What on earth would Dolly Parton say? The days of traditional 9-5 working hours seem to be numbered with more and more of us choosing to work remotely and flexibly.
The reasons for wanting to work less rigidly stretch far and wide – from starting a family or caring for an elderly relative, to simply wanting to achieve a better work-life balance. In fact, according to a poll taken during our 'Career Planning – Navigating Life Changes' webinar, 56% of attendees said striking a balance between home and work life was the main driver for wanting to make the change.
There are many ways to work more flexibly, for example: working from home all or some of time; doing your current job on part-time basis; working compressed hours (doing the same amount of work in less hours); doing staggered hours; annualised hours; considering a job share; you could even discuss taking a sabbatical. And whatever your reason for contemplating the switch, there are, according to everywoman webinar speaker and Leadership Coach, Pippa Isbell, some essential steps you need to take in order to achieve a win-win solution for both you and your employer.
1. Do your research
Nearly half of the everywoman subscribers who attended our webinar were disinclined to talk to their boss about flexible working because they thought discussing the topic would either harm their career or that their requests would be flat-out refused. The first thing to do is to find out what legistlation effects your rights to flexible working where you are. In the UK, for example, new legislation was passed in June 2014, meaning all full-time employees with at least 26 weeks of company service under their belt have a legal right to request flexible working – and employers are legally obliged to deal with the request in a reasonable manner. Once you know where the law stands in your corner of the world, research your own company policy regarding flexible working – either online, in your company handbook or by asking colleagues. For over a third of webinar attendees, personal issues such as not being able to afford to cut their hours was the reason for not broaching the subject. If this is the case for you, Pippa suggests asking yourself whether you'd be willing to adapt your lifestyle, postpone your goals for a while or change your priorities. It's worth remembering too that all conversations with your HR department are confidential – so discuss it with someone. Communication is key.
2. Make a plan
This is the obvious stage and the one that requires most work. Take a step back and give yourself a lifestyle audit. Use our Career Planning workbook (log in to access) and do a SWOT analysis to help you discover more about yourself, your values and passions and what you'd really love to do. Next, take a long look at your situation and make a list of everyone involved who'll be affected if you change to flexible working: family, colleagues, friends perhaps? Also ask yourself what other elements of your life will be affected if you make the change: Health? Hobbies? Money? Now it's time to visualise – start by writing your ideal working scenario down on paper so it's crystal clear. Perhaps you want to get home in time to help with the kids' homework at least three nights a week, maybe you'd just like to be able to spend more time with your partner. Whatever the reason, it's also worth doing a little homework in advance. Is there anyone else in your team, division, department or organization who was allowed to work a little differently? How did they do that? What questions did they ask? Turn to your personal advisory board, AKA your mentors, and ask them what you think might work.
3. Map out what you want to say
Now it's time for the real negotiations to start. Make an appointment to speak with your boss/HR department/CEO one-on-one and prepare to make a business case for what you want to do. You might feel a little nervous or emotional when it comes to the conversation itself so Pippa advises getting everything down on paper and taking it into the meeting with you. That way you don't forget anything vital and you state your case as clearly as possible.
4. Listen carefully
Your boss might have a list of concerns and questions. Listen carefully to what she or he has to say – and prepare for their reactions by doing your homework in advance. Write down the advantages and disadvantages of your switching to flexible hours for your boss and colleagues as well as yourself – and have that piece of paper with you in the meeting. Have clear and objective answers ready.
5. Leave your emotions out of it
Not all negotiations are finalised in one meeting and if you find yourself getting emotional during discussions with your boss then it's a good time to ask for a little time out to think about the issues raised. Having your request addressed reasonably could mean: having it addressed promptly (usually within 3 months), having the advantages and disadvantages of your request assessed, only having your request denied for good business reasons and the right to an appeal process. So it's perfectly acceptable for you to suggest a follow-up meeting to go over part two of your business case.
6. Consider trade-offs
You want to spend less time in the office, which may concern your boss initially, but you can use this as an opportunity to put others forward. If you have a great deputy, big them up and list all the ways they'd make a great success of stepping up when needed. Perhaps there's someone more junior in your team who has big ambitions – put their name forward for extra responsibilities, this, in turn, will further their skill set. Trade-offs are a win-win situation: a nice stretch and new skills for your colleague/deputy – flexibility for you.
7. Aim for a good compromise
Although negotiating a life change is a personal situation for you, it's not personal for the business, so be as objective as you can and be willing to consider other solutions put forward by your company or boss. A lot of these conversations result in a compromise that benefits both parties, so it's important to keep an open mind.
If you receive the outcome you envisaged, congratulations! However, it doesn't end there. Pippa suggests now's the time to set boundaries for yourself, your colleagues and your family. You don’t want to put yourself in a situation where you’re working full-time for part-time pay – so organise your time wisely and honour pressing deadlines! Similarly, you don’t want to shortchange your boss and colleagues back in the office either so timekeeping is essential. It's also important to keep your skills and knowledge up to date, to stay in contact with your mentors and to maintain an open mind – one day you might want to step back into your career, after all. With your decision made and approved, it’s time to enjoy and not let any niggles about stepping off the career ladder trouble you. As Pippa puts it, 'A career doesn't have to be a graph from bottom left to top right – you can have lots of jiggles in it, providing you know what you're doing when you have those jiggles.'