Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Flexible work options

What is working flexibly?
A flexible work arrangement is a variation to the standard full-time core job functions and hours you would otherwise normally perform. Flexible work arrangements come in all shapes and sizes and are often innovative in design and structure. They can vary for each individual employee depending upon the type of work, work pattern variations available to employees, and the effect flexibility has on the organisation.

There is no absolute definition for flexible work. A flexible work arrangement might mean a starting time of 10 am for three days a week, or work from home between 9 am – 11 am every day before heading into the office, or job share the same job with another part time employee, or have reduced rostered hours, or finish at 7 pm for two days a week and take a half day off each week. The list of possibilities is endless depending on what suits the role and the organisation.

For a flexible work arrangement to be implemented, an agreement must be reached between you and your employer to ensure that the arrangement is feasible and satisfactory for all stakeholders.

Determining what your goals and requirements are is the first step in deciding which flexible work arrangement will work for you.

Types of Flexible Arrangements:

Part-time Work
Typically in Australia, part-time work is considered to be less than 35 hours a week. Part-time work can be five days a week with shorter than usual hours, or working on certain and agreed days a week. For example:

2, 3 or 4 days a week instead of 5
5 x ½ days e.g.10 am – 3 pm
5 day fortnight e.g. 3 days one week, 2 days the next
Regular core hours that vary during exams or school holidays.

Flexible Working Hours
This arrangement is tailored to meet individual and business needs and can apply to full-time and part-time employees. It requires employees to negotiate their working hours with their employer. For example:

- Staggering start and finish times
- Longer hours per day for fewer days work (also see Compressed Working Week)
- Weekly number of hours agreed upfront and employee completes hours based on own work schedule (with employer’s consent) e.g. employee keeps their own hours.

Rostering and Flexi Time

Rostering: A variable arrangement where the working hours of the employee are agreed around specific work patterns and shifts that may fluctuate. e.g. Hours and days are negotiated on a regular basis 12 noon – 9 pm shift versus 8 am – 4 pm
Flexi Time: Where an employee accrues paid leave based upon additional hours being worked over an extended period. e.g. 1 day paid leave accrued per month by the employee working additional hours each week.

Compressed Working Week
An employee may elect to work nine days in a fortnight instead of ten, on the condition that they work the same number of hours in a normal fortnight over nine days. For example, you may elect longer than average working hours e.g. 8 am – 8 pm for 4 days instead of 5. Or work longer hours over 9 days instead of 10 in a fortnight.

Job Sharing
Job sharing is an arrangement where one full-time position is shared between two or more people. Each person in the arrangement works part-time in a regular and on-going basis, usually so that at least one of the ‘team’ is present on any working day. Conditions for people in job share arrangements are usually the same as those for part timers. Companies will consider this option in a situation where a job requires a person to be available full-time, but it need not be the same person.
For example, employee A works Monday-Tuesday.Employee B works Wednesday to Friday. Or employee A works 8 am -1 pm.Employee B works from 1 pm to 6 pm.

Job Splitting
Where responsibilities of one full-time role are separated logically and allocated to two or three people. For example:

- Employee relinquishes elements of job duties in return for other duties that allow them to be able to leave at 3pm each day.
- Employees share the team workload with one another to allow each team member some flexibility in working days and hours. E.g. one employee agrees to cover the workload of another team member so they can start work at 10 am and in return swaps and covers for the other as agreed.

Working from Home
Working from home arrangements can either be on a regular basis or an agreement where working from home can be done when required. For example:

- Employee has fully sanctioned work from home office which allows them to work at home.
- Employee has work from home access to some elements of their job e.g. report writing, which allows work at home e.g. 8 am – 10.30 am, 5 days per week or 2 days per week.

The Purchase Leave or 48/52 Option
This is referred to by different names in different companies and may vary in detail, but generally means that an employee can elect to take additional annual leave (i.e. in addition to their annual entitlement), in return for a pro-rata reduction in their salary. This reduction is then averaged out over the year. For example:

- Employee purchases 2 weeks extra annual leave to use at their leisure (with manager approval).
- Employee elects to reduce salary by percentage each week to allow them to work 4 days instead 5 on a temporary basis e.g. during school holidays, leading up to parental leave, during exam time, whilst phasing into retirement (also see part year / variable year work arrangements)

Variable Work Location Mobile / Email / Tele-Commuting
Mobile work on the road, from home, in the office, from a client’s workplace, via email and phone. Employee, manager and client agree variable work location and hours to meet the demands of the job which requires flexibility from the employee. Employee manages own weekly work schedule and location around work requirements.

Career Break
Where an employee is granted leave of absence or sabbatical for an extended period of time on a full-time or part time basis (usually unpaid) e.g. up to 12 months. For example, employee may request a career break for reasons such as travel, school holidays, care for family, grandparent leave, study, or illness.

Gradual Return to Work
Where an employee gradually returns to ‘normal’ working arrangements on an incremental basis over a period of time e.g. after illness or parental leave. For example, employee is due to return from parental leave e.g. starts back 2 days for the first 6 months then 3 days after that, then 4 days after 2 years.

Part-Year or Variable Year Employment
Where an employee works for a certain number of months a year and then is granted unpaid leave for the remainder of the year (works for employers with seasonal work demands and employees needing more time off than the average 4 weeks annual leave). For example:

- Employee / employer agrees that they will work for only part of the year.
- An employee works for 9 months (not necessarily consecutive) of the year and is granted unpaid leave for the remaining 3 months. E.g. employee takes 1 month off every 4 months to look after children during school holidays.
Here are some ideas that can help you achieve an improved balance between work and family.

At work
- Make a daily ‘to-do’ list and prioritise the tasks.
- Break large tasks into smaller parts and action these one at a time based on the priority.
- Periodically review your work and ask yourself, “is this the best use of my time?” “what can I do to save myself time yet achieve the same outcome”?
- When feeling stretched, ask yourself, “would anything terrible happen if I didn’t do this today?” If the answer is “no,” then re-prioritise during busy periods.
- Ask for support when you need it and seek feedback on how you and your manager / team can work together better to support one another.
- Plan quiet time during the day when you can put your head down and focus on getting your work done – this is particularly important if you have a busy work schedule with many interruptions!
- Don’t try to pack too much into one day. Have realistic expectations of what you can achieve.
- At the end of the day, review your ‘to-do’ list and re-prioritise your work for the next day.
- Delegate!
- Because circumstances change don’t be afraid to re-negotiate expectations and flexible arrangements with your employer as required.
- Remember that if the homefront is organised, you will be more effective at work.

At home
- Plan, shop and prepare meals in advance when possible, making it easier to attend to when you get home. Consider shopping online to save time.
- Keep a family calendar to schedule holidays, events, appointments and other important times so you can plan work and other family commitments around these dates.
- Establish a family routine and share the household chores. e.g. if you do child care drop-off one day, your partner does the following day.
- Get help when you need it for the chores you can’t find time for. Eliminate unnecessary chores.
- Make time to relax. Reward yourself with the things that you enjoy doing in your personal time. This might include walking the dog once a week, going to yoga or seeing a movie with a friend.
- Don’t do too much and run yourself ragged, lean on your partner and family to help you when things get really hectic.
- Look for ways to manage your working week more simply, e.g. allocate a day a week that you have a takeaway dinner, change the sheets or do the shopping.
- Prepare yourself and the children the night before for the day ahead e.g. packing lunch, preparing clothes to wear etc.
- Plan nice things to do with your family on days off work, something to look forward to for both you and your children.
- Find time to exercise. Even a 20 minute walk twice a week can work wonders. This can be done to and from work, during lunch or with the family when you get home.

Sharing parental responsibilities
In over 65 per cent of Australian households, both parents work.

Sharing the responsibility of raising children is critical to achieving a satisfying work and family balance. Both parents are responsible for children they bring into the world. If one parent in a two working parent household is solely responsible for child rearing, pick-up and drop-off, cleaning, and preparing meals, in addition to maintaining their career and supporting their family financially, it can create an unsatisfactory, unbalanced home environment.

A good starting point is to write down all the chores and domestic duties that need to be performed throughout the week. Make sure you include the drop-off and pick-up times for the kids at child care or school.

Talk to your partner about how you can divide these responsibilities. If necessary, create a weekly calendar so family members know what their responsibilities are. If the children are old enough, assign chores to them. Other ideas are pre-cooking meals for the week on the weekends, and hiring a cleaner once every two weeks.

Loving and respecting one another’s life challenges and sharing parental responsibilities will create a more happy and harmonious home environment and loving partnership. And there may be time leftover for you and your partner to go out for dinner once a month!

If you are a single parent juggling work and family, you are amazing. If you don’t have a full-time partner to help you, search for networks or associations for single parents in your community. There may be opportunities to assist each other with before and after school care, for example.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Tips for dealing with recruiters

Like it or hate it, recruiters tend to be one of a few employment channels we pursue when looking for a new job. CareerMums surveys have shown repeatedly that parents have not been impressed with recruiters, particularly post-child.

Why is this?

Typically, recruiters are young and have very limited understanding of the challenges and issues working parents face.

Their salaries tend to be minimal however they do get paid a commission based on the number of roles they place. This in itself presents a problem for flexible workers - they don't have time to understand your needs and match you with a suitable employer.

The recruitment fee structure is based on the placement of a full time role so employers are more interested in full time candidates to ensure they get the best bang for their buck.

Fortunately, there are some boutique recruitment firms who offer a differerent pricing model and focus on placing flexible roles.

To ensure you don't waste your precious time, here are some tips on how to deal with recruiters:
Before you approach a recruiter, ensure your resume is complete, you are clear on your skills and experience, you know what types of roles you are looking for, you can communicate your flexiblity requirements, you know what you are worth, and you have a positive 'can-do' attitude.

Ask the following questions to gauge if the recruiter is interested in helping you to find a suitable role:

- Are you interested in helping me to find a flexible role?

- What do you know about flexible work arrangements?

- How many flexible or part time roles do you have on your books right now?

- How often do you see flexible roles come up?

- Would you be willing to put me forward to suitable employers knowing what my flexible work requirements are? Even if the role is specified as full time?

- What is a reasonable timeframe for me to hear back from you?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Key learnings at RecruitTECH conference

Lat week, I spoke at a conference in Canberra called RecruitTECH. The conference was about how employers and recruiters are changing the way they source talent - specifically by using technology. I spoke about using technology to access a flexible and remote workforce.

I want to share with you some interesting information I picked up at the conference.

Good-to-know statistics:

- 41% of all employed people provide care (ABS, 2009), i.e. you are not alone!
- Back in 2007, 31% of employed people worked some hours from home. 81% worked from home for 15 hours per week or less.
- By 2050, 26% of the population is projected to be 65 years and over, in comparison to 15% of the population being 0-14 years.
- IBM allow 140,000 employees around the world to work from home i.e. it can be done

Technology you should be aware of:

- Cloud computing
- Online demonstrations, presentations: www.gotomeeting.com
- Share powerpoint presentations: www.slideshare.com
- crowdsourcing: www.elance.com
- crowdsourcing: www.99designs.com

The latest benefit to working remotely for your business case proposal:

- Green IT. It is about saving energy and reducing your carbon footprint

Social networking

- Whether you are working or not, set up a LinkedIn account (www.linkedin.com). It may become your resume in future. Connect with friends and colleagues. Use it as another channel to find employment. LinkedIn is now being used by recruiters to research candidates so keep the content professional.
- Facebook is more of a social medium. Still, be very careful about what you post. You can never recall content you add to Facebook so don't bother being rude or crude. You never know when it might go against you, in particular, employment opportunities.

Interesting websites for employment opportunities:

- www.freelancer.com
- www.glassdoor.com
- www.translators.com
- www.99designs.com
- www.elance.com

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Managing your career and your sanity

Many working parents feel somewhat frustrated and exhausted meeting the demands of work and family commitments.

A working parent is a project manager extraordinaire. Effectively managing your workload, both in the workplace and at home will ensure you remain sane. Setting clear and firm expectations is an important part of this process.

Set Clear Expectations

As an ongoing practice, it’s important to continue to keep the communication lines open with your family, colleagues and clients to manage expectations. In many cases you can avoid conflict and stress by initially setting firm boundaries.

Once you’ve been back at work for a couple of months, take time out to reflect on how your arrangements are working. Where necessary, re- communicate expectations regarding your deliverables and availability.

Avoid making compromises that may encourage your colleagues to expect more from you than you’re prepared to give.

Personal Efficiency

Not having enough hours in the day is a common complaint of many working parents. Being effective and efficient with the time you have will help you achieve more in each day. ‘Time management’ is the often prescribed remedy to feeling out of control. Consider though that time is not something we can control. What we can control is ourselves, how and with whom we use our valuable time.

Consider these following tips:

Prioritise all your activities and commitments – at home and at work - and focus your time on your most important ones first and foremost. Remember the world is unlikely to end if you don’t get to respond to everything by the day’s end – the reality is that this too happens to non-parents!

Say no! This will become easier once you have completed the prioritising. Assess individual requests and demands of your time and determine how important they are. Say no to the non-important requests. Manage your email at work, don’t let it manage you. Learn to really use whatever email application you have. Many of us don’t use even 40 per cent of the available functionality. Try only checking your emails twice a day at two regular and specified times, for example 10 am and 4 pm. You can use the ‘out of office’ function to inform people that these are the times you check email and that if their request is urgent they should contact you on your mobile. Otherwise you will respond at that specified time.

Outsource where possible. Using your annual income as a guide, determine how much your time is worth per hour. If you can outsource tasks (e.g. the house cleaning) and pay less for a service than your time is worth, then do so.

Look after number one – that’s you. If you aren’t fit and healthy the chances are you are not being as effective at work or at home as you would like! Take the necessary time out to look after yourself, even if that means spoiling yourself with weekly and monthly rewards that involve your wellbeing.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Are you feeling under-valued? Change the story

Welcome to 21st century motherhood! Every week I talk or speak to women that feel under-valued and under-utilised in their working lives. My theory on it is this: We are educated and professional. We have spent our 20's and some of our 30's building our skills and experience. Parenthood temporarily takes us away from our professional careers at a time when we are ready to ramp up. When we do return to the workforce, we are seeking flexible work arrangements and the roles we are given do not always match with our experience and expertise.

How can we change this? You have to be comfortable with your decisions. If you choice is to take time out of the workforce for a few years, keep up to date with your profession. Make time to do a course/workshop or attend an event every year and read industry journals. It's all about networking and buzz words - really.

If you are returning to the workforce within a year or two or having your child, initiate a discussion with your manager. Question him/her about career advancement and learning opportunities. If you don't, you will probably get bored and leave. Most employers are very concerned about the retention of good staff so play your card.

Working flexibly does not have to mean a career nose dive so monitor your situation every 6 months. Don't be grateful for flexible work arrangements. It is becoming a common offering in organisations around Australia so don't feel like you are asking a huge favour. Just make sure you present a solid business case proposal to demonstrate how it will work. Talk to us if you need some assistance.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Recently I was contacted by a concerned husband and father-to-be. He expressed concern for his wife's career after they had their baby. How long could she take off and how was her career going to be affected? My response included the following information:

- In over 65% of Australian families both parents work. The key for parents is to negotiate flexibility on their return.
- Paid parental leave (for 18 weeks) is due to begin January 2011.
- In Jan 2010, the National Employment Standards will commence. Parents will be able to request a further 12 months of non-paid leave after their initial 12 months of parental leave. In addition, employees with children aged under 5 will have the right to request a flexible work arrangement.
- Always ask your employer for the flexible work policy and parental leave policy so you understand your rights and obligations.
- Talk to your manager about flexible work options before going on parental leave.

The change is coming

This month, I will be talking at a conference in Canberra on using technology to access a flexible and remote workforce. While researching my presentation, I have been inspired by employers that are embracing a flexible workforce - and this means good news for you. Take IBM for example; 140,000 IBM staff work flexibly/remotely. it is not just about the flexibility requirements of their workers, it is also about 'Green IT'. 'Green IT' is the new buzz word and it means embracing work practices that cut energy costs, commuter travel time, and the carbon footprint.

Other information I have picked up in my research includes:
- In 2007, 3.2 million or 31% of employed people worked some hours from home. 81% worked from home for 15 hours or less per week (ABS);
- The number of people aged 65 years and over is projected to outnumber children aged 0-14 years in 2018. By 2050, 26% of the population is projected to be aged 65 years and over, in comparison to 15% of the population being aged 0-14 years. (ABS)
- One in six US cities with more than 25,000 residents now operates a reduced working week. They found the rewards are not just in saving energy: a shorter working week boosts morale and productivity and at the same time cuts overtime, absenteeism, staff turnover and utility bills.

This information may not help you right now in getting back to work, but sometimes it is important to see what is happening at a macro level and know that a change is coming.