Workparent - Daisy Dowling

Imagine a better, healthier version of your own life: one in which you’re doing well professionally, spending enough time with the kids, enjoying more personal downtime, feeling more even-keeled — and all because you have a little more say over how much you work, where, and when. 

You want flexibility — almost all of us do. But in terms of plotting your way forward, you may feel a little uncertain or stuck. There are a range of flex-work options and there are also important how-tos for getting your boss on board, making flexibility work day-to-day and longer term. 

It cannot be stated strongly enough: while there’s no one “right” or permanent approach to flexibility, there is an overall best approach for you, right now — and you can determine what that is. The more you can zoom in on your workparent pain points, the better you can select a flexible working arrangement (FWA) that helps relieve them. For example, let’s say that you work in a physical office, and that the first six months of working parenthood have gone well, but you desperately wish you were able to be present for the dinner-bath-bed ritual with the baby. 

In that case, a one-day-per-week remote-work approach might provide some relief but a shifted schedule that gets you home at 5:00 p.m. each day would really solve your problem. 

On the other hand, if you’re super involved with the kids’ school but commuting ninety minutes each way to work, a remote-working setup could be just the ticket to attend PTA meetings and do drop-offs. Think of yourself as a “flexibility doctor,” prescribing the precise FWA medicine that will heal a specific condition. As you mull over the best treatment, be pragmatic, and don’t forget to take into account:

Your type of work: If you’re a restaurant employee, an airline pilot, a factory worker, or a critical-care nurse, you’ve got to show up to work in person. But you may have other kinds of leeway, like being able to work Saturdays and have Mondays at home with the kids.

The full costs to you: Reduced hours mean a reduced income, which may be a complete nonstarter (unless, of course, that loss is offset by lower care costs).

The full costs to your employer: That job-sharing arrangement may be just what you’re looking for, but tricky to get approved if it means your company has to pay for two full employee- insurance plans instead of one.

Your home and how long it takes to get there: If you live in a tiny city-center apartment two blocks from the office, remote work might be more of a burden than blessing. Through some clever self-directed flexibility, though, you might get extra time at home.

Your family structure, care arrangement, and supportive people around you: If you’re toying with the idea of shifted hours, for example, think through who will take over

caregiving responsibility during those very early mornings, late nights, or weekends — your partner, paid caregivers, a grandparent?

Your own psychology: Remote work can be a huge benefit — unless, of course, you’re a type A, always-on sort of person, who has difficulty backing away from work and going into parent mode, or you’re the sort who easily moves into parent mode and then finds the intrusion of work into your home life depressing, and so on.

If you’re still torn, try getting creative: think about how you might combine strategies, using them in very small bites, or how you might add your own twist to a standard option. Also try speaking to other working parents who have used the FWAs you’re considering - their perspective can be invaluable in clarifying your own.

Making It Work, Day to Day 

 

The gold standard of working flexibly is that nobody, including you, really notices. Maybe you’re remote and living in a different time zone, but because you’re in such regular touch with your colleagues, your physical location feels irrelevant. Or you’ve compressed your schedule, but because you’re producing as much wonderful creative work as ever, your clients are barely if at all aware of the shift. 

There’s no need to keep the fact that you’re working flexibly a secret, but what should be most noticeable about you is your competence, impact, and potential, not the niggling bureaucratic details of your FWA. Used consistently, these five approaches will help you win that gold:

Used consistently, these five approaches will help you win that gold:

Paying ruthless attention to nuts-and-bolts operations: If you’re working from home, that means ensuring you have 100-percent-reliable high-speed remote access and the ability to print documents in both your regular and home offices — and that you can do so just as quickly, and in high-quality color, and in the weird sizes and formats used for client presentations, and that you can set your phone so it rings straight through from your work line. 

If you’re job sharing, it means taking ample notes on each to-do and going above and beyond to ensure a smooth and successful weekly handoff to your job-sharing partner. And so on. Your goal is to completely eliminate all dropped balls, delays, and operational snafus that might result from your FWA.

Communicating proactively, continuously, and more than you think you “need” to: Whatever flex option you settle on, it’s going to mean more time physically away, or adopting a slightly different (at least) schedule than your colleagues. Unfortunately, either of those two things can “read” as reduced effort or engagement. The way to get ahead of those incorrect impressions is by communicating, and often.

If working from home, take care to send a few messages or call a few coworkers as soon as you sit down at your desk — not waiting until 10:30 a.m., when you have a question that needs answering. Provide frequent and unsolicited project updates, and circulate your meeting notes without being asked. If you’re a manager, provide praise and encouragement to your people on the days you’re off. Find small ways to send the message that you’re active, in touch, and on it.

Taking a flexible approach to your flexibility: If you usually don’t work Tuesdays, but a new colleague is starting that day and you’re essential to their onboarding, think about working that day anyway (or providing a welcome package of information that they can look through, which you can discuss on Wednesday morning). If a major deadline looms, be ready to work past your usual earlier stop time. Strike the balance between preserving your own flexibility and sending clear, unambiguous signals that you are results-oriented and part of the team.

Being honest with yourself about your output, work quality, and engagement: If you’re working as many hours as ever on your compressed schedule, but not getting quite as much done, or if you find yourself much quieter in meetings you dial into versus those you attend in person, consider how to confront and change those things.

Seeing your work in terms of relationships as well as output: Yes, you may be working just as much as before but you also need to focus on building a good rapport with the team and mentoring junior colleagues. It’s likely that those connections, as much as your own objective productivity, will drive your longer-term success and engagement.

Daisy Dowling is the founder and CEO of Workparent, an executive coaching, and training firm dedicated to helping working parents lead more successful and satisfying lives. She is the author of Workparent: The Complete Guide to Succeeding on the Job, Staying True to Yourself, and Raising Happy Kids (HBR Press, 2021). Dowling is a full-time working parent to two young children. You can find Daisy Dowling at workparent.com.

- Reprinted by permission of Harvard Business Review Press. Adapted from Workparent: The Complete Guide to Succeeding on the Job, Staying True to Yourself, and Raising Happy Kids by Daisy Dowling. Copyright 2021 Daisy Dowling. All rights reserved.