As we face the transition back to offices, some working parents are itching to get out of the house and back into boardrooms, while others are calling for flexible work arrangements – be it where they work or when. If you fall into the flexibility camp, read on.
Whether your company has explicitly set policies against flexibility or whether there’s ambiguity around the matter; it’s always worth having the conversation to explore possibilities since it’s something you want. You owe it to yourself and to your manager NOT to make assumptions.
Sound scary? We tapped Juliana Wexler, founder of Parama and expert in conscious confrontation, for advice on how to have this difficult conversation with confidence. Here’s what she had to say:
What To Do (Bites)
Laying the right foundation by doing the prep work is key.
Remember, this is something you really want, so investing time in thinking some things through is important to your success from the ask.
- Figure out what exactly you want. Flexibility can manifest in many ways, so define your ideal work situation. Do you want to change your time commitment, e.g. a 4-day workweek, or you “where”, e.g. full-time remote work, or 2-3 days in the office every week? Would you work part-time for a reduced salary? It’s important to know your ask.
- Determine just how critical flexibility is for you. Get really clear with yourself about how important this flexibility is to you and the implications of this conversation. Are you willing to leave the company if your request is denied? Know what you can afford to lose and what you’re unwilling to budge on from the outset.
- Know the company policies. Is there already a policy in place? Are you looking for an exception to the policy? Are you planning to be the lead person in pushing for new policies? The answer will shape how you approach the topic.
Start the conversation by aligning on shared goals.This is a great way to set a collaborative versus combative tone and reinforce that you’re on the same team. It also leverages a key component of effective negotiation – empathy. It forces you to think about your managers’ goals and anticipate how she/he will respond to your proposition. Try to identify 3 shared goals and open the conversation with them. For example, we both want: (1) me to be a highly productive employee and contribute the value to the team and company, 2) me to deliver great work so we achieve collective success, and 3) me to continue to be passionate about the work we do and feel fulfilled (read: stay at the company.)
Be clear about your ask, and stay collaborative.After you’ve established that you’re on the same team, clearly outline how you’re going to manage the change (e.g. how you’ll collaborate with others, how you’ll manage face-time) and request the work dynamic you desire. Try to stay calm and keep an open mind as the discussion progresses. If you really want full-time remote work, consider if you’re prepared to start with less. If it’s a dealbreaker, that’s one thing. But if your goal is to stay at the company, compromise may be the way you get to an arrangement that feels good for both you and your employer.
Create human connection by sharing an anecdote about how this flexibility has been so significant to you personally. For instance, “I’ve learned that I’m able to deliver my best work when I have the opportunity to spend some time with my child during the day. Having the opportunity to put my son down for his afternoon nap, or the flexibility to take my daughter to a doctor’s appointment relieves a lot of the tension I feel about balancing work and life.” Sharing a part of yourself with your employer that they may not know adds to a human connection that makes the conversation and relationship more trusted and more positive.
Use the pandemic as a proof point. Connecting flexibility to your recent success at work helps, so share what you’ve observed about yourself during the pandemic. For example, “I’ve learned that I’m most productive when I have some defined windows away from the office environment to do my heads-down work.” Reinforcing with specificity that productivity and quality of work have not suffered as a result of working from home is an important proof point. If possible, share a quantifiable example, like “I was able to complete 3 more projects than before the pandemic.” Your employer likely already knows this, but it helps to reinforce.
Make your ask more palatable by suggesting a trial run. It can be helpful to set up your proposal as a trial run, a chance to test the waters, with a specific timeframe to assess. But remember, give yourself enough time to collect your success points.