Negotiating Flexible Work Arrangements, Part 4

Make a business proposal, and make it easy for them to say yes.

Part 4 of a 4 Part Series—Putting it all together. Read Parts I, II, and III here.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve written a series of articles about negotiating with your supervisor for a more flexible work arrangement, in which you can get more control over where and when some of your work is accomplished.

Like any request or negotiation, the key is to see the situation from the other person’s side and then communicate so that you dispel most of their concerns and show them how they benefit from the arrangement (a la Fisher & Ury’s “Getting to Yes” or Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People”).

In this series, I discussed some major reasons why supervisors may be resistant to granting such requests. The first article explained that supervisors may fear that they will no longer be able to monitor and assess your job performance. The second explained that many managers do not understand the benefits of work flexibility and how it is becoming increasingly common. The third article addressed concerns about fairness that supervisors may have when faced with granting a special request.

In each article, I discussed the problem, and provided advice on how you can anticipate these common forms of resistance and address them in your request for work flexibility.  In this article, I’ll wrap up the series by providing my advice on how to best make a request for work flexibility that addresses all of these concerns.

The first principle is to remember that you are making a business request, not a personal one.  This means you have to address your supervisor’s needs as well as your own. Making a request like “it would help me if I could work at home on Thursdays so I could coach my daughter’s soccer team” isn’t likely to be effective.  In this request, you get all the upside, and the supervisor gets none.

A request like “If I could work from home two days a week, it would save me 4 hours of commuting time that I could better spend helping clients. Also, considering the nature of my work, I need long stretches of uninterrupted time, so working outside of our busy office would help me be more productive.” In this request, there is upside for both you and your supervisor—you are assuring him/her that you are focused on fulfilling the needs of your workplace. Also, this request is framed as a business proposition, and is not focused on family concerns. While I don’t believe you need to hide your family issues, neither do I think you should highlight them as the central reason for your request.

The second important principle is to make it easy for them to say yes. This means minimizing the risk to your supervisor and doing everything to anticipate and address potential concerns, even before your supervisor can think them up. If I were to make a request for something like working a third of my time from home, I would do the following:

  • I would “humblebrag” or “back door brag” to remind my supervisor how valuable an employee I am (of course, first you need to prove yourself as valuable over time to build up the credibility for such a request. Do not make a request if you are not perceived as extremely valuable by your supervisor—you’ll ruin it for the rest of us!)
  • I would briefly describe the alternative work arrangement I’m looking for, being sure to describe it (both in-person and in a memo) in terms of:
    • How my time spent on work and work performance will be maintained and enhanced
    • How it is not very different from how I am productively working now
    • How it may affect my clients and coworkers, and what I will do to minimize any disruptions (having set meeting hours, sharing cellphone numbers, etc.)
    • How it costs the company very little, since I already have a home computer, internet access, a skype account and a smartphone. (there may be some minimal costs, such as a gotomyPC.com subscription, be up front about these)
  • I would propose a trial period for the arrangement, something like 2-3 months, assuring my supervisor that, at the time, we assess how well the arrangement is working out and continue or adjust accordingly
  • I would propose a set of performance goals and the objective measures to evaluate my work by the end of the trial period
  • I would promise to provide bi-weekly progress reports on my time use, activities and progress towards goals
  • I would promise that the arrangement can be put on hold, no questions asked, for any urgent situation, as determined by the supervisor (ramping up for a new client proposal, increase in work demand during tax season, etc.)

By being proactive in making your request, you are assuring your supervisor that (a) your performance will continue to be rock-solid, and (b) you have already addressed their concerns.   Many managers are risk-averse and dislike change. You have to make it easier for them to say yes.

Just remember the words of Henry Ford, “If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as your own.”

What do you think about requesting flexibility? Any success or horror stories? Let’s discuss in the comments section.

 

Read more on Work/Life Balance on The Good Life.

Image credit: Visit Cape May/Flickr

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About Scott Behson

Scott Behson is a Professor of Management at Fairleigh Dickinson University, a busy involved dad, and an overall grateful guy. He runs the www.FathersWorkandFamily.com blog dedicated to helping fathers better balance work and family and encouraging more supportive workplaces, and also writes for Harvard Business Review, The Huffington Post, and, most recently, Time. He lives in Nyack, NY with his wife, Amy, and son, Nick. Contact him @ScottBehson on twitter.

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