With more millennials demanding flexibility at work, freelancing and remote working are in vogue.

Six years ago, Adriana Thani was a single mum working a full-time office job in public relations while juggling freelance side jobs to make ends meet.

While working at her kitchen table one evening, Adriana’s eldest son said something that hit a nerve: “I like it when you do work on your laptop, Mum. It means that you can stay home.”

That’s when Adriana knew she needed to get to a point where she could work from home full time. “It took a few years but it finally happened a year-and-a-half ago and I don’t think I’ll ever go back to working full time away from home,” she says. “Freelancing has allowed me to put food on the table and say yes to eating out sometimes. It’s allowed me to maximise my work hours and avoid pointless commutes, meetings and other corporate nonsense. More importantly, it’s allowed me to stay home and be there for my kid.”

Adriana’s sentiments are echoed by thousands of millennials across the globe who are seeking the big “F” in the workplace: flexibility. From millennial parents wanting to take a more active role in their children’s upbringing to 20-something-year-old adventurers with a desire to explore the world, there are many reasons millennials are ditching the traditional 9-5.

Adriana attributes this new thinking to the opportunities the internet has presented us with: “We communicate, fall in love and share our lives on the internet. Why can’t we also make a living using it? So many studies have shown the negative impact of stress and lack of support for parents in today’s modern world. Parents often feel torn between work and their family, creating a stressful environment for everyone. Working remotely — whether as a freelancer or an employee — can help us find a balance,” she says.

UK-based marketer, Laura Greenland, was furloughed in March last year due to the pandemic after four years as a marketing manager at a global travel brand. The role entailed a lot of management and not a lot of creative marketing, so Laura freelanced on the side to “scratch the itch”, she shares. “I had a nagging feeling that my job wasn’t going to be there for me when things started to return to ‘normal’, so I threw myself into the freelance work. I remembered how much I’d loved working for myself. It really sparked an urge within me. As soon as I left the corporate bubble, it was like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. My redundancy officially came in June 2020, so I was at a crossroads. I decided to take the risk and go for it with the business and it was the best decision I have made.”

Laura launched Ebb, Flow and Grow, offering her services in branding projects, business mentoring, one-on-one incentives and marketing courses. The move allowed Laura and her husband to pursue a digital-nomadic lifestyle, moving into their campervan full time to travel. “It was something we’d wanted to do for years, but it had just never been practical while working in an office,” she says. “We bought our campervan and converted it to a complete off-grid solution, with solar panels and upgraded Wi-Fi.”

Alanna Blundo and Francesco Viglianti have a similar story. The pair launched Happy Lion Films after job losses in 2018. They now help entrepreneurs share their stories, ideas and products through video content for company websites and social media. In 2020, the duo decided to shift to remote working. “It’s amazing to be able to choose our schedule and spend more time with each other,” says Alanna. “We are passionate about living a life we truly want as opposed to living up to the expectations of society.” The pair will move from Melbourne to Queensland this year and hope to travel while keeping their business operational. “We have been working on this move for a long time and we finally have the right systems and people that will allow us to do it,” enthuses Alanna. “We have three wonderful remote videographers who go out to film all of our projects. This model also allows us to expand our business to other states as well.”

Quitting your 9-5 and starting a freelance business isn’t always an option, so what can you do to ask for more flexibility from your current employer? The Fair Work Ombudsman has pages of useful resources and advice online to help get you started. With perks including greater job satisfaction, lower levels of workplace stress, increased productivity and the ability to attract and retain skilled staff, most employers should have processes in place for requesting, considering and managing remote working.

Initiating a discussion about remote working with your employer can feel a bit like venturing into the dragon’s den, but it’s a completely reasonable question to raise and a conversation that a lot of people are having right now. You might not get a “yes”, but that is the worst that can happen.

There are things you can do to prepare yourself and increase your chances of a favourable outcome. Make your request concise and clear; write down exactly what you propose in terms of days, times and locations. One way to present it is to talk about how the new arrangement will benefit your employer. If cutting your commute will allow you to be more productive in the morning, for example, be sure to say so. If having your work stuff at home means you will be able to resolve any last-minute crisis, mention that. If, during COVID, you worked on a specific project at home that went really well, use that as an example to show that remote working can be done successfully in your position. Your employer is much more likely to respond well if the conversation is framed in this way.

Consider a “half in, half out” arrangement, too. You might request to work in the office on Mondays and Tuesdays so you’re present for meetings or team whips, then work from home for the rest of the week. It’s also worth mentioning how this set-up would benefit you; if a flexible arrangement would keep you loyal and happy, say so. After all, the happier you are, the harder you’re inclined to work. Don’t be afraid to request a trial period. Three months is perfect to gauge whether this arrangement will work for both parties.

Once you’re clear on these technicalities, you will feel more confident going into discussions. Email your manager to arrange a time and outline what you would like to discuss so everyone is on the same page. Your manager will likely want to negotiate the terms, so keep an open mind about accepting an arrangement that is slightly different to what you had hoped for. If there is absolutely no room for movement within your current role, ask if there is another position within the company that could offer you more flexibility and how you could work towards that role.

Ultimately, your employer may not okay your request. Prepare for that; rejection can be difficult, but file the interaction under experience negotiating with employers. That said, if your current employer is not well aligned with your needs and values, it might be time to put the feelers out for some new opportunities.

Freelancing insights from the people who have done it

Alanna: Don’t lose your job to get started! It was a lot of stress for us and there were times when we didn’t know how we would pay our rent. Try the transition slowly but have the attitude of being “all in”.

Adriana: Being able to spend time with your children while still accomplishing your professional goals is incredibly gratifying. I think we’ve been conditioned to believe that when it comes to our children and career, we need to choose one or the other. But there are so many different ways you can earn an income and still be present with your children. You just need to set off on your own path and trust in your instincts.

Laura: Many businesses are looking for alternative, more cost-effective solutions within their organisations so freelance positions are rapidly growing in popularity. Of course, freelancing isn’t always completely stable — you will naturally see peaks and troughs of activity. Also, working for yourself can be isolating at times. I joined a business mastermind group and we meet every Monday for an hour to exchange ideas, ask for support and talk about topical subjects.