You're a devoted mother (or plan to be), but you're also dedicated to your career. Luckily, these two passions don't have to be mutually exclusive. Growing numbers of companies are permitting flexible arrangements—such as telecommuting, job sharing and condensing the workweek—so employees can enjoy time with their families. In fact, in 2005, 44 percent of U.S. firms allowed some percentage of employees to telecommute, up from 32 percent in 2001, according to a survey by New York-based Mercer Human Resource Consulting.
Still, most companies don't offer flexible options outright. Depending on which of the three situations detailed here suits you and your family best, you'll need to convince your boss that the arrangement will benefit your company—and her directly, if possible. Here's how to put together a winning plan.
Working at home/telecommuting
"By the best estimates, there are between 45 and 48 million teleworkers in the United States, not counting home-based businesses," says Chuck Wilsker, president and CEO of The Telework Coalition, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit group that advocates tele-commuting. "I predict that number will double by 2010."
If you would like to be among the legions working from home, launch into information-gathering mode. Scan your company's most recent employee handbook for any mentions of telecommuting or flexible scheduling. Observe whether co-workers, especially your manager or other top executives, have ever worked from home. This will give you an idea how open your boss may be to your plan. (If no one in your company is currently telecommuting, research competitors who do allow it.)
Next write a proposal that offers solutions to potential drawbacks, such as difficulties communicating with the office or new-baby distractions. The proposal should be as brief as possible and tailored specifically with your boss in mind—covering what you anticipate will be her top concerns, says Pat Katepoo, career adviser and founder of WorkOptions.com in Kaneohe, Hawaii. Also highlight your home-office setup, mentioning communication tools and your ability to participate in meetings via conference call. And while you don't have to be lengthy or exhaustive, "you need to tell your boss that you've arranged for care for your child so you can work uninterrupted," Katepoo adds.
Don't forget to tout how the arrangement will benefit your team— and your boss. Point out that the time you'd spend commuting could be spent working, for example. Include the latest estimated cost of an employee leaving—one and a half times the employee's annual salary due to lost productivity while the position is open, plus recruiting, hiring and training. Finally, request one or two days of telecommuting a week to start, with a 90-day trial period; at your review you can discuss adding more days.
Sharing your job with a co-worker
You'll need to do a bit more legwork, but job sharing can be well worth the effort, according to Laurel Kimbrough, who shared a marketing position at Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Co. for four years. Not only did she and job-share partner Vicki Williams work well together, but after two years as a team, the duo was promoted to director.
Finding the right partner is critical, says Kimbrough. "I approached Vicki because she and I had worked together in the same department for two years and had comparable skills," she explains. The next step was research: "We talked with a lot of people at Coke and at other companies who had job shared, to get their insight and advice." Then she and Williams created a detailed proposal.
Some people split functions and rarely communicate with each other. But Kimbrough and Williams decided to share the job description, requiring much more interaction. In this scenario, a proposal must address how the partners will work together. For instance, every evening Kimbrough and Williams left detailed voicemails about the activities of the day, "including conversations, disagreements or anything else we felt was pertinent," Kimbrough says. "That way we always started our day completely briefed."
Focus on how work quality will improve with job sharing, suggests Kimbrough: "I'd write a presentation one day, and Vicki would edit it the next and make it better. We actually achieved more and presented more polished work than we could have alone."
Propose a trial period and shared performance review so both partners are evaluated on the same criteria and have a common objective, suggests Kimbrough. Sound perfect? There are downsides: Unlike telecommuting, job-share partners also often split salary and benefits.
Condensing the workweek
A condensed workweek schedule re-quires that you complete your work in less than five days. "How will your job get done in only four days?" your boss will want to know. Before requesting this option, determine how you'll get everything done (longer hours, less time spent commuting, better prioritizing) as well as how you'll cover emergencies that may pop up on the day you are out of the office. "And even if you're working 10-hour days Monday through Thursday, taking every Friday off may spur resentment among your colleagues," says Katepoo, who suggests choosing a day with the fewest meetings or deadlines earlier in the week.
Finally, really think about whether a compressed workweek will offer you balance. As a working mother, putting in 10-hour days, four days in a row, may actually increase your fatigue, not lessen it. On the flip side, it may be worth the hassle to have an extra full day with your baby or to attend a discussion group for new moms. Remember, you can always try out any type of flexible option your boss agrees to, then return to the status quo if it's not working.
—Laura Roe Stevens