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Savor the Full Menu of Flexible Work

If you are in life stage: Itching to Work Again , One Foot on the Off Ramp , Waffling About Work , Working Hard for No Money Posted December 1st, 2017
By Kathryn Sollmann

Do you still think “work” is defined in one narrow, traditional, more-than-full-time, sell-your-soul way? Time to broaden your horizons! Today many flexwork options exist beyond the obvious “part-time job”. There are actually seven kinds of flexwork that involve compensation from a company other than an entrepreneurial venture of your own:

Full-Time Work with Flex Hours: For many women a “permanent”, full-time position is desirable for 
professional fulfillment and access to the full range of employee benefits. Now you can have a flexible full-time job that does not limit your career advancement potential. Some women start the workday a bit later to get children on the school bus. Others work from home a couple of days a week—or leave early every day, making up time in the evening hours.

A variety of flexible, full-time arrangements are showing up in some of the most unlikely places. I’ve coached a disproportionately high share of ex-attorneys who swear they’ll never return to unrelenting law firm pressure. Things are looking up, however—now Working Mother magazine publishes an annual list of the “50 Best Law Firms for Women”, including many of the top-ranked firms my clients exited—now touting flexwork arrangements, increased parental leave benefits and continued opportunities for leadership positions. I’ve seen this firsthand: an attorney I know works remotely in Vermont, travels to her New York office occasionally and still snagged the partner title at a prestigious firm.

Compressed Workweek: An efficient way to keep your full-time salary and benefits and get some flexibility into your schedule is through a compressed workweek. This option is for those who regularly work forty hours—and 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. Like any other flexible schedule that gives you the freedom to have days off, there’s always the risk that employers will call and interrupt your negotiated free time. Still, the compressed workweek option gives women a day when they know they can focus on family responsibilities.

Permanent Part-Time Work:  FlexJobs identifies companies with the most part-time job openings and the list is diverse in company size and industry. A part-time job is usually defined as at least twenty hours a week, and this number can fit neatly into school hours. A woman working part-time can usually get her children off to school, work about four hours and be home to meet the bus. Though there was once a bias against part-timers (criticism that they were in lower-level, dead-end roles), FlexWork has seen a shift toward professional part-time jobs with titles like pediatrician, graphic designer, accountant, attorney, and finance director.

Telecommuting: Telecommuters are most often “work-at-home” employees connected through mobile telecommunications technology to the employer’s office. Many large companies have legions of telecommuters, and smaller companies with the least bureaucratic structures often allow employees to telecommute all or part of the time. The average U.S. telecommuter works at home two to three days a week. For many employers and employees this is a best of both worlds arrangement balancing concentrative work at home with collaborative work at the office.

Postings for “work from home” jobs are no longer only sketchy get-rich-quick schemes. Telecommuters have an array of professional job titles like case manager, territory sales manager, engineer, marketing manager, analyst, account executive, interpreter/translator, fundraising director, business development director, project manager, and software developer. Some telecommuting jobs tell an interesting story about the future of work: nurses, for example, no longer work just in hospitals or doctor’s offices—at home job responsibilities for these professionals include reviewing medical records, providing patient education services and more.

Job Shares: Job shares between two people are probably the most difficult flexwork 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 the job share is seamless and team members and clients begin to think of the two 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.

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 work with multiple clients on a per-project basis, or with one company at a time for an extended and specified “contract” period.

Greater freedom and flexibility are generally on the plus side of independent contractor work—but on the negative side recruiters often view what appears on a resumé to be infrequent or limited “consulting” as a cover-up for long periods of unemployment.

One study shows that employers are migrating toward a flexible, on-demand labor model: virtually all Chief Financial Officers and line-of-business managers surveyed say they engage independent contractors and 72% of business leaders believe the increase in specialized labor on demand is increasing company productivity.

Freelance Work: Freelancing has become an increasingly viable and respected career option as employers see they can choose the best talent from a wider geographic pool and save about 30% in payroll costs. The freelancing platform Upwork features job listings from 20% of Fortune 500 companies. Full-time freelancers work an average of 36 hours per week—and, at a time when permanent employment is tenuous, they can depend on 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, ongoing initiatives. Typically, the length of freelance assignments is one to five months.

The rise of freelance opportunities has been influenced by stringent Affordable Care Act mandates for employee healthcare coverage. One study on “the Gig Economy” found that 74% of HR decision-makers intend to hire more freelancers to avoid the tax penalty for uninsured workers.

With strategic planning, freelance compensation can definitely pay the rent: one young woman I know earned over $90,000 in a yearlong freelance advertising job—and it was her very first job out of college.

Which flexwork option is right for you? Are you already working in a flexible way and willing to give insights to best practices? The more information we all share about flexwork, the more women will find the work that truly fits their lives—and achieve long-term financial security.

This post is excerpted from Kathryn Sollmann’s book, Ambition Redefined: How to Create Flexible Work and Financial Security (Without Neglecting Your Family or Yourself), to be published by Nicholas Brealey (Hachette Business Group) in 2018.

 

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