How to Get the Work Schedule You Want

Learn how to convince your boss to give you flex time and let you work from homeBy Stephanie Emma Pfeffer

When Carrie von der Sitt of Chicago asked for a four-day workweek to accommodate her growing family in 2004, there was only one other person at her PR firm with a flexible work arrangement, a term that includes alternative schedules (working from 11 A.M. to 7 P.M., for example), reduced workweeks and telecommuting. "There are now about 20 people, including half of our leadership team," she says.

"People bring their best efforts to the table when they're happier and less distracted," says Sara Sutton Fell, founder and CEO of FlexJobs. So it's no wonder more companies are granting employees flexible work arrangements. Whether you want one because of childcare, elder care or even to work on a side business, up your odds of your request getting approved by taking these steps.

1. Decide to ask.


Sounds obvious, but "women tend to be more concerned about preserving relationships than rocking the boat, even if it means not getting what they want," says Pat Katepoo, work-life negotiation coach and founder of WorkOptions. Men tend not to balk because they view the issues as strictly business. But if you don't ask, nothing will change.

Related: Discover how to raise a confident woman.

2.
Define what you want-and what you're willing to give up.

"What problem are you trying to solve with a flexible schedule?" asks Sutton Fell. "What's possible without hampering your responsibilities?" like being on site at certain times. And be prepared to accept a prorated salary, like Los Angeles native Sabrina Fox, who works at a law firm, did. "I said I wanted to leave at 5:30 so I could see my son before he went to bed," she says. Working 85% of the time meant receiving 85% of her compensation, but it was worth it for her. "I had to be available after hours, but it meant checking email rather than joining conference calls or working on projects."

3.
Do your research.

"The most flexibility tends to be at smaller, privately held companies where you're not setting a precedent for 1,000 employees," says Allison O'Kelley, founder and CEO of MomCorps. Startups and huge tech companies are a tougher sell, she says. Examine your company's policies. If a colleague has a flex arrangement, ask her how she approached her boss. But don't compare your situations too closely, cautions Sutton Fell. Since you bring your own value to the company, your boss should evaluate you independently. In fact, being a valuable employee was the key to Fox's negotiation. "I knew the topic of high-yield bonds better than anyone else in my office," she says. "My boss was happy for me to work limited hours as long as I was always available as a high-yield consultant outside of the office."

4.
Know your boss.

According to Sutton Fell, most flex arrangements are based on trust, so it helps to have a solid relationship with your manager-and your team. "At the end of the day, it's all about doing good work," she says. Other factors that give you leverage: If your boss knows you well, if you've been a dependable employee for more than a year and if your boss sometimes takes off or leaves early to meet outside obligations.

Related: Check out the best work-at-home jobs.

5. Craft a detailed, written proposal.


Build your argument around two principles: how the change will benefit the company by allowing you to be more productive, and how you will reduce potential negative impact. (See WorkOptions for templates.) But don't challenge protocol. "If there's a staff meeting every Thursday at noon but that's your day to work from home, offer to call in," suggests O'Kelley. "Or say, with two weeks' notice, you can attend any meeting in-person."

6. Request an appointment with your boss.


Approach this however you usually handle meetings, advises Katepoo. She recommends saying, "I've sketched out a plan for restructuring my job that I believe will benefit our department. Can we meet and discuss it when you have time?" This will prevent your manager from feeling blindsided.

7.
Make your case.

Katepoo suggests starting out with, "I like working here, but outside responsibilities have come up. I'll be more engaged and productive on the job if I have time to address them." Don't mention specific family issues unless you're close with your manager. And keep the conversation focused on the company's needs rather than yours, says O'Kelley. With flex time, Sutton Fell suggests saying, "A shift in hours can help me focus with less interruption." Keep circling back to your commitment for getting your job done-and doing it well.

8. Be prepared to negotiate.


Expect
pushback, according to Katepoo. "The proposal isn't set terms," she says. Try saying, "I wanted to come to you with a thought-out plan, but obviously this isn't the only option. Let me know if you think something else would work better," suggests O'Kelley. If your boss seems reluctant, questions like "Which part concerns you?" and "Can we look at that area and tweak it?" keep the conversation going. Ask if you can take his or her worries into account and retool the pitch.

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9.
Follow up.

Katepoo suggests outlining a trial in the pitch, using language like "I propose a three-month period to evaluate these deliverables and consider input from coworkers." If you get the go-ahead (good for you!), check in every so often to "confirm that the arrangement is still working for your boss and that you're holding up your end of the bargain," says O'Kelley.

10.
Revisit the idea.

If your boss rejects a flexible arrangement at first, it's not necessarily a dead issue. "Valuable employees have negotiating power," says Sutton Fell. Bring up a flexible work arrangement again with a revised plan, saying, "I know we discussed this a while ago, and it's still on my radar. I see it as a benefit not just for me personally, but for business." Von der Sitt agrees: "Sell yourself on whatever you bring to the company-culture, revenue gains, client facilitation. Know that you're worth it."

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