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How to Have a Flexible Work Arrangement and Not Have it Kill Your Career

By Anita Bruzzese

Author of 45 Things You do that Drive Your Boss Crazy and Take This Job and Thrive

Women in tech often are conflicted about whether to put their heads down and work as hard as they can with the dream of retiring early – or try and negotiate some kind of flexible work arrangement so they can spend more time with their families now.

Gender biases in the workplace can make the decision even more difficult.  For example, a study by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey and Co. finds that women often are reluctant to participate in flexible work programs because they worry about the impact on their careers. Another study finds that while managers are more likely to give flextime to men in high-status jobs if it’s seen as being for career reasons, women in similar positions aren’t likely to be granted such a request – whether it’s for career reasons or for family demands.

Still, there are ways that women can negotiate flexible work arrangements while protecting their careers and ensuring they aren’t forgotten by their team or their bosses.

For example, Dawn Fay, a senior district president with Robert Half International, says that women who work remotely need to have set hours, so that team members and bosses will know they will be available by phone or email. An online calendar also can make it easier for others to schedule time with the remote worker, or keep up with a schedule that may change week-to-week.

Erin McGinty, vice president of benefits and human resources as TriNet, works remotely and holds bi-weekly team meetings. She keeps her team engaged by looking for projects that will excite them and makes sure that someone who is more introverted gets a personal visit from her if he or she is being overshadowed on phone meetings with the team.

Some other ways to ensure a flexible work arrangement doesn’t derail your career:

    1. Be specific. Craft a proposal that clearly shows you are still going to get your work done – do you want to work less hours every day or work from the office only a few days a week? How will you track projects, communicate with your team, respond to emergencies, etc.? Working from home often is seen only as a way to be a “mommy,” so it’s important to mention your support system and how you will still be able to do your job without the distractions of child care or dealing with other personal issues.
    2. Use a trial period. You may think you want to work from home until you try it, and then discover you don’t like it. Or, you realize that you only want to do it on a periodic basis. In addition, a boss may be more supportive of a trial period to see how you maintain your productivity and handle issues that may arise with your team. It also gives your team a chance to see that you’re not abandoning them, and may actually get more quality one-on-one time with you.
    3. Stay connected. Offer continual status updates to your boss (even if she doesn’t ask for them), and make sure you’re using an app like Basecamp so that you are always aware of team projects and timelines. (Any remote office should have a strong, reliable and secure Internet connection.) Use video apps like Skype to have face-to-face time with your team and with individuals. Remember, the power of that personal connection can ensure everyone that you are still strongly connected to them and to your career.

What suggestions do you have for anyone who wants a flexible work arrangement?

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