In a Womenomics world an economic downturn can be upturned to your advantage. We’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. Don’t let glum economic headlines convince you that this is the wrong time to ask for anything. Bosses everywhere will be looking for ways to cut costs, so if you are proposing a work relationship that will save him a bit of salary costs, you’ll probably get an immediate yes. Or if you are simply looking to work more flexibly, you may also get a thumbs-up—especially as supervisors are looking for ways to reward workers that don’t involve cash.

So think carefully about what you want and, again, what your company needs right now. Use it all in your negotiation.

“Bob—I understand that the usual bonuses will be hard to come by this year—and I’d like to offer you an alternative. I’d certainly see it as a sign of your confidence in me and your hap­piness with my performance if we could create a situation where I work from home two days a week.”

Or—“Virginia. I know what the company is going through right now. And I know real estate is at a premium and that you’re looking for office space. What if we turn this into a win-win for everyone—and I work from home most days, and our new vice president can have my office.”

Or—“Charles. I know you’re struggling with these potential layoffs. Remember how I proposed a four-day workweek last year? What if we give that a go now? It could take some of the pressure off the company.”

claire For years I’d somehow managed to craft an "unofficial” flex­ible relationship with my company. After my first child, I pro­posed a four-day workweek, but the higher-ups didn’t think it made sense because of my profile at the company. ABC did let me work from home a good bit though, and I was told that face-time in the office didn’t have to be a priority, which helped enormously as I tried to balance it all. Still, I always hoped to make the arrangement more formal—to literally trade money for time—so that I could shake some of the guilt I often felt when I’d turn down an assignment or travel, but ABC just didn’t want to go that route. Until last year. As I was writing this book—the finances at our company grew increasingly tight. It turned out to be the perfect opening to make a new deal that, yes, cut my salary (ouch), but also my hours and the demands on my time. It’s working well for all of us, and I’m sure the company might not have considered it if they weren’t looking at a new financial reality.

Cynthia Trudell, the senior vice president and head of per­sonnel at PepsiCo, says a recession is the ideal time for compa­nies to focus on efficiency and potential savings.

“Your own employees might decide they want to take some time off and work differently, and they’re likely far more valu­able than a consultant, so that can be extremely effective.”

Rule Eight: Now That You’ve Got Your Deal, Don’t Take It for Granted, or,

“It’s the Communication, Stupid”

Once you’ve secured your great work life don’t slip into balanced bliss and assume you can park your schedule in the done file and expect everyone to be permanently delighted. Your precious New All is a high-maintenance tropical flower—heavenly but demanding.

• Obviously you do need to keep performing. You can’t go into this deal a fast-tracker and a year later find yourself stalling in the slow lane and expect no one to notice.

Whether it’s at the coffee shop, in your kitchen, or at the beach house, you do actually need to keep justifying that salary. Sorry!

• Make a point of regularly checking in with your higher-ups to ensure they’re still on board. There is nothing worse than going into the office one day and finding your boss has revoked your at home/day off/short week privileges because of a simmering discontent that you had no idea about.

• Take the initiative about keeping in touch. Remind colleagues that even though you’re not physically present, you fully expect them to call you whenever necessary. Why not go one step further and make a point of calling them just to break the ice.

Chandra Dhandapani’s system at Capital One is so brilliant for women because it is completely the norm. Not only is there a formula for measuring results, as we described above, but there is also an equally rigorous system for maintaining employee/ employer communication to keep those targets on track. The company has instituted regular communication between associ­ates and their bosses known as ten-ten meetings in which each side gets ten minutes to express any concerns or queries.

“Ten tens are always one-on-one meetings between a man­ager and their direct reports and are typically held once a week or once every two weeks. I use mine to:

• Check in with my direct reports on high-level progress against their goals—this is not a detailed work review meeting. (I set up separate weekly check-ins to review key metrics and progress on key initiatives.)

• Check in on how they are doing on an individual level— their mood, stress level, workload, and any help they need from me in removing roadblocks.

• Exchange feedback—this is a two-way conversation where I give them feedback on how they are doing overall from my vantage point, and they give me feedback on our interaction, the direction of the department, or anything else that’s on their mind.”

Remember, you’re doing something different, and some­times people find that awkward, almost embarrassing, so the onus is on you to keep those lines open and easy. Melissa James at Morgan Stanley says bosses find this communicating issue one of the trickiest issues to deal with when someone is working from home.

“People don’t know how to have an honest dialogue about this stuff,” Melissa said. She also told us that managers are often thinking, “ ‘What should I say? How should I say it?’ If this person has asked for workplace flexibility, I don’t want to put too many demands on them, so if I ask them to do some­thing is it going to be OK? Like, for example, I have heard of situations where women are working from home on a particular day, but nobody feels comfortable calling them, and that only exacerbates the situation. It makes people feel uncomfortable. I think some managers are nervous about trying these work arrangements because they’re afraid of what the expectations are going to be.”

Jennifer Keisling, the part-time attorney who works for Dot O’Brien in Louisville, Kentucky, agrees that a critical element is communication. Sometimes that involves communication about what you can’t do.

“You have to have the flexibility to say no to specific things without there being pressure on you at all. I need to be able to say I’m going to offload this to outside counsel, with no second – guessing.” She tries to think of the mutual flexibility this way:

“I am committed to doing this job and fulfilling the mutual goals that we have, and doing my best at it, while also being flex­ible on the other end, on the home side too,” explains Jennifer. “I’m willing to do all of that, but when I say I can’t do some­thing, I need to be able to say no.”

The trick, obviously, is to let bosses know you’re available and committed—without being available and committed the whole time! If you’ve got a terrific boss, it will work fine. Otherwise, you’ll soon know whether they’re abusing the situation, and then you need to address that. And all of it will be easier if you’ve been in regular communication about how it’s working.

Here Are a Few Telltale Signs That Your
Deal Isn’t Making Your Boss Happy

Problem: That stream of high-profile projects you’re used to working on starts drying up.

Solution: Bring it up and ask why. Is your boss unhappy with your performance, or is it just out of sight, out of mind? Find a way to get back on the radar and keep that performance level high, high, high.

Problem: Key decisions are made without you.

Solution: Find out ifit’s just because you were off that day or whether there’s a bigger problem. Don’t get paranoid, but do keep communicating with your colleagues and your boss. Maybe you need to see whether there are key decisions happening regularly on your day off and adjust your schedule or call in to that essential meeting.

Problem: Someone less qualified is promoted over you.

Solution: Ask why. Is your performance slipping, or is your special deal undermining your value? Communication is a two-way street, but the onus is on you to keep the traffic flowing. You know you will have to recalibrate short-term expectations if you are working less time, but if you feel this was undeserved, you need to schedule face-time with your employers and check whether or not the deal is still working for them.

It keeps coming back to talking about everything—on all levels. Melissa has an employee who works from home on Fri­days, but occasionally she’ll need her to come in anyway on that day. “I’m not afraid to tell her, ‘Look, you’ve got to tell me if this isn’t working for you. If somehow this isn’t working I need to hear it from you, because I don’t want to be playing a guessing game or trying to read your mind. And vice versa, if it’s not working for me, I have to tell you as well.’ ”

Melissa James and Chandra Dhandapani couldn’t work in more different industries or in more different companies. One is an investment banker, the other an auto loan officer. One is in New York, the other is in Plano, Texas. One has had to negotiate and create her own flexibility in a world where it is totally the exception. The other was offered nirvana from scratch—she’s lucky enough to work for a company where eight-to-six in an office sounds, well, neanderthal. But these two determined, suc­cessful women share one unwavering belief when it comes to maintaining their own treasured work lives and making flexibil­ity work for those below them: just as with marriage, kids, friends, and life—it is all about communication.