Would workplace flexibility—whether it’s the option to telecommute one day a week or shift your start time in order to avoid rush-hour traffic—make you a happier, more productive employee?
For most of us, the answer is probably a resounding yes. Thanks in large part to technology—like the smartphone you may be reading this article on—there’s really no need for many employees to be working at their desks 8-10 hours a day, 5 days a week.
Increasingly, companies are starting to agree. A recent report found that 67% of small businesses (those with 500 or fewer employees) offer flexible work arrangements, while a 2016 study of 8,000 companies worldwide found that 75% offered flexible work policies. More than ever, employers are paying attention to how, where, and when employees want to work.
At Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control (MFC), for example, the majority of employees work either a 9/80 schedule (allowing for every other Friday off) or 4/40 schedule (allowing for every Friday off). Employees are also allowed flex time and to telecommute, and some employees even have the option of working part-time.
Sounds great, right? But how do you make the case for a more flexible schedule if your company isn’t at the forefront of workplace flexibility? We asked Sharon K., Director, Logistics and Sustainment Engineering at Lockheed Martin MFC for her advice. Sharon K. was one of the company’s earliest adopters of a flex schedule, working part-time for 8 years in the 1990s before returning to a full-time role.
Prove Your Worth
If a flexible work schedule isn’t a given at your company—and isn’t something that you negotiated during your hiring process—consider taking the time to really prove your worth as an employee before approaching your supervisor with a flexible schedule request.
“This is a key component to begin a leader-employee flexible work relationship,” Sharon K. says. “Your odds are better if you’re a trusted employee and have demonstrated sustained top performance.” New hires at Lockheed Martin MFC are asked to spend time in the office working with the division’s subject matter experts to become proficient before working from home.
The lesson here: not now doesn’t necessarily mean not ever. Show your face around the office and prove yourself before requesting greater flexibility, and you may just get it.
Look Beyond Your Existing Role
Don’t limit yourself to just tweaking your current schedule. You may find that there are roles in your company that need to be filled and offer the flexibility you’re looking for. Sharon K. ended up finding an open part-time position that was the right fit. “Lockheed Martin MFC needed someone with my skills, but only had part-time budget,” she says. “There was a hole that needed to be filled,” and she was glad to fill it.
“Know where the gaps are in your organization and what you can contribute,” Sharon K. adds. “It’s amazing how much you can learn and contribute to the company when you take those jobs.” In fact, Sharon K. credits her role as a part-timer with helping to broaden her skills. “It really made me a better leader,” she says, “because I’ve worked in so many different areas in my organization that I really understand what everyone does.”
Pitch the Benefits to Your Company
Sure, you know why you want a flexible work schedule—the ability to spend more time with your kids or less time on your commute—and those are certainly valid reasons. From your boss’ perspective, more important than how a flexible work schedule will benefit you, is how it will benefit your organization.
Chances are your company’s leaders already know that workplace flexibility can help attract, engage, and retain talented employees, but you should still be ready to explain how more flexibility will help you to better serve your company. “It’s okay to talk about why you need this, but make sure you’re also saying, 'This is what I can do for you,'” Sharon K. says.
Create a Plan, But Be Flexible (Pun Intended)
Once you’ve identified how working a flexible schedule can fill an organizational need, be transparent and have a candid conversation with your boss, Sharon K. says.
If you’re making the case to telecommute, for example, make a list of what you do now, and which of those tasks can easily be done from home. Acknowledge the days you’ll probably need to be in the office, such as for regularly scheduled meetings, and be willing to adjust your proposed schedule if you know ahead of time that there’s a client meeting.
“Come in knowing your end game—what it is you really want,” Sharon K. says. “But you also need to have some flexibility in your flexible work schedule plan. Being rigid can create an issue. You have to go in with the mindset that between you and your leader, you’re going to craft a win-win solution.”
Reevaluate the Plan as Necessary
A key part of your plan should include a timetable for reevaluating your new schedule. Suggest that you try it for 3 or 6 months, and then meet to discuss what’s working, what’s not, and where you might need to adjust.
Sharon K. recalls the case of one employee who went part-time rather than fully retire. “What I found out after 3 months is he actually wanted more work to do. Check-ups make both parties a little more comfortable that there’s an opportunity to assess how the flexible schedule is working. And it may be working just fine, but it gives everyone a safety net.”
Remember, flexibility is possible—even if you don’t start out with it—when you prove yourself, create a plan, and have honest conversations with your manager about what you want and how it will benefit the company.