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The Georgetown University Law Center defines a "flexible work arrangement" (FWA) as "any one of a spectrum of work structures that alters the time and/or place that work gets done on a regular basis." This can include: 1) flexibility in the scheduling of hours worked and/or arrangements regarding shift and break schedules; 2) flexibility in the number of hours worked; and 3) flexibility in the place of work. By some estimates, as much as 40 percent of the U.S. workforce is expected to have some sort of a flexible arrangement at work by the end of 2016. If you'd like to join them, the tips below may help.
Remember that flexible work arrangements come in many forms. Many people assume that flexible work means working from home. But there are many others ways to work flexibly, such as starting/leaving an hour earlier or starting/leaving an hour later, taking an afternoon a week off to take your mother to physical therapy (and making the time up another day), or even sharing a job with a co-worker.
Any flexible work arrangement has to not only work for you, it has to work for your team and organization. If you're like most people, there are many work arrangements that would make your life easier. But you are not the only factor in this equation. Take stock of what others in your organization are already doing, talk to friends and colleagues to make sure you have a handle on the pros and cons of the different scenarios you are considering, and do your best to honestly assess whether and to what extent those scenarios work for everyone involved. Your assessment should include the financial aspects of each scenario, as there are often unexpected or overlooked costs — travel and equipment, for example — to letting employees work remotely.
Make a formal proposal. Take the time to write up your proposal as a formal memo. Review your employee handbook and talk to HR (if appropriate). Anticipate the questions and concerns you are likely to face, and formulate your responses ahead of time. Be sure your proposal doesn't only focus on the benefits of the arrangement for you, but instead demonstrates why a flexible arrangement will be good for you and your organization. For example, if you're asking to work from home on Fridays, explain how this will give you a block of time to focus on project-based work that is continually interrupted by meetings during the rest of the week.
Start with a trial period. Ask to try the new arrangement on a trial basis, gather feedback from your supervisor after a few months, and sit down with your team to assess whether the arrangement is working for everyone involved. Be honest, and be sure to address any concerns they have as best as you can. Allowing your supervisor to give you a conditional "yes" that's dependent on how things actually work out rather than a full-on commitment up front to an arrangement in perpetuity almost always will work to your long-term advantage.
Recognize that there may be limits to the flexibility your organization can offer. In considering your proposal, your supervisor may have to weigh factors that you're not even aware of. And, even in this day and age, some organizational cultures just aren't conducive to flexible work arrangements. If that's the case, you may have to accept the realities of your specific situation — or look for a new job elsewhere.
Whatever happens, remember: a flexible work arrangement is a privilege granted by an employer, not something it is obliged to provide. If you treat your arrangement — and your fellow co-workers — with the respect and consideration they deserve, the chances are excellent that everyone will benefit.
Molly Brennan is founding partner of Koya Leadership Partners, a national executive search firm dedicated to the nonprofit sector. In her last post, she looked at four things your resume might say about you.