Workplace Flexibility Part 2: Achieving Greater Balance in Your Life
This is the second of two posts on workplace flexibility. Part 1 is targeted toward organizational leaders and focuses on debunking some of the common myths and fears of offering job flexibility to members of your workforce.
This follow-up post is intended for anyone who wishes to pursue a better balance in your life. I’m sharing a more personal account of my experience with alternative work arrangements, as it’s had a significant impact on my overall happiness and quality of life.
Your employer obviously plays a key role in making a flex and/or telecommuting arrangement possible; however, there are key behaviors and actions you can take to help make it a possibility and ensure its success. This is the focus of Part 2.
On some days, my schedule is pretty “traditional” – I’m in the office from 7:30-4:30. On other days, I work at home and might spend time shuttling my children back and forth to school and the sitter, or just enjoying breakfast at home with them before the craziness of the day picks up. Some days I’m up at 5:00 a.m. answering emails from my home office; others I sleep in until 7:00 a.m. Some evenings I’m working until 11:00 p.m.; others I wrap up at 5 and call it quits.
Point being – my life is not dictated by a work schedule. Rather, “work” (or what I like to think of more as my career and, I’m fortunate to say, one of my hobbies) is just one facet of my life and overall schedule. And as we all know – life happens, and it doesn’t just happen outside the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.
Give and Take
With any relationship, there’s give and take. I recognize and appreciate the flexibility that my employer provides me and trust they have in me, and I therefore reciprocate the same flexibility and loyalty back to them. For example, here’s a bit of the “give”:
- I came into the office recently on one of my typical work-from-home days in order to attend a meeting with the CEO of our parent company who was visiting from the UK. My flexible schedule is just that – flexible.
- I was on business travel at least six or seven times over the past year, for as little as one night, or as many as three. That obviously meant an extended period away from family and friends (and lots of alternate logistics to arrange if you have children and/or pets, as well as the potential for an increased strain/responsibility on a spouse).
- I work every Sunday – sometimes 15 minutes…sometimes 1.5 hours. When employees in our Asia Pacific offices arrive to work on Monday mornings, it’s still Sunday in the US. I make it a priority to post fresh content to the global home page of our employee online community for them on their Monday mornings, not mine.
- I work occasional evenings and more extended time on the weekends as needed. Not because there is someone telling me to, but because I am able to manage my own workload and determine when and where work needs to get done in order to deliver what is expected of me.
I’m completely okay with this. Why? Here’s a glimpse at the “take”:
- I surprised my son last week by showing up as the “Mystery Reader” at his pre-school and read a book to the class during circle time.
- I eat breakfast with my two sons at least two weekday mornings…and at a reasonable hour (8ish…not 6ish!). I enjoy our morning conversations.
- I am able to transport my kids to a preschool program at a local church and also send them to a wonderful woman who provides care inside her home versus having the financial stress of a hefty traditional daycare tuition payment.
For those of you who think the work/life balance discussion is a parent thing – it’s not! I also…
- Completed a ½ marathon this past Fall and was able to do some of my training runs during normal daylight hours versus in the dark or inside on a treadmill.
- Ate healthy dinners because I was able to defrost a lean protein during the day or pop something in the oven at 4:00 that takes a while to cook.
- Helped a family member out when he needed me the most…on a Thursday…during typical “working hours”.
- Relieved myself of A LOT of stress and pressure thinking there were certain times of day or even days of the week that I had to be in specified places doing specified things…all the time…no exceptions. Life does not play out that way, so why are we regimented to force ourselves into this delusional and restrictive paradigm?!
How, You Say?
If any pieces of my story sound appealing to you, there are steps you can take to make this type of schedule a reality.
- Make sure you have the right partner. I have a supportive employer and, sometimes even more importantly, a supportive direct supervisor. They are open to flexibility and understand its value. Many employers now offer flexible work arrangements, so you have quite a few to choose from.
- Ask for flexibility. Funny what you can get if you just ask. I did, and actually as early on as my first interview.
- Be flexible. Reciprocate the flexibility back to your employer with the ability to modify your schedule when needed to meet the demands of the business.
- Get engaged and make your career about more than just a paycheck. I care about my work. I love what I do. I always strive to produce exceptional results. I take my relationship with my employer seriously and am respectful of our partnership. Your employer will be more open to entertaining a flexible work schedule for you if you are a dependable, trustworthy, and productive employee.
- Know yourself. Self-awareness is an ongoing process. Spend time focusing on it. I know what times of day I write best. I know that at around 10:00 AM every morning I need to eat some almonds. I know that if I feel that “it’s been a long day” headache setting in around 9:00 PM that I need to call it quits and get a good night rest. I know that if I am going to facilitate an all-day workshop, I need to be in bed early so that I can bring positive energy and enthusiasm into the room. In short- I know my “ebb and flow” throughout the day and plan my activities accordingly. Because of this, I am able to make optimal use of my time and thus flourish in a flexible working environment.
Are You in the Right Position?
I recognize that this type of lifestyle is not possible for everyone. I happen to work in a position that allows for flexibility when it comes to where, when, and how my tasks get accomplished. This certainly isn’t the case for everyone. Everyone needs to consider what type of lifestyle they desire, and then determine if your current situation is conducive of that lifestyle or if it’s worth it to you to consider a change.
You Only Live Once
I don’t share my personal account of working flex hours and partial telecommuting because I think I have all the answers – I certainly don’t! Trust me, there are many times I feel overwhelmed and wonder how to reach that optimal “balance” in my life with family, friends, health, faith, career…it’s a continuous work in progress.
What I do know is that you only live once. Make it the life you’ve always dreamed of. It will be too late if you keep putting change off or if you think you have to wait until retirement to enjoy the special moments life has to offer. And remember, this is just one person’s story. Think about what is most important in your life. Are you spending your time wisely?