A version of this article was originally published by Forbes.
When I first started my consulting practice many years ago, a former boss offered me a full-time leadership position at a nonprofit I respected. I was conflicted. Getting a stable paycheck as I started my business combined with the opportunity to work within an organization doing meaningful work was hard to pass up, but I didn’t want to sacrifice the consulting practice I’d worked to build. I negotiated a 30-hour/week flexible schedule with benefits at a slightly lower salary.
A flexible schedule can give you the free time to launch a new business, spend more time with family, be more efficient at work, or carve out meaningful time for yourself. Here are two key strategies to successfully adopt a flexible schedule:
1) Make a detailed plan.
When you request a flexible schedule, go to your supervisor with a clear proposal for how you can be effective with your modified schedule.
To start, consider your motivations: Do you do your best work in the evenings? Are you getting really into bird watching and want to go back to school for ornithology? Do you want to pick up your kids from school every day?
Consider your employer’s motivations: Is face time with clients important? Are Mondays key for product development?
By evaluating your goals and considering your employer’s needs, you can propose a schedule that is mutually beneficial.
Strive to position your request in a way that addresses how work will get done. That way, you walk in with a starting point for solutions instead of problems you want your manager to solve.
In terms of structure, there are innumerable possibilities. For example, you could:
Work nontraditional hours
Telecommute on certain days of the week
Create 10-hour days and take off every other Friday
Decide what works best for you, and plan to ask your employer a lot of questions about her concerns and interests.
My biggest concerns were having flexibility to work with consulting clients and being clear that this was a short-term role. My employer’s priority was to know when I’d be in the office and that I’d attend all necessary meetings either by phone or in-person.
We worked out a 6-month contract where I would be in the office 3 days a week, keep my shared calendar up to date, and consistently attend staff meetings.
2) Develop strategies to maintain open and honest communication with your team.
Any change to your schedule will require flexibility on your employer’s part. Regularly request feedback to ensure their needs are being met. In the initial meeting, it may be helpful to set-up a check-in a few weeks after implementing the altered schedule. This way, any issues that might arise are addressed quickly.
Particularly at the beginning, consider your new schedule an ongoing conversation and be prepared to make adjustments to figure out what works.
Consider where there might be opportunities for miscommunication and frustration. How can be appropriately responsive and still protect time you’ve carved out for yourself?
Ensure you and your employer are on the same page by being clear in your initial meeting about how available you’ll be during your “off” time.
In my experience going part-time, I realized my boss and I weren’t often in the office at the same time to review upcoming grant reports. We scheduled weekly check-ins, which also gave me time update her face-to-face about my projects.
Ultimately, working an altered schedule can give you greater control over how you spend your time. By mapping out what your ideal work schedule is and how it can be beneficial, or at least neutral, to your employer is key.