Flexible work does not always mean reduced hours—and reduced compensation and benefits. Before you give up on or rule out full-time hours—and a full-time salary that could greatly impact your long-term financial security—ask yourself these key questions:
- Do you need a full-time income … but prefer flexible hours? A full-time, permanent job with flexibility is still the easiest, most predictable route to a full-time income.
- Do you need employee benefits? Other than a full-time, permanent job, you’re also eligible for employee benefits at larger companies (50 or more employees) if you work part time (currently at least 30 hours a week). The only other possibility is some freelance assignments—but these situations are less frequent, and without a “permanent” job you will always be at risk for losing benefits.
- Do you need a consistent, predictable income? Permanent full-time or part-time jobs are your best bet. Or, if you feel confident you will have instant, continuous (and loyal) clients as a freelancer, it’s possible you can bank on a more predictable income. Generally speaking, not being on an employer’s payroll is not a great option for anyone who needs a consistent income, since you never know when and where you’ll get your next project, and not all employers pay their bills on time.
- Do you want control over the number of hours you work per week? With all flexwork arrangements, it’s possible, with careful negotiation and a true give-and-take attitude, to manage or limit the number of hours you work each week. You have the most control over your schedule, however, when you have multiple clients as a freelancer.
- Do you want to be home by the end of the school day? In this case, all flexwork options are a possibility—but there are more challenges with a permanent full-time job, where it’s harder to leave the office at the same time every day and it’s likely you’ll need to catch up with work in the evening hours. This is also the case as a freelancer working on a full-time assignment at an employer’s office. You have a bit more control, but you have a full-time workload and colleagues will still be looking for you at all hours of the day. Your best bet if you want to meet the school bus and shut down your work brain for the day is a permanent part-time job with designated daily hours in the timeframe you need, or shorter-term freelance assignments conducted in your home office.
- Do you want to work at home all or part of the time? All flexwork options may allow work at home, but the likelihood you can work most or all of your hours at home is built-in to freelance work. There are times that freelancers may be asked to work in an employer’s office, but for the most part they’re free to work at home, in a coworking space, or anywhere they choose. Telecommuters are also by definition 100 percent remote workers who work from home and may go into the employer’s office for the occasional meeting. The term telecommuting, however, can more loosely refer to a certain amount of time employees are allowed to work at home (e.g., “I telecommute two days a week in my home office”).
- Do you want control over which months of the year you work? If you want to take summers off while your children are young, then your best work options are shorter-term freelance assignments. Permanent full-time or part-time positions do not afford this time off, and it’s often difficult to avoid working in the summer months with longer-term, on-site freelance positions. Even if you are able to schedule short-term projects within the school year, you will have to turn on your business brain and start networking for new assignments well before Labor Day.
- Are you looking for a way to “keep your hand in” the workforce and generate an occasional income—without a huge work commitment? Freelance work is great for women who want to keep current work on their resumés but are not necessarily looking for consistent, week-after-week work. Even a project once a quarter can keep you from looking like you’ve been totally absent from the workforce for many years. Consultants can also limit and space out projects, but many want to create a consistent income through a busier “solopreneur” practice, a professional brand, and a strong client base that continually taps into their expertise.
Too often women say, broadly, “”I want to work in a flexible way” or jump to the conclusion that part-time work is their only flexible option. Today it’s possible to keep earning at a maximum level with flexible full-time hours that don’t overwhelm your life. Define the specific kind of flexibility you need, the amount of income you need to earn, and the employee benefits your family needs. You may find that part-time hours won’t fit the bill.
You can shop around for your best flexwork options by reading my book, Ambition Redefined: Why the Corner Office Doesn’t Work for Every Woman & What to Do Instead.