Making a Flexible Work Arrangement Work
"Stay committed to your decisions, but stay flexible in your approach."
This post was first published by Diversity Partners.
I am often approached by people seeking advice on obtaining approval for a flexible work arrangement and also advice on the best way to make it work.
My advice is very simple – treat this as you would a project for a client. Say, for example, you were assisting the client to produce a tender to win some government work. The client needs to convince the procurement officer they have the best tender to win the work. Your supervisor or team leader is, in effect, the procurement officer.
- Read the policies and procedures back to front. It is vital that you understand the rules – read the firm policy, what type of flexible work is possible under the policy, and how the policy works in practice. Find out how others have made it work. Make sure the flexible work arrangement you are proposing fits within the terms of the policy. If it doesn’t, for example you may be seeking a combination of part time and work from home but the policy only allows for one or the other, be pro-active and suggest amendments to the policy, but in the meantime ensure your proposal fits the policy.
- Be very clear about what sort of flexible work you are seeking – being vague or proposing a number of options does not give the person making the decision clarity about the decision they have to make.
- Prepare a business case – treat your proposal as a business document. Set out clearly the benefits, both for you and the firm, address how colleagues, clients or suppliers will be affected and how you will deal with that, include communication strategies that will need to be put in place, other support you may need (eg technology). The Victorian women Lawyers’ association has an excellent suite of protocols dealing with the various flexible working arrangements, which are useful guides in preparing your business case, whether you work within the legal profession or not.
- Prepare for objections – answer any anticipated objections or questions in your proposal. Try and think of every possible problem or question that may be asked and make a pre-emptive strike in your proposal. If for example, there is a regular team meeting on a day it is proposed you are not going to be in the office, and for whatever reason it cannot be changed, can you be available to attend by phone or by skype?
- Make sure your expectations around career development are clearly enunciated - cover off expectations you may have in relation to career development opportunities (eg education and training, salary reviews).
- Build in review/allow for change – if you are working in a team or group that has not addressed this before, or your supervisor is perceived as being potentially unsupportive, suggest a review period (eg three months), and allow for change. Make sure that the proposal covers off situations where you are unable to alter your arrangement – eg child or eldercare commitments if you are working flexibly for family reasons, exam time and study block if you are working flexibly for study reasons.
- Discuss with team members confidentially - seek out team members you trust and seek their input into the proposal and if appropriate and with their permission, put their support, or the fact that you have addressed their concerns, into the submission.
Assuming you are successful in your quest, how do you make it work?
- Seek out a mentor – find someone who has successfully made this work as a mentor. Better still, start up a peer mentoring group, if none exists, for those working flexibly. Become a leader for those people.
- Reciprocity - I am a big believer in reciprocity. If you are successful in achieving your goal of working flexibly, make sure you are prepared to give back some flexibility. If possible, help out others in the team. If someone is for example answering phones late in the day because you’re leaving early, offer to do the same if that person needs to go to a medical appointment during the day. Always look for ways you can give back.
- Over communicate – Always let people in your team know when you are unavailable and make sure you ask for feedback as to how it is working and address any concerns directly. And say thank you to those who are helping you to make it work.