It used to be that you went to work at 9, left at 6, and started all over again the next day. Late-afternoon dance recital? Skip it or take a day off.
Thanks to technology and increasingly progressive workplaces, employees can put in their hours and get their work done, but also have more time and flexibility for childcare and family obligations. And these so-called Flexible Work Arrangements (FWAs) are succeeding; according to a study by the Society for Human Resource Management, 39 percent of firms surveyed said they offer their employees the option to telecommute, and of those, 26 percent found the productivity of employees who previously worked 100 percent onsite had increased, and 32 percent reported absenteeism rates had decreased.
“This approach to work is realistic,” says Hana Ayoub, a professional development coach who previously worked at the investment firm Blackstone Group. “The old-school mentality values ‘safe time’ in an office. The new-school mentality is driven by integrating work and life.”
Of course, a few rules of the road need to be followed to enjoy a good work/life balance, without dropping the ball on work.
They are candid with their employers about what arrangements would be helpful.
Leslie Sakai is a new mother and the controller at UrbanSitter, and she works from home two days a week. She nailed down this arrangement by having a candid conversation with her boss. “It was surprisingly easy,” she says. “When it was time to discuss what returning to work would be like, I openly let her know what I envisioned and we discussed how we could make it work. You won’t know if it’s possible until you ask.”
They make full use of technology that makes working remotely possible.
Sakai and her colleagues rely on Google Hangouts and Skype to conduct video calls and videoconferences when not in the office at the same time. Another must-have? Slack, which is a platform that allows multiple team members to send messages to the group, and share files, so everyone is up to speed on projects at all times. “Technology today makes it easy to stay in contact,” Sakai says. “It was simple to think of solutions to ensure I could participate in meetings and conversations.”
They leave the office when they need to, and check in later.
Make no mistake: No one is skipping out at 3 p.m. to put a roast in the oven. But in many workplaces, working parents don’t have to stay until 7 p.m. just because that’s what most of their colleagues do. “People can say, ‘Hey, it’s 5 o’clock, I want to make it home for dinner and bathtime with my kids. I’ll check back in at 8 o’clock,” Ayoub says. “The focus is on the result of the work rather than the time you spent at the office.”
They make their availability—and their boundaries—crystal clear.
When you’re out of the office during traditional work hours, you can’t over-communicate how you can be reached. “The key is being super clear with people—where you are, what your response times are going to be, how to reach you,” says Caroline Webb, the author of How to Have a Good Day: Harness the Power of Behavioral Science to Transform Your Working Life. “You can substitute feeling like you always need to be available, for clarity around when you’ll be available.”
They understand that there’s a give-and-take.
Having a more flexible workday may also mean working at times that you wouldn’t otherwise, like before your kids wake up on weekdays or weekend afternoons. “It’s an ongoing effort with a constant prioritization and re-prioritization,” Ayoub says. “No two days or weeks are going to look the same. Sometimes your family responsibilities will need you more. Other weeks, you’ll have business travel or events after work.”
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