How to Ask Your Boss for a Flexible Work Schedule
Nine-to-five doesn’t always work for life in 2019. Here, experts tell how to craft a better setup—and persuade your boss to say yes.
This article originally appeared on RealSimple.com.
Flexibility is one of the benefits most coveted by all of today’s workers—whether they’re women or men, parents or not. “It’s not just a mom issue. It affects everyone,” says Sara Sutton, CEO and founder of FlexJobs, a service for remote and flexible jobs. Research from Werk, a startup that champions flexible work, found that flex workers are twice as likely to be happy in their roles and half of workers plan to leave their job if they don’t have flexible options. “Smart organizations recognize that it’s crucial today to offer flexible options in order to retain and attract top talent,” says Sutton. Whether there’s a policy in place or you’re asking to set a precedent, here’s how to do it.
1. Decide what you need.
What are the pain points in your work life that you’re trying to remedy? Maybe you have a three-hour commute, or you’re a morning person and burned out by 3 p.m. Or it’s stressful for you to miss family dinner. Maybe you’re an introvert and your office’s open floor is too distracting. “Be critical about what kind of flexibility you need to be successful in your role,” says Annie Dean, cofounder and co-CEO of Werk. Think through the logistics too. Can you work less than full-time and still meet your expenses? Will you still get benefits at part-time? If you’re proposing remote work, do you have a professional place to go? “Working at the kitchen table if you have young children or a busy household may not work,” says Kathryn Sollmann, author of Ambition Redefined ($17; amazon.com).
2. Be honest about your work habits.
Think about your work style. “Working from home is a much less energy-charged environment,” says Sollmann. “You don’t have that feeling of people stopping by all the time.” Will you still be able to be creative? How easily do you get distracted—are you going to be drawn to loading laundry or telling the babysitter what to do? Next, assess if the flexibility you want matches your type of role. “A lot of it really comes down to common sense,” says Sutton. If you work on a close-knit creative team, suggesting 100 percent remote work probably won’t fly. How many meetings do you need to be at? What are the days when everyone tends to stay late? When do your direct reports seem to have the most questions? Create a flexible-schedule request around those parameters.
3. See what’s already working.
Check with human resources about existing flex policies. If there are none, talk to colleagues who may have a casual flexibility arrangement. Ask about their honest experiences, says Sutton. How did they ask for it? What’s their schedule? Does their manager like it? How can you get ahead of any potential backlash? If no one in your company is working in a flexible way, don’t take that as no before you ask. Instead, you need to lead the way and make a very professional pitch for it, says Sollmann.
4. Gather data to support your flex case.
Collect proof points about how a flexible schedule will optimize your work and help you be a better worker. One idea: Track your time. Sutton recommends analyzing your workweek and logging how much time you spend on various tasks, like meetings versus working alone on your computer. You want to be able to say, “After logging my time, I found that 47 percent of my week is spent working independently. I also get interrupted by colleagues 10 percent of that time, so if I work from home one day a week, it would give me a dedicated day to work without interruption and be more productive on tasks or projects I can do independently.”
5. Prepare your ask.
Be specific with your request and clear about your proposed hours and expectations. Employers need to be able to anticipate when you’re available, says Sollmann. Focus on the facts and how you’ll be an even more valuable worker. “Don’t make your case overly personal or emotional,” says Dean. Go into the meeting when you’re feeling strong in your role, such as after a successful project.
6. Anticipate concerns.
Think about what your employer’s objections may be and how you can mitigate them. If there’s a crisis on Friday and that’s your day off, how will you address the situation? Stress your work ethic and your communication skills, but also that you are adaptable. If you manage people, present a plan for how you will communicate with the team when you’re remote. Also, ask your boss and team for their thoughts on when it would be most helpful for you to be in the office. Another idea: Pitch a job share. Finding a (backup) partner in crime can alleviate worries that there won’t be anyone in the office. Job shares are less common, but Morgan Tully made it work at a large tech company. Tully and her job-share partner each worked two days a week in the office and then came in together one day a week. That way, someone in her role was always available.
7. Show your company that flex work is a win for it too.
Frame your request as an opportunity for you to deliver better business results. “When it’s about output, not accommodation, it’s easier for a manager to digest,” says Dean. You can say that when you work remotely, you’re more energized and accomplish more (if that’s true). Or, if you start earlier or end later, note that you’ll be able to service clients in different time zones better. Or, maybe opening up a desk space will alleviate some office stress. Movability, a transportation management association in Central Texas, helps private employers develop alternative commute policies, like flexible hours, to avoid traffic congestion. “Companies realize telework policies benefit employers too: Employees miss less work and are less stressed,” says Lisa Kay Pfannenstiel, Movability’s executive director.
8. Be a good flexible worker.
If your manager is still hesitant, suggest a trial period. During that time, keep track of your progress and data points to support your claim that it’s working to everyone’s benefit. And take your role as a flexible worker seriously. “Your ability to get your job done will help open doors for other people,” says Sutton. Make it easy for your boss and team. Be proactive about communication: Have scheduled check-ins, pick up the phone to hear coworkers’ voices and have them hear yours, use project management software—any tactics that will showcase your productivity. “Flexibility can give you the opportunity to shine,” says Sutton. “If you’re a great worker, you’re going to be a great worker no matter where.”