The future STEM workplace, for women AND men, is closer to home than you might think

flexible work
Photo of a father and daughter enjoying together

While the work-life balance discussion often focusses on the needs of women, many men are also looking for new ways to meet both their career and family obligations. There’s more equal responsibility between the genders today than there ever before for looking after children, running the household and earning money. This makes the consideration of flexible work options an important concern for any man who wants to engage in a meaningful way with the daily business of running a household, participating in family life and being there to see his children grow up.

Six months ago I started in a new role with the commercialisation consultancy gemaker, which helps companies and organisations bring their inventions to the marketplace. gemaker has the same innovation ethos, commitment to excellence and focus on research-industry collaboration which I found so attractive at Cochlear. The difference this time around is that gemaker also has a commitment to disrupting outdated workplace models.

By working in my new role, from home, with flexible hours, I’m joining a critical mass of science professionals carving out a vision of a more balanced future STEM work culture. And this means I’m able to apply my years of experience to help researchers, inventors and start-ups take innovative products and services to global markets – while still being present to parent my children and contribute to my domestic life.

I was lucky enough to work with Cochlear for 18 years. I had reached a level of success that I was happy with. I enjoyed my work and I got to collaborate with great colleagues. One of the attractions of working at Cochlear is you’re doing good things for people, you’re helping people, and that tends to attract staff who are motivated by that and who are good natured. By most measures I was successful and I was working in a stimulating environment. But I was starting to become restless.

This restlessness eventually led me to an epiphany – I realised I had been putting off a lot of important things in my life. Sure I was travelling around the world, meeting interesting people and doing challenging work, but family, friendships and hobbies were all getting deferred. I realised if I wanted to spend more time at home with the kids, I had to make that happen. Life is short, and if you keep saying “I’ll do it when I retire, I’ll do it when I have a holiday”, then maybe you won’t end up doing it at all.

I believe the age of the 40-hour-a-week office job (and let’s be real here, often that becomes 45 or 50-hours-a-week) is coming to an end. It might be a slow death. But I think more and more people are waking up to the fact that sitting at a desk for eight or ten hours a day isn’t necessarily going to make you more productive. Obviously it’s not possible in every sector, but for a lot of people, there’s no reason why most of our work can’t be done from home.

This flexibility doesn’t just benefit employees, it also saves money for employers. If you expand beyond the idea of everyone working from the same physical workspace, you can realise a big dividend. You no longer need incur all the costs that come with providing that physical workspace, you don’t need to pay for all the overheads that go into maintaining the infrastructure around the in-person work environment. I believe the economics of it is going to move more and more in the direction of a virtual shared work environment with greater flexibility for employees to work from diverse physical locations.

The transition to a different workspace paradigm could cut out a lot of needless commuting and unproductive time spent at the office. Most of all, flexible work systems will improve the wellbeing of families and children in ways that will benefit not just the health of the worker, but the health of our society as a whole. Companies like gemaker are leading the way and showing it’s very possible to be successful with a business built on a core value of greater work-life balance.

Meet the author: James Dalton

With an engineering background, James combines strategic marketing mastery and product development expertise, derived from decades of experience with leading global companies, especially Cochlear. In 2010, he won the Engineers Australia Design Excellence Award and the Red Dot Award for Product Design. He is named as the inventor on six patents. His current role as Commercialisation Manager with gemaker is to support diverse clients – researchers, inventors, startups and expanding businesses – through the many stages of commercialisation, including idea validation and protection, industry engagement, funding acquisition, product development, and marketing.