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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work-Life Balance

How I Scored a Flexible Gig: 3 Parents' Stories

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There’s a reason it’s called “the grind.”

The standard work week grates on many of us, but especially those who have children at home. They’re stuck in rush-hour traffic while their babies are getting baths and bedtime stories, their grade-schoolers are struggling with multiplication, and their teenagers are up to who knows what.

A recent study conducted by LearnVest revealed that more than half of workers would prefer a flexible schedule, or even a job-share. Two in three wish they could log their weekly hours over four days instead of five, and 43% want to work remotely.

But since these arrangements aren’t easy to find, especially with several high-profile companies ending work-from-home status for employees, many people end up feeling like work-life balance is impossible.

Not so for these three parents, who each found a different way to secure the flexible working arrangements that let them keep their dream jobs and keep up with their families.

So, how did they do it, and what does it look like? We asked.

I Asked For It

Teresa Coates, Media Relations Specialist

Earlier this year, Teresa Coates landed an amazing gig managing social media for a fabric company in Southern California. One catch: The single mother had to relocate from Portland, OR to Los Angeles for the full-time office job.

She found a home close to a good high school for her 16-year-old daughter and near Coates’ own sister, but it was 40 miles—and 1-2 hours, depending on traffic—away from her office. “The commute is hell in LA,” says Coates. “It’s really about as bad as you can imagine.”

Coates would leave at 6 AM every morning and get home 12 hours later, too exhausted to cook dinner or even hang out. Her daughter was not coping well with the schedule, and neither was Coates. Moving closer to work wasn’t an option—they had already searched the area thoroughly without finding another location that was safe, affordable, and had good schools. Coates started second-guessing her decisions, but thought one thing might help: flex time. “My friends encouraged me: Just ask! If they say no, they say no,” she says.

After three months on the job, she sat down with her boss. “I said, ‘I know everyone commutes, but I’m a single mom whose daughter has anxiety,’” recalls Coates. When her boss asked what she wanted to do, “I said, ‘I’d like to work at least two days a week from home,’” she remembers. Her boss agreed to give it a try. They settled on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday at the office, with Monday and Wednesday at home, and decided to reconvene after six months to see how the flex time was working out for everyone and if it could continue.

“It was the best thing I ever could have done,” Coates says. “Our stress and anxiety levels are immeasurably better.” She still works from 7:30 AM to 4 PM every day, but saves herself six hours in commuting time each week (along with about $30 a week in gas). On her work-from-home days, she’s able to drop her daughter off at school, pick her up, and cook dinner. On the days she commutes, her daughter walks home from school or gets a ride from her aunt.

Coates is thrilled with the new schedule; her co-workers are adjusting. At first, she says, there were a lot of “Well, if you were here…” comments. But after a few weeks, everyone started to adjust.

“I really prefer the mix of being in the office and at home,” she says. “I work very effectively in the distraction-free zone of my home, but it’s also nice to get out of the house.”

I Looked For It

Maia Alees Walton, Pediatrician

Maia Alees Walton adores taking care of children—that’s one of the reasons she became a pediatrician. But when her two bundles of joy came along, she realized that what she wanted most was to take care of her own.

“I’d wanted to be a physician since I was five,” she says. She was working 60-plus hours per week (five days a week in private practice, with additional evenings and weekends at a hospital and emergency center) when she got married and had her first child, returning to her job about six months after her daughter was born. “When it was time to go to work, she was crying, and I was crying. I didn’t want to go back at all,” she says. Walton decided to cut back her hours—to three days a week, then two.

“When I was pregnant with my second, I knew I really wanted to stay home with my kids,” she says. But she also didn’t want to abandon her dream job. Walton knew that urgent care centers often had odd-hour shifts, so she connected with one in the Atlanta area and worked out a make-your-own schedule to cover 6 PM to 9 PM shifts one or two days a week. “They said I could do one a month or 15 a month,” she says. “It’s totally up to me.”

Her husband’s full-time job as a junior executive at an international corporation provides full benefits, from healthcare to retirement, and gets him home in time to take over the childcare when she heads off to work. “We don’t have to pay for babysitting or a nanny, so that’s another benefit,” she says.

While her pay is about 15% of what it used to be, it was a sacrifice she was determined to make for the sake of her family. “Something happens when you have kids,” she says. “Your priorities change.”

In her current arrangement, she earns a small paycheck, stays connected, and keeps up her doctoring skills. And anytime she wants, she can ramp up her shifts or even make the leap back into full-time.

With her babies just ages three and one, though, “I’m going to ride this until the wheels fall off,” she says.

I Created It

Andy Green, President and CTO of IT Firm Sonjara

Andy Green held down quite a few full-time office jobs in his career as a computer programmer, though the schedule never made much sense to him. “There were meetings left and right. I’d sit around waiting for it to get quiet around 5:30 so I could finally get some quality work done,” he remembers. He’d plow through it all evening and rarely saw his family for dinner. “Then I was expected to be in the office at 9 AM even though I was tired from working late the night before,” he adds. It was far from ideal.

His wife, Siobhan, worked in international development for a nonprofit (with a specialty in IT for social goals), and after the birth of their first child, her company wouldn’t give her any flexibility in her work schedule.

Andy returned to a day job, to earn the necessary health benefits for the family, while Siobhan started building up contract work. By 2006, Andy was able to join her in working full-time for their company.

Their seven-person IT firm, Sonjara, offers digital solutions for business, government, nonprofits, and associations, and has been profitable from the get-go. Siobhan is CEO while Andy acts as president and CTO. Flex time is one of its founding philosophies. “We wanted people to be rewarded for achievement and not for sitting at a desk,” he explains.

Here’s how it works: Employees can use the office anytime they want, and everyone must come in once or twice a week for a staff meeting and face-to-face business. Beyond that, they can work from home, from a coffee shop, or a balcony in the Bahamas, as long as they are available when clients need them.

The Greens typically work from home every day from 8:30 AM until 3 PM, when their eight- and 10-year-old sons are in school. When the boys come home, “We give them a snack and wrangle their homework out of them,” Green says. He and Siobhan return to their workload some evenings and weekends, when necessary. A nanny comes in three days a week to lend a hand.

“One of the nice things about it is that we have a very equitable marriage,” Andy says. They trade off responsibility for things like doctor appointments and therapy for their son who has Asperger’s Syndrome. And their employees also make good use of the flexibility: One recent hire left her previous job because she had young kids at home and felt like she was wasting hours of her life commuting, says Siobhan. Another former employee used the flexibility to care for his wife, who had a chronic illness, and his disabled daughter.

“Once you’ve got kids, you need flexibility at a certain level,” Andy points out. “We’ve been very successful at bringing parents, and especially women, back into the tech workforce.”

This article was originally published on LearnVest. It has been republished here with permission.