Understand How Job Sharing, Flex Time and Telecommuting Work

It's time. You have to get back to work, but a full-blown schedule isn't going to work for you.

Tearing out of the office at 4:30 every day to pick up your three-year-old from child care before the doors shut isn't going to make anyone particularly happy. Your boss, your coworkers and you yourself are all going to be annoyed, and ultimately you'll be the victim. Where's your mom when you need her, right?

For employed moms and single parents, combining child rearing and work can be stunningly stressful. Working an eight-hour-plus shift, charging to the day-care center, figuring out what to buy for dinner, cooking, helping with homework, bathing the kids and doing a quick load of laundry somewhere in between can be more than anyone can handle in a day.

Flex time can help with all that. Not all companies are attuned to this notion, but increasingly the corporate world is becoming a bit more open to alternative work arrangements. Job sharing is becoming more prevalent, as are agreements to work from home a day or two a week, or part time. There is always a trade-off.

Work from Home

When I worked at U.S. News & World Report, the assistant managing editor, Anne McGrath, worked three days a week at the office and two days at home. U.S. News was indeed ahead of the curve allowing such flexibility. But Anne made it work. She was logged on most of the day, was always reachable for writers and never missed a deadline. She worked late into the night from her home PC if need be.

Anne proved to all the powers that be that she was working and producing from home. She found time to run out for her daughter's teacher conference or to her son's softball game without anyone raising an eyebrow. And she was home when the children got home, a priority for her. And when her husband, then in his early 40s, died of cancer a few years ago, she was able to gracefully make the transition back to the work world without too much pressure.

Another coworker of mine worked out a deal to be in the office just three days a week, with full benefits. For this she accepted a proportional fraction of her original pay. Why so generous? She agreed to be available on a tight deadline or if there was breaking news. She never failed to keep her promise.

Telecommuting

I think things are changing, and there is no harm in pushing for flex time or telecommuting options. Technology companies are great places to hunt for these flexible scheduling options. Many of the old-school companies may still want to see your butt in the seat, but it's still worth trying to work something out.

The times make telecommuting worth fighting for. High-speed communications and a chance to save money make companies more likely than in the past to let workers take the job home. For about 60 percent of the workforce, location is not crucial to the job, says Jack Nilles, author of Making Telecommunication Happen.

The number of workers connecting to the office from home is jumping by more than 20 percent a year, according to a New York market research group. Companies can save up to $6,000 yearly per employee in reduced office space. And workers who live at the office get a lot done -- increased productivity is a real selling point.

How to Get What You Want

Here are some things to keep in mind when negotiating a flexible work arrangement:

  • Don't be afraid to ask whether there is a flex-time option. To keep skilled workers, more businesses are willing to offer it. Chances are, though, you'll have to be the one to bring it up.
  • Be willing to negotiate reduced benefits or vacation for fewer hours, but keep the job security.
  • Check to see whether there is someone like you who is looking for fewer hours who might be able to share your job with you.
  • If you think you can work from home, prove it.
  • Seek out employment opportunities at companies like Fannie Mae, the nation's largest provider of home mortgages, based in Washington, D.C., which prides itself on its innovative work-life programs.
  • Also check out Working Mother magazine's annual ranking of companies that offer family-friendly workplaces.
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