Flexible work – yes it is possible, and easier than you think to manage

I’m not necessarily the best person to write about this. I have a very full time job. Both maternity leaves, I came back part time, and ended up full time quicker than I intended, as it just seemed easier to go in for that meeting every single day…

But I feel I do a reasonable job as a boss, in a large corporate, of making it work for my team. Usually I think that what I do is just sensible – it’s not that easy to get good staff these days. But then I run into people who tell me that flexible work is impossible in their teams (monthly deadlines, etc, etc) and I think that maybe I have some insights.

I have a team of nearly 40 people. In that team, I have various flexible arrangements:

  • most actuarial students are studying some pretty tough exams. They have a day off a week study leave, during their peak exam season (2 months or so before the twice yearly exams). So all actuaries are used to organising who gets which day off (Wednesday is always the most popular – usually the senior students get that one).
  • a uni student who comes in a day and a half a week. She does the mundane data crunching that everyone else turns their noses up at
  • a guy with irreplaceable corporate knowledge, who was keen to take serious paternity leave when his wife went back to work. He is working a day and a half a week, one full day, and the rest what he can fit in, while we try and make sure we take advantage of his substantial experience
  • Someone who works from home three days a week, two in the office – a completely full time load. I thought I had her forever, with that set up, but unfortunately a 50% pay increase was enough that she was prepared to go into the office five days a week again for another company (the extra pay was enough so her husband could stay home with the kids).
  • My deputy is four days a week (but five days for three months a year during year end). He started doing that when his youngest child was three – five years later, he would go full time again for the right job, but hasn’t found it yet. His wife is now working three days a week, so he values his day at home more than ever
  • Two more people work 60% jobs, one of them two days in the office and one at home, and the other 9 – 2 every day.

And the one that cause me the most soul searching. I replaced one of my senior managers recently. The best candidate, by far, was someone who wanted to work three days a week. She had been doing that for the last 8 years. I really didn’t think the role was doable three days a week, but talked to her anyway. She convinced me that she was good at managing it. Three months later, it is working out much better than I expected. If she was working full time, she probably wouldn’t have taken the role – she would have had a bigger choice, and taken something more senior, with more challenge. But with the savings from her working only three days, I’ve hired an extra junior person in her team.  She is giving space to her team to grow and develop, but at the same time adding much needed experience to the team.

Part of the reason I took the risk on my new hire was that I passionately believe that the workplace has to change to give opportunities to people to work less than a five day week. I have the opportunity to make that happen, in a small way, in my team. So I went for it. But next, I realise, if I really believe in this stuff, I need to show my colleagues how well it works – to help them realise how much wider your talent pool can be with a bit of imagination.

In this current depressed environment, there are opportunities – many companies are actively asking people to go part time. But many more should be taking the opportunity to get a bit of experience at a cheap price, by going for someone who is keen to do a part time role.

  6 comments for “Flexible work – yes it is possible, and easier than you think to manage

  1. November 22, 2009 at 9:13 am

    I work three days a week in a team of four people (two at full time, two at three days), and I love it. I work incredibly hard on those days I’m in the office, and I love having the flexibility in my work schedule to shift days around if I need to, and because I’m only in three days a week, if I have to work a twelve hour day because of presentations and workshops (I do a lot of community talks), I honestly don’t mind. I think it’s very do-able to have a team made up of various arrangements.

  2. November 22, 2009 at 8:11 pm

    This is fantastic. I ranted about the need to allow much more flexibility in the workplace a while ago. The basis of my claims is that flexibility is possible if managers actually manage. I have only had very limited opportunities to put my theories into practice, though unfortunately.

    It’s wonderful to hear you are making it work by being an awesome manager – gives me hope. 🙂

  3. Sarah
    November 25, 2009 at 8:31 am

    This was sent to me by an employee who is currently on part-time from home contract. I have another P/T employee as well and several occasional work-from-hom-ers. We are web developers and creative types so rigid hours don’t suit the work we do. I am 100% comfortable with the flexability in the schedules and have never had a problem with their work quality or dependability.

    MY manager, however, refuses all my requests to work from home. I drive two hours a day into the office where I sit in a box emailing my team or talking on the phone to other offices. His reasoning is that he can “keep track of the work more easily” when we are both in the office. It is pure insanity from my perspective. I spend a few hours a day listening to the mindless drivel of my co-workers in addition to my drive time. Wouldn’t they be happier if I could just WORK those hours?

  4. November 26, 2009 at 2:48 pm

    It sounds like you are doing a wonderful job managing it all! Congratulations to you. Your team is lucky to have you and more bosses should be like that.

    I found flexible work by quitting my job and starting my own company. It was the only way I felt that I could do it. But I’m glad people like you create other options for other people.

    • November 27, 2009 at 5:49 am

      Thanks for the comment and the link. I think all it takes is a bit of imagination.

  5. November 28, 2009 at 12:23 am

    That’s quite an awesome record! I’ve got a similar number of people but in HE, they’re mostly keen about finding flexible ways to earn the same pay – coming in early, informal flexitime, compressing 10 days into 9 and so on. We’re going through a flood of incoming babies at the moment though (which I’m really looking forward to – being the only parent until recently has been a drag) so things may change.

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