Make a Flexible Schedule Work for You and Your Boss

Several years ago, I had just started my consulting practice when I was offered a full-time leadership position at a nonprofit I respected. I felt conflicted. Consistent income as I started my business and 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 “white space” 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:

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? Do you want to pick up your kids from school every day? Are you getting really into bird watching so you want to work fewer hours?
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.  When discussing how to negotiate flex time and maternity leave in a Yahoo Parenting article, I noted that “positioning your request in a way that addresses how work will get done strengthens your negotiation. You’ll 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.

For me, my biggest goals were to have flexibility to work with consulting clients and to be clear that this was a short-term role. My employer wanted 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. Staff meetings became an important time for me to get to know the team, their current projects, and their preferred work soundtrack: a lot of Prince and Beyonce.

Develop strategies to maintain open and honest communication with your team

Any change to your schedule will require flexibility on your employer’s part, so you want to be sure the company’s needs are being met by asking for feedback.  In the initial meeting, it may be helpful to set-up a check-in after a few weeks to ensure any issues that might arise from your altered schedule are addressed quickly.

Particularly at the beginning, think of your new schedule as an ongoing conversation, and be prepared to make adjustments to figure out what works.

Consider where there might be opportunities for miscommunication and frustration. For example a female attorny working a flexible schedule shared, “The most difficult part of the equation is being responsive while protecting the time you’ve carved out for yourself.”

Ensure that 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 to update her face-to-face about my projects.
Ultimately, working an altered schedule can give you greater control over how you spend your time. To get there, mapping out what your ideal work schedule is and how it can be beneficial, or at least neutral, to your employer is key.