a vital perspective to the diversity and inclusion agenda.
He says, “Diversity and inclusion isn’t just about bringing women on board – it’s about orientation, race, creed, colour and everything else. Single dads come into that, they are becoming more prevalent.”
The influx of female employees may have been the spur for tech bosses to start thinking about issues like working hours but the side effect is that men can make use of the same policies. Now men demand something more than the 9 to 5.
“It’s easy to be chained to your iPhone 24/7,” says Simon. “But people don’t want that anymore and it’s leading to different working patterns.
“The world is changing, there’s a greater level of awareness that there are different ways of doing things. A lot of that is down to the advent of social media, people are more aware of what makes people happy. Finance, houses, cars are good but are they worth it if they come at the cost of time with your family? What makes a happy life?
“There’s been a cultural shift and people are reevaluating what’s important to them.”