|You can have your cupcake and eat it too.|
Work-life balance is an elusive thing and constantly changing. For me, it involves having a flexible work arrangement. I've been lucky enough to work at a large tech company since 2002. For the first 5 years, I worked A LOT. Full time+. I worked every single day of September 2005 preparing for a customer event, but that was my favorite role in my 14 years of working in technology.
I dabbled in flexible work arrangements, working part-time for a while (without kids - that was AMAZING) and trying a compressed work week, with 9-10 hour days and every other Friday off. Both worked well for my needs at the time.
Since my return from maternity leave in 2010, I have worked part-time, ranging from 20-25 hours per week. I was typically in the office 2 days a week and worked a little from home on the other evenings and the occasional weekend as needed. This allowed me to spend 3 full days at home each week with my toddler. I'm currently on maternity leave now, and am scheduled to return in a few weeks, though the details are still pending.
When I tell people at work about this uncommon arrangement, they get a wistful look in their eyes and say things like “Wow, I wish I could do that” or “My job could never accommodate that” or “You’re so lucky, I’d never be allowed to do that”.
NOT TRUE, people! I started out just like everyone else, working 45+ hours, email every waking moment, fielding questions and putting out fires for a company-wide initiative. And who could forget those delightful summer Saturdays spent in the office?
And then I realized I wanted more out of life than just work. Don’t get me wrong – I love my job, and I love my company with its myriad opportunities and amazing people. But I wanted time for myself and my hobbies, and of course, time to really *enjoy* this new family thing we've got going on.
It goes without saying that this is not just a womens' issue. My husband requested (and got!) a compressed work week so that we could care for our daughter ourselves for her first year. He was home with her on the two days I worked, and then he’d go to work for the next 4 days. It was surprisingly easy to arrange this with our employer. Harder to get through the weeks without being completely exhausted, but that’s life, right?
So without further ado, here’s the advice I've given to many people who asked how they too can get the work schedule of their dreams. (Short of winning the lottery and quitting altogether, that is.)
How to get the sweet gig:
1. First, read up on your company’s policies and procedures around flexible work. If they don’t have them, you’ll need to decide how badly you want it, and then be the trailblazer and help them get a policy in place.
2. Figure out what *you* want with respect to work schedule and pay/benefits. A lot of people approach this as “I’ll do whatever my company lets me” but I think that’s the wrong way to go about it, and everyone leaves the discussion unsatisfied.
- A compressed schedule (e.g. 4 day work week or 9 days/2 weeks) will allow you to keep a full time workload and salary, but you’ll have to work longer days to make up for the day you’re off.
- A part-time schedule will give you reduced work hours (duh!) but also reduced pay and potentially fewer benefits. In addition, you’ll need to think hard about how your work can be scoped to fit into fewer hours.
- Telecommuting one or more days a week may not change your schedule, but may allow you to shift your schedule rather than spending time commuting.
3. Write up a short proposal detailing what schedule you’re requesting *and* addressing any concerns that might come up. You need to position it as something good for your work group, not just what’s in it for you.
4. Discuss with your manager. Be confident about what you’re asking for, and address his/her concerns with solutions. Be willing to discuss it “up the chain” as needed.
Once you’ve got the sweet gig:
- Be clear with your management and team about your work schedule and location (if you’re telecommuting.) It really helps to have the same schedule each week so people get used to it.
- If you’re not in the office but working, BE AVAILABLE. I can’t stress this enough. Sign into IM, answer your phone and email in a timely fashion and call in to scheduled meetings. People need to know and see that you’re working. Sounds unfair, and we think people should “just notice” our awesome deliverables, but that’s not enough.
- If you are working from home and your young kids are around, you MUST have childcare.There is no way you can do a great job working if you’re also taking care of your kids. Not putting in that “face time” at the office means you need to do an *extra* good job, and that’s not going to happen with distractions.
- If you’re working part time, don’t regularly work more than what you agreed to. Obviously you’ll have to put in extra hours around crunch time, but keep track of this, and make sure it evens out later. It makes no sense to work full-time hours on a part-time salary. If you have too much work to accomplish on your schedule, talk to your manager about prioritization.
- Be equally clear about your availability on days you’re not working. Give out your cell phone info for emergencies, but don’t accept non-urgent meetings and don’t respond to non-urgent emails either. You need to “train” people to understand your new schedule. They won’t respect it if you don’t.
- Review the arrangement periodically with your manager. Quarterly is good. Actively solicit feedback about what’s working and what’s not. Actually do something about what’s not working.
- Don’t be apologetic about having an unusual work arrangement. Be an ambassador, so people can see that we don’t have to chain ourselves to our desks 80 hours a week. Do great work and evangelize what you’re accomplishing and HOW you’re accomplishing it with your dream schedule and your newfound, totally awesome work life balance!
Of course, not everyone who asks gets approved, but a lot fewer people ask than you think, and there aren't actually *that* many people who do propose it seriously. Many companies, including my own, will actually *help* valued employees find an arrangement that works for them, even if their current role isn't a good fit.
I’d love to hear other stories of flexible work arrangements, and any other tips you can share for making it work for everyone involved!