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At AECOM you can enjoy an adaptable, supportive work culture

At AECOM you can enjoy an adaptable, supportive work culture

 September 14, 2021

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Ways of working and how companies support their employees have certainly changed since the pandemic, but flexibility is nothing new to AECOM. At AECOM, they have been embracing Freedom to Grow since well before the pandemic.

Freedom in this context ranges from choosing the time, place, and type of work they do - through to the workstyle they choose to deploy, the way they communicate and think - and all the way to choosing how they can be their 'real selves' at work. AECOM invites its people to embrace this permission to determine what freedom they need to grow, develop, innovate, thrive and be their true self. A guiding principle to this entire journey is that if it works for the client, the team and for the individual, then it can work for AECOM too and the employee has the permission to get on and do it.

“At AECOM, we understand, respect and value that many of our people have demanding family and care responsibilities. As a working parent myself I’ve really benefited from this, as have many of my fellow colleagues who are trying to manage parenting with work, especially over the pandemic. Freedom to Grow provides significant support to help enable that much-needed flexibility to all our employees,” says Rachel Billington, Head of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at AECOM.

Where Women Work caught up with three AECOM employees - Selena, Chris, and Darcy - who have truly embraced the Freedom to Grow ethos to find out what's important to them and how their work patterns work for them - and for AECOM. They also share some top tips for combining a hectic work and family schedule.

Encouraged to balance work and outside commitments

Selena Pearce is a Technical Director for Environmental Solutions at AECOM, based in Manchester UK. Her role is to help AECOM’s clients solve environmental problems and to add value through better engineering, land management and liability limitation measures.

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Selena enjoys her role as a technical director

One of her favourite projects she has worked on involves managing a water body that has been overlooked for more than 160 years. "AECOM is helping our client with development of options, works programming, cost estimation, stakeholder management and regulatory compliance. Our proposals have helped our client to reconsider the water body as an asset which can add a lot of biodiversity benefits and environmental enhancements. This project involves a multidisciplinary team of environmental and water engineers as well as terrestrial and aquatic ecology specialists," explains Selena.

Selena attests to AECOM being a company where she is free to balance work with her outside commitments. She has a busy life outside of work and enjoys spending time with her husband, daughter and two cats called Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein! 

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Selena with one of her cats

Selena has been managing her schedule via remote working throughout the pandemic. "Our team is continuing to work at home unless there are specific team or project needs that require a visit to an AECOM office. Working at home has helped me focus more strongly on tasks and I think it is easier to get things done in peace and quiet. Working in an AECOM office will mean a return to the previous status quo, and although I do not miss rush hour traffic at all, it will be good to sit with colleagues for cross-fertilisation of ideas and just be able to physically be with other AECOM folk once again." During the pandemic, Selena's team experienced one of its busiest 18 months. And, while usually working away on one of AECOM’s largest projects can prove exciting, constraints during the pandemic enforced work-from-home for staff like Selena but this provided valuable time to reorganise her way of working and to refocus on supporting her network of AECOM colleagues also working from home.

"Most colleagues told me they moved to a new house or rearranged their homes to accommodate working from home during the pandemic. I did the latter. I think there will be a gradual return to offices for some people, however, I think the whole working from home experience has helped many of us appreciate the comfort and convenience of being able to do our jobs without commuting. I believe this is also something that AECOM has acknowledged - and why regular messaging from AECOM's leadership proves so valuable in reassuring colleagues seeking a return to office working, as well as to those seeking a continuation of home working, or a mix of both. In this respect I believe AECOM will be accommodating of the needs and wellbeing of its employees, so we are supported in continuing to do our best work."

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Selena enjoys her well-deserved downtime

When asked about sharing advice with other parents and caregivers trying to combine a hectic work and family schedule, Selena affirms that "a supportive partner or strong support network is an absolute must." Selena also cites rest and self-care as being important for one’s identity so as one's time is not fully consumed from children, or equally, by work. AECOM's Freedom to Grow strategy ensures that employees can access the flexibility they require. "As most of my projects are located across a diverse geography, Freedom to Grow allows me to work at the location that is most time and cost-efficient for me, as well as for the project. This provides me with the flexibility to plan ahead for where I need to be in a way that suits not just AECOM and our clients, but also for myself and my family."

Selena looks forward to her well-deserved downtime and offers some salient advice: "When you finish work, don’t check messages and emails during your downtime. Take the opportunity to rest and much-needed recharging because working at AECOM usually brings exciting new challenges each day." Additionally, over the past year Selena has truly enjoyed the opportunity to watch many Star Wars movies, Marvel Cinematic Universe movies and the Marvel TV series with her husband - plus finish remodelling their garden!

Adapting work to suit a lifestyle

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Chris using drone technology

Chris Coupland is a Senior Technician for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) based in Plymouth, UK. He leads a team providing CAD, GIS and Graphics support to the Landscape, Urban Design and Arboriculture team. Chris also leads the Environment Media and UAV team producing digital media assets for marketing and project deliverables.

Chris is fulfilled by his work and one of his favourite projects involved working on AECOM’s Natural Capital Laboratory in the Scottish Highlands. "We have been looking at restoring a 100-acre forest while trialling new digital tools and techniques to track and communicate complex data and develop solutions to tackle biodiversity loss and climate change. This work was unique for me because it allowed me to apply my full skillset including the use of drone technology to research new techniques, quantify change across the site, and visualise the data and photography to really promote the amazing work AECOM is doing."

Chris has a full and busy life living in sunny Plymouth in Devon with his wife Ruth, a primary school teacher, three-year-old daughter Luna, baby twin girls Elise and Daisy, and their twin cats Caspar and Toby.

AECOM careers & jobs - engineer projects
Chris enjoying downtime with his family

"I recently returned from paternity leave. Our twin girls were born two months premature, so they spent their first month in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in hospital. I was keen to save my full paternity period for when they came home but luckily, due to the pandemic, I had a large amount of annual leave remaining for the year. This meant in agreement with my line manager, I was able to work reduced hours allowing me to pop into the hospital each day to visit them until they finally came home, and I could take my paternity leave," explains Chris. "Working at home full-time now meant my return to work was quite fluid but luckily I have a fantastic team and family around me for support and this meant I could use my annual leave and Freedom to Grow, where appropriate, to still be around to support my family."

Chris offers some good advice for other Dads returning to work. "Plan ahead and utilise flexible working and annual leave to slowly transition back into working a full week. Before having a baby, it is hard to understand how much stress - both physical and mental - your partner and you will be under during those early weeks and months. Making a slow and measured transition should benefit the whole family. And don't forget to look after yourself. When you combine a busy work-life with the pressures of being a parent, there can be very few minutes left in the day. Make time for what you enjoy, be it taking an hour out of the day to go for a run or catching up with friends for a drink in the evening. This goes for your partner also, help them to make time to do the same."

AECOM careers & jobs - engineer projects
Chris with his 3 year old daughter Luna

Chris believes that AECOM's Freedom to Grow provides the necessary structure to enable employees to work their day 'around' their responsibilities - be it work or life. "I use the flexibility I am provided every day to adapt my working day around my family life. No one day is the same, but it might involve taking time to look after the children while my partner goes to an appointment, or me starting my work later or finishing it early to allow time to see friends or family visiting for the day. If I get the work and hours done and am communicating effectively with my team, then I am able to put my life before my work."

Throughout the pandemic, working from home full-time helped Chris reinforce how important his family is to him and how much they benefit from his time with them. "Removing the need to travel to work and the rigid hours of the office has meant I see much more of my family throughout the day, rather than short periods at the beginning and end. I now work from home full-time, and my team predominantly works remotely, so I have little reason or need to go into the office."

Chris does however miss the social side of the office and some of the opportunities it creates from those informal conversations, so he intends to adapt his week to go into the office once a week. "I realise how important meeting people face-to-face is, even if only occasionally, so I also intend in the future to make time to visit my wider team during the year."

At home, Chris was fortunate to have his own office room to work from throughout the pandemic. This created an effective barrier when work finished as he was able to just close the door and get back to his home life. But, due to the arrival of their twin babies, Chris has now moved into other rooms of the house, and this has meant he can't just lock away his desk from sight in the evenings or on weekends."I have found my daughters bed and bath time routine acts as the perfect divide between work and life. If I’m still working when she is heading to bed, I can be sure she will barge into the room and demand to have cuddles and a bedtime story which always provides me with the perfect excuse to finish for the day."

"I have always been keen to have more time to spend with my family and pursue my hobbies. In the future, when my partner returns to work again, I am hoping to reduce my work hours to share childcare duties more equally with my wife. You can't buy time, but you can quite literally manage time better by living to your means and adapting your work to suit your lifestyle."

AECOM careers & jobs - engineer projects
Chris ensuring his daughter Luna kept up the family tradition of summiting Snowdon before her first birthday 

Outside of work, Chris enjoys making the most of the amazing part of the world he and his family live in, with miles of incredible coastline and Dartmoor right on their doorstep. "Although I seem to have less and less time with a growing family, I am a keen photographer and visual artist, so I am slowly integrating this more into my day-to-day role at AECOM. I also enjoy white-water kayaking, mountaineering, running, hiking, wild camping, snorkeling and anything else that gets me outdoors. This passion for the outdoors was passed on from my parents and I'm now very fortunate to be able to pass it on to my daughters."

Excellent work-life balance thanks to Freedom to Grow

Darcy Smith is an Associate for Planning, Programme and Project Controls at AECOM based in Leeds, UK. Darcy manages a team of five people within AECOM's planning team, and they are spread across the UK and work for many different clients.

One of Darcy' favourite work responsibilities has been to run and manage programmes for the Environment Agency (EA) in the Northwest of England. Her work focused on liaising with EA project managers and updating the project programmes, managing risks, and identifying time impacts to best manage issues and ensure delivery is on time and on budget.

A further favourite project Darcy has been working on is Kendal FAS - a significant project spanning over 8 years that will prevent flooding to highly populated areas. "I enjoy working on this project as I get to meet and liaise with a vast amount of people from direct EA employees, right through to site managers in the construction team. There are many different consultants all feeding into this project and we have a great collaborative way of working."

Darcy has been married for 11 years, has a four-year old girl, three stepdaughters ranging from 29 to 18 years of age - and is a step Grandmother for five young children - all at just 37 years of age herself.

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Darcy’s daughter Ronnie Jean during lockdown

"I was approached to join AECOM in 2015 and accepted the role, only to soon find out I was six weeks pregnant. I rang the person I interviewed with and offered to decline the role as I felt it was perhaps somewhat unfair, but I was told this was not an issue and that I would receive all the support I needed, and this led to me having 12 weeks maternity leave – I could have taken more but this is what worked for me. I returned to work six weeks after my little girl was born. Without AECOM’s way of working and Freedom to Grow this would not have been an option for me," recalls Darcy.

"I am lucky that, even pre-pandemic, I only worked in my client’s office for one or two days each week and the remainder I worked from home. I have an excellent work-life balance thanks to Freedom to Grow." When it comes to combining a hectic work and family schedule, Darcy reinforces the importance of talking to your client and line manager to find a way to cope with the struggle of school runs and childcare. Sometimes this proves a challenge for many managers also. "I don't have many early morning meetings with my team before 9am or post 5pm, so that we can all manage our outside lives. You must talk and build a working life that suits yourself. We all struggle and sometimes work can take over. I still try to absorb and enjoy those crazy busy days, knowing that tomorrow may be a bit easier."

Darcy is a huge advocate for AECOM's Freedom to Grow. "I'm always promoting AECOM's Freedom to Grow to everyone. Recently, I've been interviewing a lot of potential candidates and I'm always saying that flexibility and support are not new items for AECOM. The pandemic has simply made many other companies catch up."

Darcy did find lockdown during the pandemic to be hard. Sadly, her husband was furloughed, then he was laid off. Darcy's daughter was out of nursery and so Darcy was just trying to get through the days.

"It was very hard, but I have an excellent team around me and all the support I needed was there. The team I work with at AECOM is amazingly supportive of me and my daughter was even an attendee at many meetings - meetings with AECOM Directors right through to meetings with my clients. She is officially now part of my team! Without the support I was shown from AECOM, I may have had to request to be furloughed - but my client supported me working at evening and weekends. If I couldn’t complete a task during the day, I worked at night to never miss a deadline. I just needed to adapt to not only managing my working time, but also managing my teaching time, Mummy time, and generally not having any break time. I’m sure most working parents can relate to this," laughs Darcy.

"I am guilty of always answering my phone and checking emails when I can, no matter what the hour, but I choose to do this because I know that when I can't always respond due to childcare issues, everyone knows I will always be available when I can be," she says.

"I have met people from all different walks of life in my career and I value everyone’s way of working. Some people need the commute, the office, and the routine that goes with working. Then there are others who seek to work flexibly and manage their time differently. I tell my team 'Do what’s right for you and as long as your client is happy, I will support you 100%' and this is how I operate," confirms Darcy.

Following the pandemic, Darcy believes that her colleagues more so now understand and appreciate how challenging being a working parent can be and how much easier life can be if you work for a company that supports you.

Outside of work, Darcy loves to spend quality time with her daughter. "Everything we do is designed around her. We are avid horse racing fans in this house and my daughter Ronnie Jean has been coming with us since she was a baby - except when we go to the Cheltenham Festival as that's crazy busy!"

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Darcy’s daughter Ronnie Jean graduating on 'Freedom Day' 2021 post lockdown

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