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How I do it: Balancing work part-time, 3 children and aging parents

By Arabel Bailey, Managing Director, UK/Ireland Lead of Accenture Digital, London

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Like many people, I have a complicated life. I lead one of my company’s largest business units, Accenture Digital, in the United Kingdom and Ireland, sitting on the UK/Ireland Executive Board. I manage a team of almost 1,000 people, have three young children, aging parents, a working partner, live 120 miles from the office and work part-time. When you write it all down, it sounds like an impossible equation.

But I am lucky enough to work for a global professional services company that recognizes the challenges of modern life and has brought in technology and working practices that help me live the life I want, rather than always having to compromise. This technology means I can always stay connected. I can manage to be in two places at once when I need to be because of conflicting demands on my time. Presenting at a meeting via video link 20 minutes before a parent-teacher meeting would have seemed impossible a few years ago, but fast broadband and collaboration technologies make it a reality for me today.

"Presenting at a meeting via video link 20 minutes before a parent-teacher meeting would have seemed impossible a few years ago."

Some of my friends ask me whether being “always on” is a problem—I don’t believe it is. It is critical to create firm boundaries, both physical and mental, when working in a culture that embraces remote and flexible working. There is no point being enabled if you don’t feel empowered to protect your non-work time.

If I am at home, my laptop stays in my study. I never look at e-mails when I’m spending quality time with my children. Actually, it is my 80-year-old mother who is the worst for constantly checking her smartphone at the dining table. She has embraced modern technology to an extreme level and is starting to set a bad example to her grandchildren regarding acceptable use of devices!

Certainly, creating and maintaining these boundaries is easier said than done—I am at a point in my life when I have never had so many demands on me and on my time. Ruthless prioritization is key to balancing my work life and my personal life, and when I get it right it can work well for me and everyone around me. That’s not to say that you can “have it all”—I don’t believe you can. But you can have the things that are most important to you.

"To make it work, you have to accept that you can’t do everything yourself."

To make it work, you have to accept that you can’t do everything yourself. At work, I have a fantastic team who feel empowered to make decisions in my absence while always knowing there’s a hotline to me, available if they need it. I think this approach gives them earlier opportunities for autonomy, and I’ve seen them grow professionally because of it.

It’s essential to build a strong support network at home, and it obviously helps if your partner is at the center of it. I couldn’t do the role I do without my partner, who is supportive and understanding and really does share the load. This involvement is great for him as well; he is certainly one of the more hands-on fathers I know.

Of course it helps that I am doing a job that I love. The role I am in now is genuinely the best job I have ever had—the most interesting work with the most significant impact for our clients, the most diverse and amazing set of people, the coolest technologies and the most potential for growth. If you have to make difficult choices over your work-life balance, it helps to be happy going to work.

Arabel Bailey was recognized in Management Today’s 2015 list of the United Kingdom's 50 most powerful part-time executives.