Your company is growing fast and needs extra office space. Working from home will free up a desk
• New managers need training and development. If you reduce your workload you can pass on a valuable opportunity to someone else.
If you can sell this as a win-win you are almost guaranteed a positive reception. Kathleen Christensen has a useful mental tip here. When you’re negotiating your new deal, think of it in your own mind as a business strategy, not a favor.
“I would say that anyone negotiating it has to change their mind-set away from flexibility being an accommodation, a benefit, a perk, to seeing it as a strategic business tool,” Christensen explains. “And therefore when they propose it, they have to show how it’s going to enhance business as well as their own work lives, and maybe then their retention. I think one of the problems is that too many people for too long have seen these as entitlements that will make their personal lives better, but that there’s no recognition of what the consequences will be for their team and for the organization in general, for meeting deadlines, and being productive.”
1. “I’ve Got an Iron-Clad, Detailed Plan"
It’s also important to have a concrete plan for how your new schedule will work in practice. For example, how will you continue communicating with other team members and, if necessary, with clients? If you have a job where rapid client response is important, this is likely to be a key concern for your boss. No one wants to think a hotshot, well-paying client is going to be kept waiting while you take five-hour hikes in the Adirondacks.
If you want to work from home and telecommute, describe your home-office setup and reassure your boss up front that children will be taken care of full time. Offer to pay for any technology upgrades. Remember, you’re trying to sell this as a good deal for them too, so spin it as positively as you can.
When litigation lawyer Jennifer Keisling interviewed with her boss, Dorothy O’Brien, the vice president and deputy general counsel of legal and environmental affairs at E. ON U. S., she had specific lifestyle demands. She was pregnant, and knew already she’d want to work part time. Having had a very successful run at the U. S. Department of Justice, she was being courted by several top law firms. She made a compelling case for being flexible about her less-than-full-time status. O’Brien wanted this important fish—still, she worried about reeling her in.
“Let me tell you the primary concern. When you’re in a professional position where you are providing a service to others in the business, we pride ourselves on immediate availability and responsiveness. But how do you fit a part-time employee into that paradigm? I don’t want to be in a position where we’ve agreed to a one-to-five schedule and a crisis comes up when she’s not there. When you’re a professional, you need to be available. But how do you reconcile that availability with the core agreement that we’ve reached?”
O’Brien hired her, and has been thrilled with the payoff. “I think it was a leap of faith,” she says. “And it proved to be worth the risk, on both sides.” Indeed, over time, Jennifer, a committed Christian, decided she wanted to homeschool her now three children. More than a grand title, or even a grander salary, she was eager to have mornings off to teach her children. It’s certainly an unusual arrangement for a top lawyer, but Jennifer convinced Dot that she had every detail worked out. She had help from her inlaws at home in case she had to come in, she had her home wired for working from there at odd hours, and she said she was willing to take calls in the mornings if necessary. And she’d already shown, over the years, how artful she could be at making flexibility work.
O’Brien, already thrilled with Jennifer’s contributions, said yes. “If Jennifer’s needed here, she works it out. And then we figure out how to equalize things at the back end,” she explains. “If you have people who operate in good faith, who are really motivated to do a good job, they do it.”
2. "I’m Offering Open, Honest Communication—
Even about Money”
Don’t pretend to be able to do things from home that you can’t. We know an art historian who deals with precious manuscripts. If those medieval books leave the climate-controlled basement of her museum, they’ll probably disintegrate. So, more than she’d really like, she simply has to be in the museum. What’s the ancient tome in your job?
If there are elements of your job where face-time with colleagues (or manuscripts) is unavoidable, reassure your boss that you still intend to be there for those meetings. Let him or her know that you understand there will be times when telecommuting just won’t work. Honesty makes your plan seem more realistic. And quell his jittery nerves by making it clear that you will give everyone plenty of notice of your availability. (Remember, you’re dealing with an anxious child here. Treat with caution!)
You may want to try to go flexible before you go part time. Losing money should always be the last option. But if that is what makes sense, and that is what you want, then YOU need to make it clear in these negotiations exactly what you expect financially. Many bosses worry you’ll be looking for “special treatment.” You need to be open about the fact that you are not expecting to produce less without taking less money. You are looking for a fair deal, and all details can be discussed openly.
3. "I Will Be Flexible, Too”
Emphasize that you will be flexible with your flexibility.
For Christine Heenan, half of whose ten-person communications team works on flexible schedules, reciprocity is essential. She doesn’t really care when or where her employees work, so long as they get the job done. She has bent over backward to accommodate her associates’ schedules, but she also expects them to adapt their schedules if there’s a company emergency.
“I think knowing that there is flexibility within their flexibility is very important. So for example, I have this new employee, Kim, who works Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I got a call yesterday on my way to Washington D. C. saying the mayor’s office had set up a project meeting for us for this morning at 9 a. m., not knowing that I was out of town. And so I called Kim and said, ‘Kim, I can’t do this meeting, can you?’ And she said, ‘Yep, I just need some background.’ I didn’t start the conversation by saying, ‘I know you don’t work on Tuesdays,” she didn’t start her response with, ‘Well Tuesday is not normally a day I work.’ But there is going to be a Friday that Kim has to be somewhere else and we’ll work it out. I think that if you’re rigid about the flexibility that you’ve demanded, that’s problematic. Flexibility has to go both ways,” says Heenan.
Offer contingency plans for possible conflicts. If there’s a crunch at work and you need to work on Friday, even though you usually have it off, make it clear that you can do so. Suggest that you’d be happy to take that day off the following week when things have calmed down in the office.
Angelique Krembs, a marketing director at PepsiCo who’s been with the company for fifteen years, just returned to work full time after two years of working from home on a project basis. The situation worked extremely well, largely because both she and the company tried hard to meet each other’s requirements.
“It has to be a two-way street,” she says. “Pepsi showed me enormous flexibility, and so I showed it to them too.”
She’d been dreading the company’s response when she told them she was just not ready to come back after an extended maternity leave. “I thought I would have to resign,” she remembers. The response floored her. “Tell us what would make it work for you,” her HR person responded. “I was surprised,” she admits. And gratified. And the company was open again when she told them she was pregnant again and asked to extend her work – from-home situation. And in return, she says, when they asked her to handle a project that kept her much busier for a number of months than she would have liked, she was happy to do it.
And now PepsiCo has a valuable employee back at headquarters.