9 Lives for Women Blog

Keep Your Job, Give Up the Office | February 8th, 2013

You’d like to work from home one day or all days, but you’re sure your boss would say no. Perhaps you’re just assuming this or you might have mentioned the possibility in passing and your boss didn’t take the bait. Don’t give up so fast—there’s still a chance that you can make it happen.

Because flexibility is still not as common as other employee benefits, you have to make a persuasive argument for an alternative work structure. Many times  I’ve advised readers to make a professional case for flexibility (not just ask for it in one brief conversation), and I discovered a great article that can be part of your presentation.

This article is in Inc. magazine, a publication that helps the small businesses of entrepreneurs grow. Chances are that many corporate professionals never read the magazine—so for many of you “Secret to Increased Productivity: Don’t Come to the Office” will be new reading material for your boss.
Generally speaking, small companies do not have the intricate layers of bureaucracy that make flexibility scarce. Small business owners tend to believe that it doesn’t matter where you do the work—as long as the work gets done well. The article points out that technology makes it possible for employees to be productive in the office down the hall, in an office at home or in an office on the fly (like a car, airport lounge or quiet train).

The key to flexibility is accountability—setting clear guidelines and managing expectations. Many employers in corporate America think that if they can’t actually see you, they’ll never know what you’re doing. That “Big Brother” view is silly and outdated—primarily because employers also can’t be sure what employees are doing down the hall. (One of my former young employees had Facebook open on her computer every time I approached her desk.)

It all comes down to output—whether you’re on top of deadlines and you meet or exceed expectations. If you and your boss can agree on the flexibility parameters, the non-traditional arrangement will inspire success. Without these parameters, even the most well-meaning employee can lose structure and focus—and employer distrust can mount.

How do you convince your employer that flexibility would work? Sweeten the deal: take the initiative to propose the actual structure for your flexibility arrangement. Set hours throughout the day that you’ll always be at your home office desk, suggest times for daily or weekly catch-up calls with your boss and colleagues, acknowledge that you will participate in all meetings via conference call or Skype, set a day that you will always go into the office and more. Showing that you will always be on the job for big blocks of time is a must: productivity will suffer if you’re working an hour here and an hour there as you tend to personal and family tasks.

And, since the article points out that productivity often increases when employees are away from the office, think of ways you could actually measure and prove this theory. What might you be able to do faster and better without the distractions of office life? How much commuting time could you turn into working time?

Your proposal will require some careful thinking and research—talk to all the women you know who have scored flexibility in their jobs. Network to find more women who have the flexibility perk if there are not many in your own circles. Your research will uncover a lot of useful “best practices” information—so that you’ll know what typically works and what doesn’t for an employee and the boss.

People are often afraid of the unfamiliar and untested—and for many employers the idea of sending employees off to work at home is fuzzy at best. If you can help to bring the mechanics of the arrangement into focus, you’ll have a much better chance of working more flexibly at home. —KAS

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