a resource, my insights, and news

Making Flexible work, work

You must always be able to predict what's next and then have the flexibility to evolve.

- Mark Benioff

I recently wrote an article for the Law Society of New South Wales on Making Flexible Work, work. and work well.  When I first started to write the article I thought the best place to start would be with the many colleagues and friends I had who I knew had, or were, working flexibly. My plan was to cheat a little and use their experience to write my article, specifically asking what plans and processes were put in place to ensure part time really was part time work.  This was not as clever as I thought it was as most of their responses were not what I was looking for exactly and included:

  • I could tell you but then I would have to kill you.
  • Oh boy, this is a can of worms
  • This is the reason I have not gone to a nine day fortnight, as much as I would love to. I already bring home too much work :(
  • This is my current assignment topic - sources say it is not possible
  • Very hard to do MJ when we have all worked full time plus managing family/home. I think we all struggle to say 'no'!  Clear goals and agreed expectations in the work place is the key.
  • Flying around like an idiot and being surgically attached to my phone. I can do anything in the car park at football training!
  • I gave up and started working full time- sorry, probably not helpful
  • Epic fail here too

?So far, not so good.  But then I finally had this gem:

Flexibility goes both ways if you have to put in extra time on days off ensure you are remunerated.  The employer needs to be flexible in allowing this type of employee slack to attend to other commitments, change days while being able to manage clients and customers in a way that is real given part-time status.  It has to be OK to tell clients someone is working part time and discuss how a matter can be managed in that time frame.  Set very clear boundaries.  When I'm with my child I'll do my best,  but may need to negotiate a different time frame or assign the task to someone else.  The type of work is important - discuss what types of work have longer or more flexible timeframes and give this work to part-time employees.  Support systems, technology and staff need to be set up to assist part-time and flexible workers.  Support staff need training on how to support part-time workers and the broader team.  Value value value -  ensure the genuine attitude is 'we're lucky to have you'  not that 'we are doing you a favour'.  The supervisor needs to express openly appreciation encouragement and support and ensure promotions, pay increases and training opportunities are dealt with in the same way as with other staff. These things have been critical to me working part time for the last 10 years -  I hope it's helpful.  

Indeed it was, as it refelcted my own views of how flexible work must work.

Most importantly, communication is key.

You can read the finished article here.




Flexibility in the news

Real fatherhood means love and commitment and sacrifice and a willingness to share responsibility and not walking away from one's children

William Bennett

The last week has seen quite a bit of news about flexibility.

First of all, in world news, we found out that German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel is adopting a flexible work arrangement taking a half day every Wednesday afternoon to collect his two year old daughter from school.  Astonishing.   Don’t get me wrong I am all for male champions of change and Herr Sigmar is setting a wunderbar example of how men can be real role models and mentors .  And I note that he is taking no prisoners in his response to not being 100% committed to his VIJ (very important job).  Something every woman with a VIJ and children has to put up with at some time or another.

When I first read this I was disappointed and more than a little bit cynical –   disappointed that in 2014, a man in Germany makes the world news for taking time off to care for a child. Imagine the newsprint that would be used up every time a woman with a VIJ gave up time at work to pick up a child from day care.  On the other hand, I think it is wonderful that such a man is taking fatherhood (or should I say parenthood) seriously (at least the second time around) and not sacrificing himself completely to his work with such a young child. He admits it is his 'turn' to collect their child from nursery school, and would be working from home, managing his time to be able to do so.

Herr Gabriel also tweeted a photo of himself, in front of his computer at home checking his emails, having picked up his daughter, and made a coffee.  Something a small army of women do every day.

On balance, of course it is a great thing and we need more of it, if not for women to be able to participate in their careers more fully with a partner who is a true partner, but because it is better for children and families, to have both parents, of whatever gender,  involved in the care of children.  Historically, in families with both parents involved in parenting, it is the mother who is more likely to work part time, and more likely to be the primary care-giver. For women with children to be able to participate more fully in their careers, they need a partner who will do more of the 'heavy lifting' that goes with parenthood.  And housework.

The article about Herr Gabriel, became even more important in light of what came out later in the week.   A study covering 35000 Australian families, conducted by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, has found what they called the 'tipping point' of work/life balance  - that for women (my emphasis) with careers they should work 2-3 days a week. You can read the news report on the research here.

The senior researcher said that in doing so women (my emphasis) were more able to fit their work around their caring responsibilities and that if they worked longer than that women (my emphasis) risked creating an unhappy home, as they rushed family time and missed key family events.

First, how awful for those who have no choice financially but to work full time to have more guilt heaped on them by this research.

Secondly, this is once again about women being solely responsible for working and creating a happy home.  Enough of these stereotypes.  Herr Gabriel, I take my hat off to you.  Hut ab vor ihm!



Making a Flexible Work Arrangement Work

"Stay committed to your decisions, but stay flexible in your approach."

Tony Robbins

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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?
  5. 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).
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

Once successful…

Assuming you are successful in your quest, how do you make it work?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.