Your boss is key to your flexibility at work
Five ways to make flex work for you
By Thea O'Connor,

Flexible work practices that include working part-time, working from home, setting different hours or taking a leave of absence are becoming more common and are considered the way of the future, including for the legal profession and the public service.

Premier Mike Baird announced in March that by 2019 all public service jobs will be flexible. In the public service, just 2% of senior executive roles are filled by staff on flexible work arrangements.

However, stigma still permeates the issue in some quarters, with applicants considered less ambitious and credible if they stray from nine to five or eight to six.

Michael Chaaya, Partner at Corrs Chambers Westgarth, works one day a week from home. He adopted this work arrangement in March last year to participate in the ‘Equilibrium Man Challenge’, that promotes flexible work practices and gender equity. In a series of mini-documentaries, the challenge follows a group of men who are changing the way th ey work.

“I wanted to lead by example and be overt about it to increase others’ sense of permission,” says Chaaya. “Since my involvement in the challenge, we have seen more of our male partners take up flexible work, including parental leave.”

Clearly, your boss is a key enabler of your own chances of working more flexibly. If he or she models it, you are streets ahead.

If not, how can you increase your chances of getting a ‘yes’ from your workplace, without compromising your career? Here are our five tips:

1. Be positive

“Don’t be too nervous, you might be pleasantly surprised,” says Chris Freeland, National Managing Partner of Baker & McKenzie, where 31 per cent of staff work flexibly. “People in leadership positions are being compelled to be more receptive to different work practices, for the sake of employee engagement as well as business outcomes.”

Be confident that flexible work is indeed productive work. Tina Brothers, Executive Director of The Reiby Institute, who has conducted 100 interviews with Australian women in senior leadership roles said many women told her they got the best results from people who job-shared, because they loved the job, wanted to make it work and made sure it did.

2. Be prepared

“Treat your proposal like you would a business case,” Brothers suggests. “Document the benefits, identify the risks and objections, and come up with solutions. Find out who else is working flexibly in your industry and provide examples. If you approach it in a professional manner, it is less likely to be dismissed.”

Peter Wilson, Chairperson of the Australian Human Resources Institute, encourages workers to think about how much independent time and how much interdependent time, are needed to fulfil their job.

“The real rub is interdependent time, needed for face-to-face meetings, for example, or client contact,” says Wilson. “A smart employee will say, my job means I need to be physically here for four hours a day. Can we establish some agreements, [such as the timing of meetings], so I can manage my interdependent time between 10 and 4?”

3. Be flexible

Lesley Sutton, Corporate partner with Herbert Smith Freehills in Sydney, works four days per week. “Demonstrate that you yourself are able to be flexible. In the same way that a full-time partner doesn’t clock off at 5pm, a part-time partner needs to be able to work to meet demand. You’ll need systems in place so you can be contacted when not in the office, and backup so that if you need to work outside of your normal arrangements on occasion, you can.”

A three- to six-month trial is one way to allow boss and worker alike, some space to discover what works best, and to solve any glitches.

4. Consider your team

David McIntosh is “flexibility champion” at Gadens Lawyers in Sydney, where 21 per cent of staff work flexibly. “We were surprised to find that some of the resistance came from younger staff who we thought would welcome flexibility. When urgent work comes in, it often lands on the desk of people who are physically present, which can lead to resentment.

“If you are not going to be physically present, think about possible impacts on your team and how you can address it.”

5. Celebrate

For the sake of those to come, if you do create a win-win arrangement with your employer, “talk about it and celebrate it, rather than cover it up,” says Brothers. “We still need more positive stories.”

TIPS – making flexible work, work for you and your team

• Set clear expectations up front, rather than make assumptions. What do you and your manager expect from this arrangement? Include performance indicators and deliverables.

• Be prepared to invest extra time initially so things flow smoothly. Put in the time needed to educate your team and empower them to make decisions in your absence.

• Inform others about when and how you can be contacted when not physically present, and in emergencies. Give regular updates of your own work to help counter ‘out of sight, out of mind’.

• Embrace all that technology has to offer, so your team and clients can have a near seamless experience.

• Have regular reviews of how the arrangement is working, especially in the early days.

Thea O’Connor
is a health and business freelance writer, health coach and presenter, specialising in creating healthy & productive work habits.