From 9-5 burn out to freelance work. Speaking to Alex Hirst of Hoxby Collective

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Since I established this blog, I’ve written a lot about how parents are attempting to balance work and family life.

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Alex Hirst, co-founder of the Hoxby Collective of freelancers. Burn-out working 9-5 led Alex to create a more flexible way of making a living by promoting freelance work.

As mums still do the majority of childcare in most families, the focus is often on them. This left me wondering how dads are balancing work and family life. What I found is that a surprising number are leaving the workforce to start their own businesses.

I therefore started a series where I interview men who have given up their old 9-5 jobs and set up their own ventures. I published the first interview a couple of weeks ago. It was with Mike Picketts, a single dad who runs Raver Tots, which organises family-friendly raves.

Below you will find the second in this series and it’s quite a contrast to the first. It’s with Alex Hirst who co-founded the Hoxby Collective after experiencing burn-out in his previous 9-5 job as he tried balancing work, family and commute.

Alex didn’t just come up with a solution for himself but for others as well. The Hoxby Collective is a group of 450 freelancers from across the world who work flexibly and specialise in various lines of work including marketing and design. The Hoxby blog is full of stories from parents who do freelance work and have improved work / life balance as a result.

Alex’s interview is sprinkled with buzzwords like workstyle and Hoxbies. Even so, I felt it made compelling reading as Alex has a clear vision. He says old, rigid working hours are being consigned to history and that working flexibly has helped him and others improve their mental health and family life.

Please do have a read and leave a comment at the end with your thoughts.

Tell me about the Hoxby Collective. It sounds like a great way to promote freelance work and encourage flexible working.

The Hoxby Collective is a consultancy and variable resource partner; a global community of 450 freelancers in 29 countries, each adopting their own workstyle (working the hours they prefer and from any geographical location). Through workstyle, our community is able to realise true work/life balance and in so doing, deliver their best work.

What inspired you to establish Hoxby?

When I experienced burnout in 2014, I understood what it meant to be stressed and the influence it can have on your physical and mental health as well as relationships with those closest to you. I’m someone whose natural inclination is to try to make others happy, and have spent my entire career focussing on making my customers and the people I work with feel happy and fulfilled.

It was this that led me to co-found the Hoxby Collective with Lizzie Penny in 2015 with a vision to remove the stressors (and barriers) of work; namely the commute, the office and the 9-5 regime with its associated culture of presenteeism. Hoxby has been created to give everyone equal access to work opportunities through the individual choice of ‘workstyle’ afforded to each of our members. When I hear from Hoxbies about how this way of working has improved their family life, their mental health or simply made them enjoy work again, I am reminded why this is such an important mission.

How many freelancers presently use Hoxby? Would you say most of them are mums and dads?

Our community currently stands at over 450; we have become a lifeline for working parents, but we are not exclusively such and it’s a misconception that flexible working is just for them.

The demographic of the workforce is changing. We have older/semi-retired members, people caring for relatives and also students combining work with their studies. We have people with physical and mental health conditions that don’t fit the 9-5 regime and we have people who just don’t want to commute to the same office every day and work the same hours with the same people.

Times have changed, we lead busier lives and have higher expectations of ourselves and of humankind that require a complete rethink of what it means to earn a living.

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Alex’s daughter Olivia. Dad gets to spend one day a week with her and can adjust work life accordingly when the unexpected happens.

Do you think this is the future of office work: IE outsourced to freelancers, many of which want flexibility in work to support their families?

Absolutely. We believe that the Hoxby model will one day be the blueprint for 95% of office-based roles in the world. We are at the dawn of a new world of work which is incredibly exciting for parents but even more exciting for their children.

Do you think the days of the 9-5 office job are coming to an end?

Its day are numbered, thankfully. The 9-5 concept originated over 200 years ago when Robert Owen coined the phrase ‘8 hours labour, 8 hours recreation, 8 hours rest’ in response to the long working hours being imposed by companies during the Industrial Revolution. It feels to me as though we’re at a similar point in history where people are working similarly long hours under unspoken pressure.

The response to these conditions has been to leave traditional employment in favour of freelancing as manifested by the booming gig economy. We conducted a survey on Presenteeism last year and discovered that 50% of the working day in an office is wasted time and that 80% of those able to work flexibly felt more productive.

Do you think there are a lot of employers out here who don’t understand that technological advances mean remote and virtual working is possible or its benefits?

I think it’s hard to imagine when you’re so entrenched in what you know. We offer a consultation service as part of The Hoxby Collective portfolio of services, helping businesses to ‘futureproof’ themselves using tools that we’ve developed by living in this world for the last three years. It’s important to remember that whilst technology provides the tools to work in a happier, more productive way- it’s the organisational structure, culture and purpose that will ensure a prosperous future.

Can you ever see yourself going back to employment and a steady job?

I honestly can’t imagine what that would feel like. Breaking out of the traditional working model has been liberating, eye-opening, incredibly good for my mental health and for my family life.

Moreover, I feel like I’m working in a manner that befits the technology and societal mindset that exists in the world today. To regress to the old regime would feel like taking a gigantic step back in time.

How do you organise your own childcare?

We have a combination that enables both my wife and I to work, albeit flexibly over the five-day week. This means that Olivia has a day with her grandparents, a day with her friends at nursery and a day with her daddy as well as two days wither her mummy. Lucky girl! As we all know, this is fine on paper but life has little regard for what’s on paper and so when the inevitable conflicts arise, I have the flexibility and peer-support that allows me to always prioritise Olivia’s needs ahead of work.

More to come

Over the next few months, this will be a regular feature on Dadbloguk. I have some fantastic examples in the pipeline where dads have discovered their entrepreneurial side in the pursuit of better work life balance.

If you would like to take part yourself or know of someone who fits this description who might like to take part, please do get in touch. You can either fill in this contact form or contact me on social media where I can be found as @dadbloguk on most channels.


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