How we’re more responsive than other town planning consultants

Chris Pipe, Founder and Director at Planning House was asked to explain how flexible working benefits her team of town planning consultants, growing the business and how this approach should be adopted more widely by the North East Chamber of Commerce.

Read about how flexible working benefits our team and clients below.

Planning House operates counter to the traditional working hours mindset, we’re a small team of three with ambitious growth plans.

Our philosophy is family first, this doesn’t mean that our clients suffer or that we’re not available, quite the opposite. Because of our flexible working arrangements our working hours and locations suit the team better meaning they are more responsive and empowered to respond to clients at times when other teams are ‘switched off’.

How did this way of working start for us?

A former colleague of mine Helen Heward wanted to ‘pick my brain’ on setting up her own business. It was obvious when we met for a chat that she wanted to be a planner not start a business. Alarm bells were ringing in my head, why would someone clearly happy in their job look for alternatives. It soon became clear that due to the unwillingness of her employer to allow a move to a more flexible working arrangement to balance Helen’s young family and career, she considered leaving the planning profession, a profession she is passionate about – that’s just simply wrong!

Parents (particularly mothers in our experience) face an incredible amount of pressure at home and in the workplace trying to balance all the demands of both. I know when progressing my career I did not have the quality family time I should have had with my husband and children, and if there is a way to support people so they avoid this compromise then why not take it.

How does this work for us?

Helen joined Planning House on a part time basis and tailors her day/week to suit her family and clients, she has just celebrated a year working in this way. Claire Hattam* also recently joined the team on a similar flexible arrangement, they have the freedom to work in any way they choose with no core hours, whilst we have access to a shared office in Newcastle, it’s rare you will find any of us there. Our team work remotely, from home, and of course in Planning House branded slippers!

This way of working isn’t for everyone, you do miss out to some degree on office camaraderie, and having a set routine including leaving the house for work is important to some people. I impressed this onto Helen and Claire continuously before they joined the team to the point that I’m sure they probably thought I was trying to discourage them from taking the leap. But they both dived in!

What’s the benefits of flexible working?

A happier more empowered workforce means improved productivity, and a wider pool of talent to choose from when it comes to recruiting. I believe the team have a personal investment into the business due to the opportunities flexibility offers and so are more committed to its success. Clients have a more responsive/personal relationship with us than if we worked core hours.

There are obviously benefits for the team such as freedom of choice, less stress juggling career and personal time, no rush hour commute and the encouragement to think independently and not be micromanaged. Mental wellbeing is of paramount importance to the team and being able to flex working patterns really does help to avoid stress.

We do have to be strict to ensure flexible working does not impact home-life, there can be a tendency for lines to be blurred between work and personal time which results in difficulties for the team to switch off, however we encourage the team to set boundaries.

In a nutshell…

Not everyone fits into a 9-5 Monday to Friday mould, however this doesn’t mean they are less passionate about their career. Embracing a way of working to ensure that there is no compromise between work-personal time shouldn’t be an unusual arrangement. The bottom line is that Planning House is built on the firm belief that happier staff equates to happier clients, to quote Richard Branson ‘If you look after your staff they’ll look after your customers. It’s that simple.’

What the team think about flexible working…

“Although we work flexibly, we are no less able! I personally think we’re actually more responsive to client demand! I bet none of our clients switch off at 5pm! Who needs to fit in a 9-5 box when we can create a box that fits us perfectly!”

Helen Heward, Associate

“9-5 is definitely the old way of working and others will catch up to us! Over the last 5 years or so I definitely felt the shift in attitudes to home working, if the trust is there then why shouldn’t it work?”

Claire Hattam, Senior Planner

* Claire embarked on a new adventure from May 2021 leaving the team, we wish her the very best of luck