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How to ace being a Content Leader when you work part-time

Molly Whitehead-Jones shares her experience and practical advice on being an effective part-time content leader, emphasizing the importance of setting clear boundaries, empowering your team, and creating processes that enable smooth collaboration.

Welcome back to another inspiring installment of our Perspectives series! Today, we're thrilled to share with you the insightful presentation by Molly Whitehead-Jones, Lead Content Strategist and former Content Designer at Co-op, based in Manchester, UK. In her talk, Molly dives deep into her experience and practical advice on being an effective part-time content leader, focusing on the importance of setting clear boundaries, empowering your team, and creating processes that enable smooth collaboration. Get ready to explore the challenges and opportunities that come with leading a team while working part-time and discover strategies for making it work successfully.

[Title correct at the time of recording]

Meet our speaker

Photo of Molly Whitehead-Jones
Molly Whitehead-JonesLead Content Strategist, Co-op

A former copywriter and content designer, Molly has more than 16 years’ experience in content and has worked with organisations including Brother, HMV, PDSA, British Council, TransPennine Express, Hillarys, AstraZeneca, Woodland Trust and Amnesty International. She joined Co-op in 2019 and is currently Lead Content Strategist in the Customer Experience team, working in partnership with colleagues across the business to create seamless journeys that solve customer problems and improve their experience.

[Title correct at the time of recording]

Photo of Molly Whitehead-Jones
Molly Whitehead-Jones

About this talk

In this presentation, Molly Whitehead-Jones shares her experience and practical tips on being a part-time content leader. Using examples from her own journey of working part-time since coming back from maternity leave in 2016, Molly talks about the challenges and opportunities that come with leading a team while working fewer hours.

Throughout her talk, Molly stresses how important it is to set clear boundaries and let your team and colleagues know when you're working. She encourages part-time leaders to own their schedule and not apologize for not being available all the time, while still recognizing how their reduced hours might affect the team.

Molly also talks about how crucial it is to empower your team and avoid becoming a bottleneck. She suggests working openly, documenting important decisions and processes, and giving tasks to others to make sure the team can work well when you're not there.

Another key point Molly makes is the value of creating processes that help people collaborate, even when they're not working at the same time. She shares examples of how her team uses tools like Slack, Trello, and Miro to stay organized, take meeting notes, and make room for people to contribute on their own time.

Molly also touches on the need to prioritize your work and be okay with saying no when you have to, so you don't get overwhelmed. She points out that part-time leaders are role models and have a chance to change how people think and make the company culture more inclusive.

If you're a part-time content leader or thinking about becoming one, you won't want to miss this talk. Molly's insights, practical advice, and relatable stories give you a roadmap for dealing with the challenges and making the most of the opportunities that come with part-time leadership, so you and your team can be successful.

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Lessons learned from Molly

Own your part-time status and be clear about your boundaries

Molly stresses how important it is to own your part-time status and set clear boundaries around when you work. She suggests letting your team and coworkers know your schedule, using things like your email signature, Slack status, and calendar blocks to show when you're available. By being upfront and unapologetic about your working situation, you can help your team adjust and plan around it.

Trust your team and don't be a bottleneck

To make sure work doesn't get stuck when you're not there, Molly says it's crucial to empower your team and avoid becoming a bottleneck. She advises working openly, writing down important decisions and processes, and giving tasks to others to help spread knowledge and responsibility across the team. By building a culture of collaboration and shared ownership, you can help your team work well, even when you're not around.

Make processes that help people work together, even at different times

Molly highlights the importance of creating processes that enable collaboration, even when people aren't working at the same time. She shares how her team uses tools like Slack, Trello, and Miro to stay on top of things, take notes in meetings, and give people a chance to contribute on their own time. By setting up clear ways to communicate and document things, you can help your team stay in the loop and pitch in meaningfully, no matter when they work.

Focus on what's most important and know when to say no

As a part-time leader, it's essential to prioritize your work and be willing to say no when you need to, so you don't get overwhelmed. Molly suggests focusing on the most important tasks and being honest about what you can get done in your limited hours. By setting clear priorities and boundaries, you can make the most of your time and avoid putting too much pressure on yourself or your team.

Be a trailblazer and use your part-time role to make a difference

Finally, Molly encourages part-time leaders to embrace their role as pioneers and use their position to create change in their organizations. By showing that part-time leadership can work and be effective, you can help change attitudes and make way for a more inclusive and flexible workplace. Remember that working fewer hours doesn't make your skills and leadership less valuable, and use your experience to inspire and support others who might want to do the same.

About Perspectives Conf

This talk is part of Track #3 - Managing people and content teams of the 2022 edition of our conference.

Perspectives Conf is the world’s first event specifically focused on the careers side of content. It’s been carefully curated to help people at all levels navigate the many facets of working in content – from being the first content person to hiring and growing a team.

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See full Perspectives 2022 program

Transcript of the talk

00:01 Hello. Welcome. And thank you for joining me. I'm Molly and I'm lead content strategist, former content designer at Co-op and I'm based in Manchester over in the UK.

00:14 I'm really pleased to be here today to talk to you about how to ace being a content leader when you work part-time.

00:23 So I'm going to start off the time we have together today, by telling you just a little bit about me, then I'm going to set some context for what I'll be presenting today.

00:32 And then of course, we'll move on to what I've learned and tips around tools, behaviors, and processes I use as a part time leader.

00:42 So here's just a bit of quick background on me. So I've worked part-time since returning from maternity leave in June, 2016.

00:51 So I'm about five and a half years into working. Part-time The decision to come back to work part-time for me mainly came out with a desire to spend more time with my child while they were still young.

01:04 But to be honest, it was also because childcare is ridiculously expensive here in the UK. I'm sure many of you can relate and returning to work.

01:12 Full-time didn't feel practical financially speaking for me or my family. So I initially worked three days, then three and a half days, and now I work four days a week,

01:25 But for me, the buck definitely stops there. I can't imagine I'll ever go back to working full time because I've gotten really used to and enjoy the work-life balance.

01:34 It gives me that balance has become super important to me. So I think it's fair to say that the pandemic and the work-related challenges, it brought of course, a lot more of us to start thinking differently about the role we want work to play in our lives.

01:51 More of as a working from home and flexing our hours As of January here in the UK, around 30 companies are taking part in a six-month trial of a four day working week where employees will be paid the same amount as if they were working their usual five days.

02:09 And Belgium have actually just introduced some legislation. That means people now have the legal right to request to work four days a week.

02:18 So who knows what other exciting developments around working culture are coming our way, But for now the five day work week remains a standard.

02:27 Certainly over here in the UK. Now I'm lucky enough to work in a company where flexible working is encouraged and supported and where there are actually quite a few people who work part-time.

02:41 But as you'd probably expect the vast, vast majority of my colleagues and I'd expect most of yours too still work full-time At the time I became a leader, I was working three and a half days a week.

02:55 I've learned a lot along the way, and that's what I'm going to share with you. So I'd like to getus started by pointing out something that may or may not occured to you.

03:10 If like me, you're one of only a handful of leaders or possibly the only leader working part-time in your company.

03:17 You are a role model and for illustrative purposes, this is a picture of one of my role models, Stanley Tucci.

03:26 If you are able to make part-time leadership work well, you'll pave the way for other. People you'll make it more possible for other people to feel that working part-time could work for them.

03:37 And you'll also make it easy for your company to say yes to those requests to work. Part-time Make no mistake.

03:45 Being a part-time leader is not an easy option. I believe you need to be better organized, more diligent and a better communicator than your full-time colleagues to make it work.

03:57 Now, I don't say all of this to try and pile on the pressure. You won't get it right all of the time, because none of us do,

04:04 But I'd encourage you to embrace your role model status. Use it as an opportunity to change perceptions and even create change in your company culture.

04:14 These are some of the methods and tools I use to make my job and my colleagues' jobs easier. So the first thing I'm going to suggest you do is also probably the hardest thing to do.

04:25 If you can manage it, it makes everything else much, much easier. Own the fact that you're part time and don't waste time apologizing.

04:37 So let's recognize a basic fact here. If you're not working the same hours as your team, despite your best efforts, there will inevitably times when you miss important things,

04:48 You need to recognize that having someone in your team that works different hours to everyone else, especially if that's the person leading the team does affect everyone.

04:57 And it calls for an extra level of care and possibly a bit of extra admin from everyone in the team, too.

05:04 It can be challenging for people to adapt to this, especially at first, it's not helpful for you to try and ignore that fact or pretend things are going to be exactly the same.

05:14 If you're working less or different hours, it's really important that you acknowledge that it'll require some adjustment from everyone, But at the same time, and I cannot emphasize this enough.

05:27 You do not have to constantly apologize for not always being around. Now. Obviously, if you feel like apologizing to a colleague because you can't make a meeting, you know, is important to them in the work of course, go ahead.

05:40 I'm not suggesting you are like some kind of unfeeling robot who never, ever apologizes, But you definitely shouldn't be saying, sorry, all day long, it's demoralizing for you and it's boring for your team.

05:54 And there are much better ways for you to spend your time, like the things we're going to cover. Now,

06:01 My next tip is you need to empower your team and don't let yourself become a single point of failure.

06:08 Now work, obviously can't grind to halt when you're not there to lead the team plus urgent things might happen. And when you're the only content person on a project, which I imagine some of you are that becomes even trickier to manage your team, need to feel as empowered as possible to get on with the

06:27 work and make decisions when you're not there. And equally when it's the right thing to do, they should feel able to push back and say, things like this.

06:38 will have to wait until next week. When the person who can own that decision is here. You can't let yourself or anyone else in your team for that matter become the person that everything else hangs on.

06:49 And this is where that extra level of admin and care I mentioned earlier comes in To help with this. You should work in the open as much as possible and bring people into your work so they understand your thought, your thought process, sorry, why you started and where you're going.

07:08 If more people understand your work, there'll be more able to advocate for it. In your absence, You should also document as much as you can.

07:17 Things like key decisions, working processes and previous drafts to make sure your team can see your work and get easy access to it.

07:27 It's also really important to try and build confidence in your team by highlighting successes and being that chief cheerleader, when things go right, and indeed, when things go wrong, You should delegate and let others take ownership of tasks.

07:44 Just make sure you stay away from the work becoming siloed. Of course,

07:49 And you should regularly update the team on where your work's up to and keep yourself organized. Now every week, two things I do on a Thursday before I finish for the week to help with this, you might find these tips helpful.

08:03 So we're big Slack users in my team. So every Thursday I'll do a Slack post where I summarize, where my work's upto and flag.

08:11 Anything that the team need to pick up in my absence, it helps my team as they know exactly where things were up to, and it helps me download everything.

08:19 That's in my head before I head off for the weekend. I also leave myself details of things only to pick up when I'm back in For this.

08:27 I have my own Trello board, which is separate to any team Trello boards that we're using for the work. I also plan my week and keep track of where tasks are up to in that Trello board, which segues nicely into my next point.

08:43 Protect your catch-up time. A lot can happen in a day. Believe me, if you don't have time to get back up to speed, when you return to work after your day or days away your entire week can get thrown out of whack.

09:00 I inevitably spend the first hour of my Mondays catching up on emails and Slack posts that I missed the Friday before.

09:07 And I need this hour to feel ready for the day ahead. So for that reason, I've, I've chosen to start at 8:00 AM on that Monday.

09:17 So that the first hour of my day is clear because most of my colleagues don't start work until 9:00 AM. And just in case anybody does start work early.

09:26 Like I do. I literally block out that time in my calendar, just in case they try and sneak a meeting in If starting your day early, isn't feasible for you for whatever reason.

09:38 Think about blocking time out in your diary so that you have dedicated, protected catch-up time after you've been away. Even if that's after any Monday morning meetings that you need to have,

09:53 You need to set clear boundaries about your availability and about when you're working and when you're not. So depending on your situation and your company's expectations, you may decide that you're comfortable with having a fairly flexible schedule that you can adjust week by week to accommodate the

10:12 work. Or you might decide that you want to set in stone routine that you follow weekin. week out. That's the way that I work at the moment.

10:21 So every week I don't work Fridays and I have a 3:00 PM finish. So I can pick my child up from school on a Tuesday, Whatever you decide, I recommend you share those working hours everywhere so that people are super clear on when you're working.

10:38 And when you're not, My working hours are in my signature, in my Slack bio. And the time I'm not in is blocked out in my calendar.

10:48 The hours are on my, the Miro boards, we use to plan projects. And I also update my Slack status daily to outline my working hours that day.

10:58 And then last thing on Thursday, I set a status that clearly indicates that I'm not in work again until Monday.

11:05 You really can't be shy or to my earlier point apologetic about those working hours. Remember that taking the time to do these kinds of things.

11:14 Isn't just for your benefit. It also shows you respect your colleagues and their time and in return, they'll hopefully respect your time by doing what they can to make sure you're not missing out when they can and helping you catch up when they can't, When you've set those working hours, whatever you've

11:34 decided, it's important that you stick to what you said you were up for. Obviously, if you do go for that more routine based schedule, there may still be times when you decide to flex your routine.

11:45 So you can attend a meeting or event outside your usual working hours, But this should be the exception, not the norm Equally.

11:56 It can be super tempting to check in with your email or pick up urgent stuff on your days off, Unless something's giving you sleepless nights, though, you should really stay away from this.

12:07 Because if you're sending unclear messages about when you're working, when you're not, it confuses your team. They won't know when it's okay to contact you.

12:16 And when it's not

12:18 Remember, you're a role model. So you need to role model, sensible behaviors around boundary setting. You're going to have to be really good at prioritizing too.

12:33 Now in the same way that you shouldn't be expected to be changing up your working hours in a way that doesn't work for you, you shouldn't be expected to squeeze five days of work into the hours you actually do work.

12:45 The reality is that you have less time to do your work than your colleagues. And that means you probably have to let some stuff go to make sure you're focused on what's most important This of course is a skill that all leaders need to develop.

12:58 But one that's particularly important for us part-timers to muster, You might sometimes have to say no for your own good and for the good of the team, or I'm going to have to leave that until next week.

13:13 Or I can't take that on. Now. I'll have to ask someone else in the team to pick it up And to avoid your calendar, filling it with meetings you don't actually need to be at perhaps the biggest time sucker that there is ask for meeting agenda.

13:30 So you can be clear on what the purpose is and what your role will be.

13:34 If you're feeling particularly strong, you could always set a strict, no agenda, no meeting room. This can be really hard, but it's vital.

13:43 If you're going to, if you're going to stay on top of things, give your best and avoid becoming overwhelmed. So at this point, if you followed all my tips, your team know and expect when you won't be there you're doing lots to help make sure that work carry on when you're not there and you feel organized

14:02 . And on top of things, I'm going to bring it back to Stanley Tucci, just for a moment to illustrate my next point.

14:11 I'll take any excuse to be honest. So it's kind of like in the film Big Night, in which Stanley Tucci stars, where this made this famously temperamental Italian dish called timpano, probably pronouncing that totally wrong.

14:27 Sorry to anyone better versed in Italian than me. The point is that you can't act alone. Just like the people in the film, you need the team around you to pitch into so that you can all work together to get the results you need, by the way, if you haven't seen Big Night, highly recommend it.

14:46 So how can your team help you and what routines and systems can you put in place to help them do?

14:53 Now, this isn't just about you though, after all, just because you might be the only one who's regularly away while others are working, you're not the only person that might miss things.

15:03 People get ill or have a childcare emergency or an appointment, or even just a meeting clash. So helping your team create processes that mean people can catch up on anything they've missed is actually good for the whole team.

15:19 You need to cultivate good habits around documentation. The fact that many of us have been working remotely over the last couple of years might actually make this easier for you.

15:31 So at Co-op, we've all gotten into the habit of recording meetings. Now, obviously watching back tons of meetings, isn't always practical as it can be time consuming.

15:41 One of my colleagues actually recently told me that they watch meetings back in double speed as a time-saver, which sounds pretty intense to me, but it might well work for you Either way.

15:52 I'd encourage you to be discerning about what meetings to actually watch back in my team. We also make sure someone's always responsible for capturing meeting notes and the actions, and obviously reading.

16:04 These can be a good alternative to watching the whole meeting back

16:10 Where possible we try to make space for people to contribute asynchronously so we can get their input even when they aren't around for workshops or meetings.

16:18 And we also have routines for capturing decisions made. Sometimes we use Confluence for this other times, just a Miro board, depending on the project and how we're working together.

16:30 And we also start each day with a team standup, where we all talk about where work's up to and what our focus is for that day.

16:38 When everyone's in the loop about what's going on with the work and can cover for each other, if they need to, things run much smoother.

16:47 And now I'd like to leave you with one final tip, Be authentic, always. So I think it's important to make a distinction here between being honest and being authentic.

17:01 People talk a lot about the importance of bringing our real selves to work and being transparent, which I definitely agree with, but I've learned the hard way that being a good leader sometimes means not being a hundred percent honest with your team Because sometimes being a hundred percent honest will

17:19 de-motivate them confuse them or otherwise derail the work,

17:24 What you should do is share what's helpful. Celebrate successes, dissect failures, help your team learn together and always be true to yourself and what you stand for.

17:36 And remember working part-time or not being glued to Slack nine to five each day does not make you your skills or your leadership any less valuable.

17:50 So here's a quick reminder of the points we've covered today. Remember, you are a role model own the fact that you're part time and don't waste time apologizing, Empower your team, and don't let yourself become the single point of failure.

18:07 Protect your catch-up time. Set clear boundaries about your availability, Prioritize, what matters most Help your team create habits that help you and everyone and be authentic.

18:22 Always. And that's it I hope you found this helpful. You can follow me over on Twitter at moll underscore jones.

18:32 I mainly tweet about the complexity of modern parenting, particularly of combining parenting with work content design content strategy, and of course, Stanley Tucci.

18:44 Thank you so much for listening.

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