Published on March 27th, 2014 by Alan L Sklover
“Waste your time and you waste your life,
or master your time and master your life.”
– Alan Lakein
ACTUAL “CASE HISTORIES”: There is a very significant trend in the workplace on a worldwide basis: employees are increasingly working outside the usual office location (broadly defined as “telecommuting”) and outside the usual office hours (broadly defined as “flex-time.”) This trend grows as (a) employers increasingly place value and base compensation on “performance” and not mere “presence,” and (b) valuable employees increasingly need some degree of flexibility in their work arrangements to better address difficulties arisen from unpredictable aspects of their personal, home and family lives.
In addition, this trend often enables reduced commuting costs and time for the employee, and reduced real estate and related costs for the employer, surely a “win-win.” And, too, technological advances in video and audio transmission make communicating over distance easier, faster and more economical. Indeed, many companies are approaching a truly “virtual” office. But the need for informal communication may still discourage the use of some forms of long-distance communication and collaboration.
Telecommuting and flex-time arrangements are not for every employer, and not for every employee, and don’t make sense in some situations, like retail sales, food establishments, and the like. However, they do make sense for many people, especially those who work in offices. If these arrangements do seem to represent an attractive possibility for you, you should consider them and pursue them, but at the same time, and consider, first, how to best broach the subject with your employer.
LESSON TO LEARN: As it is with every other aspect of the employment relation, better adapting various aspects of the relation to your employer’s and your own resources and needs requires careful planning and execution.
That necessary careful “planning and execution” are the essence of the mindful “navigation and negotiation” at work we espouse, applied to how to request and succeed at telecommuting and flexible work scheduling.
HERE ARE FIFTEEN THOUGHTS AND STEPS TO CONSIDER:
A. BEFORE MAKING YOUR TELECOMMUTING OR FLEX-TIME REQUEST:
1. Does your employer already have telecommuting or flex-time policies or procedures in place? Your very first step is to determine whether your employer already has established policies regarding telecommuting and/or flex-time. Chances are greater if your employer is a large organization, and even more likely if it is in one of the more scientific or technical fields, such as software, research, engineering or information technology. Your first avenue of investigation should be review of your employer’s Employee Handbook or Policy Manual. You first inquiry should be to your Human Resource representative.
If your employer does have policy or procedure in place, follow it carefully and completely.
2. Have any of your colleagues tried telecommuting or flex-time at your workplace, and if so, how did their arrangements go for them? You can learn a lot, with minimal “expense” of your own, from the experiences of others. Ask around: have any of your colleagues tried telecommuting or flex-time and, if so, what did they learn, both positive and negative? How would they suggest you follow in their footsteps of success, or avoid the mistakes they have suffered?
3. Consider (a) what it is you need and want, and most importantly, (b) why. Sure, everyone would like to work from home some days, for all sorts of reasons. That said, a sober analysis of why you may be considering making a request for telecommuting or flex-time is necessary.
There are a nearly unlimited number of reasons you may need or want to work from home, including among others: (i) to recuperate from an illness or accident; (ii) to accommodate a disability; (iii) to care for a family member, either ill, injured or newborn; (iv) to attend a course or educational program that would enable or help in your job duties; (v) to accommodate a family member’s new work location or schedule, (vi) to reduce the danger of a difficult or distressing circumstance at the office (e.g., noxious odors, eye-straining lights, or lack of facilities for the disabled), (vii) to address a temporary transportation difficulty; or (viii) to permit quiet concentration needed to complete a difficult project, just to name a few.
Knowing (a) what it is you want or need regarding an alteration in the schedule or location of your work, and (b) why they would improve your productivity and life, will inevitably help you (i) design a telecommuting or flex-time program to better address your concerns, and (ii) put forward your proposal in a more compelling and convincing fashion.
4. Be especially mindful of the potential impact of your telecommuting or flex-time on your boss and colleagues. Before requesting the opportunity to telecommute or engage in flex-time, give careful thought to how it might impact the way others work with you and for you.
Practical effects related to where and when colleagues communicate, engage with each other, feel a need to see each other at a moment’s notice, and similar issues of daily practicality are to be taken into account. Likewise, jealousies, feelings of (i) unfair treatment, (ii) resentment, (iii) unfair workloads, or (iv) perceived favoritism, often arise in these circumstances. If negative feelings like these can be avoided, or preemptively addressed, the practical problems are rather easy to overcome. That is “Where there is the will, there is the way.”
5. Assess the technological alternatives, and their advantages, availability and cost. Can your divergence from the usual office routine be made easier for all by the use of new technology, such as videoconference meetings, Skype discussions, live streaming presentations and the like? There are now so many solutions to these problems, and seemingly more each day. Seeking these out and becoming familiar with their advantages, availability and cost may be one of the wisest things you can do.
Having at hand the solutions you need, and the facts to support those solutions, is a powerful and quite convincing form of “negotiation.”
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B. WHEN MAKING YOUR REQUEST FOR TELECOMMUTING OR FLEX-TIME
6. Make your request in the form of a proposal transmitted by means of a respectful email memo. I always recommend that a request such as this one be placed into a respectful email memo. This method (a) allows for careful choice of words and tone, (b) ensures an opportunity to say everything you want to say without interruption, (c) permits the recipient to think before responding, (d) enables the recipient to easily share with others, such as Human Resources, (e) discourages misunderstandings as to “what was said, and what was heard,” and (f) discourages both errors of memory or bad faith response.
Your email memo should be no more than two pages, at most, and should be focused, to the point and as short and simple as possible.
7. Anticipate and address all possible concerns of your boss. Your boss may have many different concerns about your not being instantly available to him or her, and about establishing a precedent that would encourage others to request the same thing. Imagine you are him or her, and imagine how you would feel if your subordinate made this request to you. Make a list of what your concerns, questions and objections might be, and devote the time and effort necessary to coming up with the best possible responses to each.
This is not a suggestion that you be argumentative, but rather exhibit a thoughtful and caring attitude toward your boss and his or her concerns.
You might even ask your spouse or a good friend to do the same for you, that is, pretend they are your boss, and listen to what they say, and how they say it.
8. Point out all of the probable advantages for your boss, team and company. “Sales 101” requires that you address what is good about your product or service to your hoped-for customer. When McDonald’s sells hamburgers, they don’t say, “Hey, we need your money.”
If your proposed telecommuting or flex-time arrangement might result in (a) more billable hours for the firm, (b) greater quality, quantity, and production of written reports, (c) one extra desk in the office that someone else could use, (d) lower reimbursable expenses, (e) more telephone calls to solicit new customers, or (f) your being able to take a responsibility off the shoulders of your boss, don’t hesitate to say so. That is what he or she wants to hear.
9. Might this affect your compensation or benefits? Now here is something you really need to think about: will cutting your hours, or cutting your hours in the office, trigger your boss, HR (or someone else) to suggest that your compensation should be reduced accordingly, or your loss of some benefits? In your memo proposing the arrangement, you might be wise to indicate that compensation reduction would not be equitable, reasonable or to be expected, and if your sought arrangement is the result of disability or illness, could even violate company policy.
As to benefits, some employer policies provide for benefits only to those employed “full-time,” which might pose a problem if you are seeking flex-time, by which your hours are reduced below the required minimum. Care and creativity are both in order on this point.
10. Incorporate flexibility. As the old saying goes, “Flexible people don’t get bent out of shape.” Build into your proposal a degree of flexibility in the event that flexibility is called for by circumstances that cannot now be anticipated. Have fallbacks in place, such as a babysitter “on call” just in case your physical presence is truly needed at a crucial meeting.
11. Make your initial request for a Trial Period, only. Regardless of whether you seek a temporary, long-term, or permanent telecommuting or flex-time arrangement, your initial request should be for a “trial period,” only, for three separate and distinct reasons: (i) first, employers are more willing to make a limited commitment that is contingent on success, (ii) second, it naturally sets up a time period after which the benefits and burdens can be assessed (hence, the word “trial”), and (iii) third, though you seek the arrangement now, even you may change your mind as to its wisdom or benefits, and this provides you with an easy, face-saving “way out.”
12. Seek to establish objective performance criteria. Even if your work is not naturally one that can be judged by objective performance criteria, try to incorporate “discernible metrics of success” into your proposal. So, for a three-month trial period, you might ask your manager to agree that the following would be deemed a successful test of the arrangement: (a) three or less customer-service complaints in each calendar month, (b) twenty new institutional accounts established, and (c) recruitment of at least four new salesmen.
Sure, you will then have the burden of reaching those goals, but better you have objective performance criteria than not, and a sound basis when it comes to justifying a new work arrangement.
We offer a Model Memo Requesting Telecommuting or Flextime you can use by adapting to your own facts and circumstances. It shows you “What to Say, and How to Say It.” To get a copy, just [click here.] Delivered instantly by email to your printer.
C. IF YOUR TELECOMMUTING OR FLEX-TIME ARRANGEMENT IS ACCEPTED, WHILE TELECOMMUTING OR TAKING FLEX-TIME
13. Design and follow a “Visibility Plan.” While it is said that “Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” that usually doesn’t apply to the workplace. To the contrary, frustration and resentments may develop and fester regarding your seeming unavailable when needed. Simply put, it is just not good to have co-workers and others muttering things such as (a) “Does Matilda work here anymore?” (b) “No matter how hard I try, I can’t reach Matilda on the telephone,” or (c) “Because Matilda is not doing her work, I have had to cover for her.” To prevent or remedy that, you should design and follow a “visibility plan” while you are telecommuting or on a flex-time arrangement.
A “visibility plan” might include actions such as (a) your arranging regularly-scheduled conference calls to discuss new issues, challenges or opportunities, (b) regular one-on-one meetings or telephone calls to each person of influence and responsibility in your group, department or division, (c) doing your utmost to attend each meeting that provides visibility, (d) emails to all who might be interested or affected by each new initiative or development in your area of responsibility, and (e) distribution of “Good News” reports as frequently as possible.
If you are given a “Flex-Time Agreement” to sign, get our Workplace Document Explained to You, with 30 Minutes to Ask Questions. [click here.]
14. Regularly take your Boss’s and Colleagues’ “temperature.” Regularly seeking feedback regarding whether your supervisor and your colleagues are encountering any difficulty, delinquency or deficiency that you might help address can only help ensure your telecommuting or flex-time arrangement is a success. It’s a delicate step to take, but a necessary step to take, too. Listen to their words, but listen even more intently to what some people refer to as “the music between their words.” If you don’t seek out complaints early proactively, they may grow and explode when you least expect it.
15. With the trial period end-date in mind, prepare a “Success Report” to justify renewal of your arrangement. Every “trial period” comes to an end, when the “trial” will be assessed. With the trial period “end-date” in mind, begin to formulate a report of the successes achieved during the trial period, focusing on (a) the objective performance criteria you have reached or exceeded, (b) the absence of any deleterious effects on your group, department or division, (c) the savings or improvements that have resulted from the arrangement, and (d) the ways the arrangement can be improved upon during the next – and hopefully – continued basis.
Be positive, but be candid, too, about things that did not go as planned, and ways to ensure even greater success in the future.
These 15 thoughts and steps represent a deliberate, mindful and focused navigation of a workplace re-arrangement of your location and time. By thoughtfully devising and carrying out a plan for your request and its success, you are doing all that you can do to ensure a successful outcome, to everyone’s betterment. That’s the goal we always strive for, and that’s the goal that best serves us all. Welcome to SkloverWorkingWisdom.™
SkloverWorkingWisdom™ emphasizes smart negotiating – and navigating – for yourself at work. Negotiation and navigation of work and career issues requires that you think “out of the box,” and build value and avoid risks at every point in your career. We strive to help you understand what is commonly before you – traps and pitfalls, included – and to avoid the bumps in the road. Knowing how to navigate to achieve success in telecommuting and flex-time arrangements may be, for you and your family, an important part of that knowledge and understanding you need.
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*A note about our Actual Case Histories: In order to preserve client confidences, and protect client identities, we alter certain facts, including the name, age, gender, position, date, geographical location, and industry of our clients. The essential facts, the point illustrated and the lesson to be learned, remain actual.
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