6 Steps to Follow When Proposing a Flexible Work Arrangement

Find out how others got a flexible schedule

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Only 46% of the full-time working mothers the Pew Research Center surveyed said that working full-time was ideal for their work/life balance.  Most want part-time hours.

But since a cut in pay is not ideal let's outline steps you could take to create a flexible work arrangement (FWA) with your current employer. You can seek a flexible schedule where your scheduled hour's change, you can change a number of hours you work (go to part-time), and/or the location of where you work.

The first step is to talk to everyone you know who has successfully proposed a flexible work arrangement.  Ask them some of these questions:

  • How did they convince their employer?  
  • What do they like or dislike about the arrangement?
  • Has their arrangement hurt their career or earning potential?
  • If they had to re-negotiate their work arrangement would they do anything differently?
  • What lessons have they learned from working a flexible work schedule?

Think about your professional and personal needs

Working from home, know your needs
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Think about which possible arrangement would work best for you and your job.  Here are a few examples:

  • Work a compressed work week where you work four 10-hour days and get a day off.
  • Work six or seven-hour days in the office and then finish your work at home after the kids go to sleep.
  • Job sharing may be the best solution for time-intensive professions.
  • Work from home on Mondays and Fridays and then be present in the office Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.
  • Working from home all week with weekly Skype calls with your team.
  • You work 40-hours per week but must be in the office during core hours which are 10AM-3PM (or some other set of hours).

Second, decide which arrangement would work for your personal life. As much as you'd like to work less, you may not be able to afford the pay cut that comes with part-time work. Also, find out whether your employer reduces benefits for employees who work less than full time.

Third, look at your work style. Working from home may sound great until you're trying to concentrate on a report with three screaming kids underfoot. Not working in the office can also be isolating, especially for introverts who need the encouragement of close quarters to interact with their co-workers.

Fourth, investigate what your childcare options are. If your children are still little, see if you could save money by cutting back on child care. Some centers don't discount part-time care, so you might want to continue full-time work. If you have a babysitter, gauge how open she would be to a more flexible schedule with possibly fewer hours.

Last, what would your backup child care plan look like?  Before committing to a different schedule have a discussion with your support system (the people who support you whenever you need them to) to get them on board, whether it's your husband, mother or school carpool buddy.

Think about how your employer will view your flexible schedule

What will the company think of a flexible work schedule
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This is probably the most important step. It's really up to you to figure out how to cover your job responsibilities with the kind of schedule you want. If others in your department are looking for better work/life balance, they might be open to a flexible group schedule that would give each person more time off while making sure all work is covered.

Determine which tasks must be completed in the workplace, which can be done on your own schedule, and which can be eliminated or delegated to another person. If you plan to go part-time, you will either have to eliminate certain duties or produce at a slower pace.

Write down your proposal. Ask co-workers with flexible schedules to share any documents they have, or look for templates on the Internet. Be sure to specify how work emergencies and crunch times would be handled.

Propose your flexible work schedule

Propose the flexible work schedule
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Prepare your proposal using the A-E-I-O-U assertiveness technique.  Doing so will make you feel prepared, get your point across quickly, and open the discussion on your proposed flexible work arrangement.  Here's an example of the technique:

Acknowledge: I know that the office policy on flexible work arrangements is based on each employee's job.

Express: I think that a flexible work arrangement for me would help both my work/life balance as well as the company because <fill in the blank>.

Identify: I would like to work four ten-hour days and get one day off per week.

Outline: This is how I'll manage my workload in those four ten-hour days <fill in the blank>.  This will help the team because <fill in the blank> (this takes the focus off you and on the company, so make this enticing).  This will help me professionally because it'll maximize your productivity, you'll be able to focus better, <fill in the blank>.

I'll have goals such as <fill in the blank> and will be held accountable by <fill in the blank>.

Understanding: Instead of working my regular schedule I'll be able to manage my workload in a shorter amount of time and then have more time to spend with my family like not having to take PTO time to bring my kids to their doctor appointments.

By following this technique you'll create a short and concise proposition.  Your employer may need a minute to absorb what you've proposed so be sure to take some deep breaths during those moments of (awkward) silence.  

If during the conversation you feel that your boss doesn't want to commit completely ask for a one-month trial run.  This way you can see if it works for you and vice versa.

Get adjusted to your new flexible work arrangement

Share the news of your new flex arrangement
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Congratulations!  You got it! Now it's time to spread the news but don't go overboard.  If you plan on checking email, voicemail, or any other forms of communication you use on a regular basis only inform people who would need to reach you urgently.

The first few months may require some fine tuning for you to get the workload right. Try to set realistic deadlines and expectations, so you're not working overtime unnecessarily. Differentiate between urgent tasks and those you can delegate or delay.

Keep a close eye on the goals you set.  If you feel nervous about them follow your gut and figure out a solution.  Is there a different way you could be doing something?  Take a deep breath and focus on the process instead of the task to see how you could be working more efficiently.

Make your new arrangment work

women working from home
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It's not a win just because they say yes. You need to stay in close touch with your boss, colleagues, and clients to make sure everything continues to go smoothly.

Remember that flexibility works both ways. You can still be a team player by covering job emergencies, but be sure to step back once the emergency is over. Nobody else will set those boundaries but you.

Be prepared for some resentment from others who want better work-life balance themselves. If confronted, gently remind them of the sacrifices you make for the schedule, whether it's checking email from home or earning less money. Don't apologize, or your co-workers will conclude that you have something to feel guilty about. Instead, be confident and perhaps they'll follow your example.