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Savor the Full Menu of Flexible Work: Know Your 7 Options

If you are in life stage: Pounding the Pavement Posted September 14th, 2017
By Kathryn Sollmann

When I talk to women about “flexible work” (especially those who fled the corporate grind and have been on hiatus for many years), many still wonder if such a thing exists. Others only think flexible work means a part-time job. Today flexible work can be found in all corners of the workplace—and you should be aware of seven major alternative work structures that give women the chance to care for children, aging parents and their long-term financial security:

  1. Full-Time Work with Flexible Hours: For many women a full-time position is desirable both from the standpoint of the full range of employee benefits and maximum compensation. Today it is possible to have a flexible full-time job that does not limit your career potential or earning power. What makes a full-time job flexible is as varied as the many individuals in a company. Some women have the flexibility to start the workday a bit later so they can get children on the school bus. Others work from home a couple of days a week—or leave early every day and make up time in the evening hours.
  2. Compressed Full-Time Work Week: This is a good option if you regularly work 40 hours—and you can “compress” all those hours into fewer days. The most common compressed workweek is four ten-hour days and the fifth day off. You could also work eight nine-hour days with a day off every other week. These options, offered by companies like Capital One, give women days when they know they can be home taking care of family responsibilities.
  3. Permanent Part-Time Work:  The job site FlexJobs identified 50 companies that have the most part-time job openings listed on their site. The list is diverse in company size and industry and includes many big corporate names such as Hilton, AT&T, Apple and Wells Fargo; non-profits and educational institutions like the American Red Cross and Johns Hopkins University; and many less well-known employers familiar to those in their local areas. A part-time job is usually defined as at least 20 hours a week, and this number can fit neatly into school hours. Companies with 50 employees or more are required to provide healthcare coverage to all who work at least 30 hours.
  4. Telecommuting: Telecommuters are most often “work-at-home” employees connected through mobile telecommunications technology to the employer’s office. Many large companies—such as Accenture and Aetna—have legions of telecommuters even at the senior levels, and smaller companies with the least bureaucratic structures often allow employees to telecommute all or part of the time. The average U.S. worker telecommutes two days a month and 9% of workers telecommute more than 10 workdays a month. This means that most employees who telecommute split their time between employer and home offices. Telecommuting happens nationwide, but larger companies and employers based in the New England and mid-Atlantic regions most broadly offer this worker benefit.
  5. Job Shares: Job shares between two people are probably the most difficult flexibility arrangement to obtain and the least common. Each job share partner usually works two days solo and one overlap day together. This arrangement can work very well if two people are already sharing responsibility for a certain job function or client. It requires a lot of coordination so that the job share is seamless and team members and clients begin to think of the two job share partners as one unit. Employers can be very wary that job shares will cause many important details to fall through the cracks—so potential partners have to make a buttoned-up case for their masterful organization and communication skills.
  6. Independent Contractor Work (often called “Consulting”): In official I.R.S. terminology, an individual is an independent contractor “if the payer has the right to control or direct only the result of the work and not what will be done and how it will be done”. Independent contractors can work with multiple clients on a per-project basis, or work with one company at a time for an extended and specified “contract” period. When a consultant contracts herself out, she reports her own income to the I.R.S. and pays a 15.3% tax for Medicare and Social Security in addition to regular income taxes. A consultant may be placed in the contract by a third-party agency, in which case she’ll receive a W-2 from that agency at the end of the year for hours worked. Completely independent contractors (called 1099 workers) do not receive employee benefits. Agency-placed contractors (W-2 contractors) often have access to a limited menu of benefits, such as a non-matching 401(k) or a Flexible Spending Account. The 2016 Forbes Workforce Productivity Report found that virtually all—96%—of the CFOs surveyed say they engage independent contractors.
  7. Freelance Work: Freelancing has become an increasingly viable and respected career option as employers see that they can choose the best talent from a wider geographic pool and save up to 30% in payroll costs. Freelancers work an average of 36 hours per week—and, at a time when permanent employment is tenuous, freelancers feel more security with several clients rather than one employer. Generally, freelancers are hired by the project and can be more narrowly involved with a company than independent consultants who often are broader advisors to departments or large initiatives. More than 50% of businesses intend to hire freelancers in the short term, including big names like Apple, Calvin Klein, The New York Times, Airbnb and Google—often in writing and editing, marketing, business consulting and web or graphic design.

If you can’t fit a traditional, inflexible mega-job into your life, there are indeed many alternatives offered by a wide range of employers. As with any job search, networking is the key to finding flexible work that is not always advertised on an employer’s web site.

What questions do you have about finding flexible work? Send me an email at ksollmann@9livesforwomen.com.

Kathryn Sollmann, a career coach and speaker, is on a mission to keep women in the workplace at every age and stage and throughout child and aging parent caregiving roles. She is the author of Ambition Redefined: Creating Lifetime Security (Without Neglecting Your Family or Yourself) in a More Flexible Workplace (Hachette, 2018)



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