So many working moms would like to negotiate a flexible work schedule but are either too nervous to ask or think there’s no point in trying because they’ll be hit with an automatic “no.”
Whether you want to skip rush hour and work from home in the mornings, would like to be able to better accommodate your kids’ after-school activities, or just have more control over your daily life, it is possible to arrange a more flexible work schedule.
But it’s important to remember you will have greater success if you approach your “big ask” from the employer’s perspective.
“If flexibility to work from home is what you need to bring your best self to work, approach the flexibility with your employer as a benefit to them,” Shaara Roman, founder of workplace consulting firm, The Silverene Group, told me.
Here are five key things to keep in mind before you approach your boss:
1. Be awesome at your job
If you’re awesome at your job, you can command the flexibility you want and need. Be the absolute best in whatever it is you do, and your company will bend over backwards to make accommodations for you.
You may be thinking, “but what about the 6-month probationary period before working from home” or “what will people think if I leave at 4:30 p.m. every day?” But the bottom line is this: it doesn’t matter. You’re more likely to get a “yes” from your employer if you do a killer job every day, make your boss’s life easier and be polite and friendly with everyone.
What does this look like? Anticipate your boss’s needs. Give her what she needs before she asks, heck, before she even thinks to ask for it. Solve problems. Work without needing micromanagement. Deliver and communicate the value that you are adding to your organization every single day.
You may be doing an awesome job at work, but you still need to know what your company’s current policies are. Is there a probationary period before flexible or alternate schedules are allowed? What are the core hours?
Before you make your ask, examine whether you’re placing your boss in a bad position. For example, if you ask for telework a month before the probationary period ends, will your boss be in hot water for not granting another employee the same benefit
Talk to people in your organization who are currently on a flexible schedule. Is it formal or ad hoc? How did they arrange it? Are there any challenges in their schedule arrangement? Any minefields internally you should avoid?
Tone matters. You don’t want to come across as “I don’t care what the policy says, Sally is working from home on Mondays, and I want that, too.” What you do want to do is leverage the information you dug up for your own schedule needs.
3. Draw up a proposal
Bosses don’t like ultimatums, so put your flexible schedule request in a proposal format. Show that you have researched current policies and norms, evaluated any potential challenges, and anticipate and address any potential pain points.
For example, how will you handle time-sensitive requests from your boss if you are walking out the door at 3:30 p.m. to meet your kids at the bus stop? Maybe it’s promising to answer your phone from 3:30-5:00 p.m. with any urgent questions and will log in from 7:00-8:00 p.m. to answer any requests before the start of the next business day.
Propose a 30-day evaluation period. It’s hard for anyone to say no to anything for 30 days. Consider adding goals and metrics to your proposal and, if approved, schedule the 30-day check-in with your boss right there and then.
“You have to make a business case for what you want,” executive coach Dr. Kiban Turner, Ph.D., told me. “No business really cares about your feelings, your kids, or your elderly parents. But if you’re a great employee, they probably care a lot about you staying in your job. That’s your business case. This case will be even stronger if you have a very specialized skill - where you will be even harder to replace.”
4. Be flexible
Yes, you have family commitments, but this is a J-O-B. You are getting paid to perform specific functions and services, and maybe your proposed schedule doesn’t fit into the real world.
Determine your perfect schedule, and work backwards from there. Maybe your goal is to work from home two days per week, but since no one in your organization is currently doing that, your boss says “no.” Don’t get discouraged. Ask if you can start with one day per week telecommuting, and make sure you absolutely knock it out of the park. When you reevaluate in a few months, you will be negotiating from a position of strength.
“This should be a win-win scenario,” said Andy Rosenberg, a Partner at Washington, D.C.-based government relations firm Thorn Run Partners. “In many sectors, employers who are willing to make flexibility accommodations are at a competitive advantage for talent, especially in a tight labor market like we have been experiencing the last several years.”
5. Over communicate
Keep your calendar up to date, always showing where you are and when. Before signing off for the day, tee up an email to your boss or your team that shows what you accomplished for the day, the status of pending items, and what’s on tap for tomorrow. Leverage all communication tools such as instant messenger and Slack channels to demonstrate that your flexible schedule doesn’t impact your work or your team’s ability to get their work done.
Once approved, own your flexible schedule. Flexible work is still work, never take it for granted and for goodness sake don’t abuse it. Instead, over-deliver while you are on duty and then when the clock strikes the hour of your agreed upon departure, log off with your head held high, knowing you deserve to be where you are.
Jennifer Folsom is vice president of client delivery at Washington, D.C.-based management consulting firm RIVA Solutions Inc. She lives in Alexandria, Virginia, with her husband Ben and three sons, 17-year-old twins Josh and Will, and 12-year-old Anderson. Her practical guide to modern working motherhood,"The Ringmaster," will be out Jan. 7, 2020.