When it comes to flexibility, you have to be a bit of a pioneer. Sure, it would be great if jobs came with a menu of possible work arrangements, but flexibility is still something that you have to make happen—like it or not.
It’s not that flexibility does not exist in today’s workplace. It most definitely does. In “Who Says There’s Flexibility?” I reported that 1 in 4 American working women now have some form of flexibility. But that leaves 75% of women who don’t. And, unfortunately, no one is going to hand it to them on a silver platter.
I’ve talked before about the need to make a professional case for flexibility you’re seeking. To do that, you have to know what you’re talking about—and be well informed about the type of flexibility that’s working, and what’s just a pipe dream.
All professional presentations require some research, and if you’re trying to make flexibility happen, one of my blog readers, Rebekah Steele, a global diversity innovator in Canada, says the best book on the subject is Future Work: How Businesses Can Adapt and Thrive In The New World Of Work. It’s a book written on the premise that offices of the future will be meeting places, not workplaces.
Since Rebekah is a diversity leader (and flexibility increases the number of women who stay and advance in the workforce), I asked her why this particular book stands out among all others. Rebekah and other diversity leaders read quite a lot about flexibility, so they are definitely in the know.
According to Rebekah, Future Work is the first book to take flexibility out of the HR arena:
“The authors really turn convention on its head by framing new ways of working as part of overall business strategy rather than human resources strategy. While most organizations continue to think of flexibility as an accommodation grafted onto existing work practices, Maitland and Thomson break the mold with the assumption that all jobs can be done flexibly. In organizations putting this forward-thinking framework into practice, the focus is on results rather than on where, when or how work gets done.”
During my decade of recruiting, I ran into the “flexibility doesn’t work in this kind of job” blockade many times. Over and over I heard it just wasn’t possible to work a flexible schedule as, for example, an investment banker, a management consultant, an attorney or in many other jobs that require you to be at the beck and call of clients or at the center of a time-sensitve deal. Rebekah points out that the Future Work book is rich with insightful data and validating case studies that persuasively make the overwhelming business case for new ways of working—in just about any industry.
Better still, Rebekah says, the book clearly maps the link between new ways of working and economic, environmental and human benefits. As long as flexibility can have a positive effect on the bottom line, employers will listen. It’s hard to argue with a statement in the book’s intro:
“Aided by technology, companies now have the tools to boost output and cut costs, to give employees more freedom over how they work, and to contribute to a greener economy. Clinging to a rigid model of fixed working time and presence is better suited to the industrial age than the digital age.”
But how can productive flexibility actually be structured? I’ve talked to all kinds of employers who think flexibility is another term for a chaos. Because you might encounter this prejudice when you pose flexibility to your own employer, the book provides practical guidance for transforming workplace structures, management styles, measures and rewards, and culture to actually realize those economic, environmental and health benefits.
Though the Future Work book offers great promise that all jobs can be done flexibly, don’t forget that it has to be a two-way street. You’ll never find any job that allows you to work entirely on your own terms. Rebekah says the book opened her eyes to flexibility opportunities even among jobs that require particular tasks to be done at a certain place or time. She gave the example of police officers who must be on their beats at certain times. Their paperwork, on the other hand, is a task perfectly suited to flexibility: it doesn’t matter where and when it gets done. Herein lies the compromise: the officer still needs to be on the beat, but the flexibility kicks in when it comes to paperwork.
Compromise is key. Though most of my blog readers are in more corporate environments, this paperwork example sheds light on where the compromise can be in many industries and at many levels. Anything you do by yourself can be very easily done at home—cutting the hours at your office desk slightly or maybe even dramatically.
When you argue this point with your employer, throw in a powerful quote from the book:
“An inflexible work environment is bad for business. There is ample evidence that trusting people to manage their own work lives, whether individually or in teams, pays off. Organizations that measure and reward people by results, rather than hours, benefit from higher productivity, more motivated workers, better customer service and lower costs.”
Let’s see how much solo work could actually be transferred to a home office. Here’s an informal survey: tell me in the comments section below what percentage of your work is solo work: reading and responding to emails, writing reports, gathering all your expense receipts, updating project timelines, etc. If it’s 20% of your time, you probably have a very good argument to work at home at least one day a week. If the percentage is much more, you may be in the running for a true telecommuting role.
Whatever your number may be, I’m betting you don’t have to be in the office 100% of the time. This simple exercise is a very good way to give your employers a flexibility offer they can’t refuse.
You can read more of Rebekah Steele’s thoughts on diversity and flexibility in her “Innovation in Diversity Blog” on the prestigious Human Capital Exchange Conference Board site (where 9 Lives for Women posts appear as well).
- Inject practicality into your quest for flexibility. Ask to do the “busy” work you do alone–at home.
- Keep a log of how many hours you devote to busy work in the office–so your flexibility proposal will reflect accuracy not generalities.
- Get in the mindset of flexibility as an intelligent business strategy–not something that will just make your life easier.
- Clearly state how flexibility can and will be a two-way street–even if a business problem requires you to go the office on a day that you’re supposed to work at home.