“Flex” careers are becoming popular world over, but the responsibility for creating them does not lie just with employers.
Whether it is taking care of babies, pets, homes or the elderly – worldwide, the majority of that responsibility lies with women, and more so in India. However, women also need to work, more than ever before – for various reasons – fulfillment, money, career, independence etc. Women are making more work-life choices and picking those that suit their individual needs.
A flexible career or a workflex role is one of the many choices that women make, one that allows them to find a match between their professional and personal roles. However, making flexible work – work for you – is an opportunity and a challenge. Opportunity because it allows one to find a good fit, challenge, because it needs one to consistently learn and unlearn.
Understanding flexible work schedules
Flexible work may be broadly defined as a work arrangement outside the 9-to-5 format, that allows a person to manage responsibilities in more than one place, in a manner most suitable to her needs. Some commonly used Flexible work formats include: Work-from-home, tele-commute, part-time office/non-office hours, project based, job-sharing, flex-day etc.
The whole philosophy of workflex is centered on delivery, quality and timely completion of work, as opposed to spending a certain amount of time in a physical space.
There are two main aspects – Conceptual and Practical – to considering a flexible work format and failure of flexible work often comes from collapse of one or more of these aspects.
Conceptualizing a move to flexible work
Assessing Workflex needs – One of the first and biggest concerns in a Flexible work format is understanding of one’s Workflex needs. It is also important to understand that asking for a flexible format is not a reflection on one’s performance but an indication of changing choices one needs to make and managing them effectively. Meghna Khanna* used to be a high-flying senior consultant at a large firm. Once her son was born, she moved to a research desk role at the same firm with a half-day commitment. She still gets lucrative offers to join large consulting projects, but to her, time with her son is not negotiable and her flex career is built around that.
…asking for a flexible format is not a reflection on one’s performance but an indication of changing choices one needs to make and managing them effectively.
Managing Workflex Readiness – Each kind of workflex arrangement has its own implications and one needs to be prepared to manage that well. For example the context of a Small Office Home Office (SOHO) entrepreneur will be totally different from that of a tele-commute flex worker. One’s flexible work needs may evolve over time but workflex readiness helps one navigate those changes.
Before you consider “flexi”, some practical aspects to think about
Level of skill – Workflex is not built for low levels of proficiency and skill. It is imperative that the worker has a high level of competence in generic skills such as communication, analysis, use of technology and teamwork, besides a core specialization. If one is considering a workflex career, the first thing one needs to do is upgrade skills, enhance proficiency and gain expertise.
Stay Connected – ‘Out of sight, out of mind’ is the hardest challenge facing flex workers. As a flex worker, it helps to put in place a communication protocol. Daily calls, IMs, mails, shared docs – or periodic face time – all help enhance cohesiveness between teams. If teams feel there is a consistent virtual presence, a work environment conducive to flex takes shape much more effectively and smoothly.
Equipped to handle – Flex is built on the backbone of communication and remote working infrastructure. If Internet is the lifeline of your work, make it a point to invest in it. Not being able to work, because ‘my Internet is not working’ is akin to ‘Dog ate my homework’.
If Internet is the lifeline of your work, make it a point to invest in it. Not being able to work, because ‘my Internet is not working’ is akin to ‘Dog ate my homework’.
Managing expectations – Make sure you let everyone in your work sphere know about what they can expect. If you are expected to have a weekly review meeting, make sure that happens. If you are going to be unavailable, let that be known well in time. There are few things worse for a team than having a flex worker not deliver on time, but not escalating issues while in process is one of them.
Creating back-up – The best thing one can do to make a flex career work for you is to make it as sustainable as possible. Pooja Saxena*, Associate Consultant, Legal at a Digital Media firm has been working with a large corporate set-up on a flex basis. She is their go-to person for all their legal queries. For over 5 years, Pooja has made it a point to have a peer manage work, while she takes her annual trip to the UK. Not only has she created a back up for herself, she has found a perfect flex fit for her company and herself.
Careers for women – making it work
Invest in Workflex – Being raised as a woman in India has its own nuances. Often we are conditioned not to make professional investments in ourselves. The idea of professional support and training for women in career-transition is hard to digest for many. It is a choice that one is making, because it will add a certain value to one’s life – (better balance, more time, money, greater opportunity or keep your skills alive). Don’t shy away from making that investment in yourself. It is unfair to expect companies to invest in flexibility at work, if those who need workflex options are ill-prepared.
It is also important to ramp-up one’s readiness in order make-up for time lost, if one has been on a career break. The changes in work environment, skills at work, growing level of solution-oriented approach and no recent proven success make it hard for someone who has been away from workplace to orchestrate a successful workflex career.
Being raised as a woman in India has its own nuances. Often we are conditioned not to make professional investments in ourselves.
Think employer benefit – Flexible work is clearly a two-way street. It is vital to gauge the real scope and value of flexibility – both for employer and employee. In a lot of cases, a partial view of things or a ‘what is it in for me’ attitude without taking into account the context and suitability becomes a recipe for failure.
Play with formats, propose new ones – Flex is contextual. There are a host of best practices and policies but indigenous solutions are the way to go when proposing workflex for oneself. Think what works for you and the other party and feel free to propose it. When Rashmi moved houses to a sub-urban area, daily commute became a real hassle with more than 3 hours each day being spent on it. With her employers, she put together a solution, where she travels to work 3 days a week and works from home 2 days but with the same office hours. When an important project is being delivered, she makes it a point to keep up and be with the team. The arrangement proposed by her has lasted over 3 years and works for her company as well for her.
Deadlines are not flexible – The only thing not flexible in workflex are deadlines and if one keeps that in mind at all times, in all situations – there is no way that flex will not work for you.
One can adopt a flexible approach but it is imperative to stay committed to decisions and deadlines.
*Names changed to ensure privacy
This piece was originally published in Women’s Web.