The three most common questions on flexible working

Kelly Jacobson Collins is a flexible working advocate. Here she outlines the three main issues people have when seeking to work flexibly.

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I’m very lucky to have worked flexibly for 15 years since I joined MSN (Microsoft) in 2004 where they were piloting flexible working for all.

At the time I was a 30 year old without a family, but I knew that working from home would give me headspace from a noisy office and an opportunity to take deliveries, get boilers fixed and, of course, get the washing done.

Since having children, I have worked at four different companies where I have trialled different flexible patterns, including compressed work weeks, reduced hours, time-shifted hours and working from home.

For the past six years I’ve volunteered for the NCT and four years ago, a friend and I started running workshops for returning parents where we coach and share advice. During these sessions there are three questions we always get asked in one way another.

1. How do I know what to ask for?
2. How do I ask for flexible working?
3. What happens if they say no?

How do I know what to ask for?

It really depends on your situation and needs, for example, you are asking for a flexible package because you want to be able to pick up your children/learn a new skill/look after a sick relative.

It is important to remember there isn’t a prescription: what works for you, for instance, reduced hours, might not work for someone else and might not work for you in a few years’ time.

It is also key to weigh up the financial sacrifice you are making. For example, if you return to work as a working parent then you are sacrificing time with your child, but if you return to work at 60% hours then you are sacrificing 40% pay.

The answer is working out what is right for you and what is right for your business which brings me onto my second point.

How do I ask for flexible working?

Check your company policy and speak to other people in your network. Is anyone else working flexibly in your company or will you be a pioneer? Try to find out about the pushbacks that others may have received.

Think of your flexible working request as a business plan and how it will help your employer. Consider what their objections could be.

  1. Who will pick up the workload?
  2. Are the company cutting staff?
  3. Could your reduced hours save them money?
  4. Does this offer a development opportunity for another team member?
  5. If you work from home does it mean you can cover the 6am weekly call with Asia?
  6. Is the building full? Is everyone hot desking anyway?

If you are applying for a job at a new company, use the internet and your network to see if they have flexible workers.

Don’t ask about flexible working in your first interview but when your application is progressing, towards the end of the interview process when you have more sway.

Think of it more as a salary negotiation or a benefit.

What happens if they say no?

With your existing employer, you have legal options if you believe they said no and they have not followed policy. In these situations, you could speak with HR or go to an external resource like ACAS.

In extreme situations you could engage legal advice. There are also other options: your employer said no to plan A, what about plan B?

Always have a back up, for instance, another flexible working pattern that may be a compromise for you but could be more acceptable to your current or future employer.

In summary, I believe that flexible working can work for everyone, but it can only be truly successful if applicants think of the others that their flexibility might impact.

That impact can be a financial impact at home or the burden of work on your colleagues and your boss.

If you do choose to reduce your hours, please set yourself up for success – be clear about what you can commit to, focus at work, seek out productivity tools, make sure you are visible on the days you are in, speak up and speak out, and don’t stop networking!

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