How to Ask for More Flexibility at Work

Technology has made job flexibility a lot easier. Staying connected to the workplace isn’t a challenge when employees have access to smart phones, tablets and laptops. That’s one reason more and more people are seeking alternatives to the traditional nine-to-five schedule. Employers are seeing that options not only make workers happier — but also make them more productive.

Some organizations have fully adopted flexible scheduling. Maybe your company’s not quite on the cutting edge yet, but don’t give up. If you’ve been toying with the idea of a flexible schedule, you can lead the charge. Be prepared with a serious and detailed plan, and you’ll be more likely to get a thumbs up, or at least not a definitive thumbs down. Sometimes change takes time.

The Background

In the gym, the definition of “flexibility” is straightforward: Your muscles aren’t short and tight. At work, “flexibility” has multiple meanings. That’s great, because you have more possibilities. Before proposing a schedule change, you need to be clear about what you want. Consider these questions:

  • Would you like to telecommute, working from home one or more days a week?
  • Do you want to come in earlier so you can leave sooner? Does the opposite appeal to you?
  • Do you want a compressed work week, where your forty hours are spread over four days instead of five?
  • Would you rather switch to part-time? Perhaps even share a position with someone else?

Determine your preference, but also consider which option adapts best to your work responsibilities.

The Motivation

Give the upper echelon a reason to say “yes.” Develop skills that increase your value to the team and make you stand out from the crowd. Emerge as a go-to expert in a certain area.

Be sure these competencies fit into your overall scheduling plan. There’s no point in becoming the best at troubling-shooting an important software program if you ultimately want to telecommute. They’ll never let you to leave the office!

The Ad Lib

As you’re developing your plan, take advantage of any sudden situations that let you demonstrate your effectiveness under your desired circumstances. For instance, if you want to telecommute, work when you’re home sick or trapped by a weather emergency. Or come in early to meet a looming deadline. When you eventually talk to your boss about flexible scheduling, mention these real-life illustrations of success.

The Prep

No action is without consequence. Changing your schedule affects coworkers. Think this through, and be prepared to counter any concerns. For example, how will you keep in touch with your team if you telecommute? How can they reach you in an emergency? What kind of equipment and devices will you need at home? Your employer may not be interested in paying for these. Will you? This might involve a significant financial outlay.

The Pitch

You’ve done the groundwork. Now make your case.

  • Ask your supervisor for a meeting. Don’t throw the idea out in passing. If you don’t present it seriously, you won’t be taken seriously.
  • Make your proposal, but don’t dwell on how it’ll benefit you. Focus on advantages to your employer. For example, telecommuting might let you get more work done, because you’ll have fewer distractions. Having someone in the office early in the morning might make the business more accessible to clients. Having the option will also improve recruitment and retention, since 74 percent consider flexible work schedules a priority when choosing a job.
  • Describe your proposal in detail. Emphasize that you’ve already considered and addressed potential challenges and concerns.
  • Point out that flexible scheduling is becoming more common. Since 2005, telecommuting has more than doubled. Over three quarters of workers believe they’re more productive away from the office. Don’t forget that personal anecdote about working from home when you were sick (or whatever event demonstrated your ability to flex).
  • An instant, enthusiastic “yes” isn’t realistic, especially if flexible scheduling is new to your office. Suggest a trial run that lasts from one to three months. At the end of the period, everyone — your boss, co-workers, other stakeholders and yourself — assesses the program’s success. Then the proposal can be fully accepted, modified or, if unsuccessful, scrapped.

The Negotiation

You have a particular schedule in mind, but be open to alternatives. Maybe management is willing to try less radical modifications. Listen to counterproposals. Perhaps you’ll be offered flexibility within certain parameters, such as:

  • Instead of working from nine until five, put in your hours anytime between eight a.m. and six p.m.
  • Adjust your schedule whenever you have appointments or other personal business.
  • Work from home when there’s a specific need, such as injury or illness.
  • Change your schedule just one day a week.

The Long Game

Even if your proposal is met with a flat “no,” the idea might not be permanently off the table. Note the objections to your plan. Over time, address any concerns about your work habits. Are you slack with deadlines? If that’s the perception, improve! Also, see if problematic conditions change during the year. For instance, starting to telecommute during your busiest season probably won’t fly. Later in the year, the request might receive more support.

Professionals who want job flexibility are looking for a work-life balance, not a way to get out of work. Having a well-prepared plan signals that you’re not trying to put your work on the back burner. You just want to try a new way of cooking.

Sarah Landrum is a business and career writer with a background in Marketing and Economics. Her blog, Punched Clocks, helps professionals find happiness and success in life and at work. Be sure to subscribe to her newsletter and follow her on social media for more great tips!

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  • Samantha Stauf

    One thing that worked fairly well to convince management at the company I work to allow us to work from home one day a week is test running telecommuting by allowing experienced employees to work from home while sick. We were able to prove that working from home could be accomplished productively. And they were able to prevent sickness from spreading through the office like the plague.

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