Flexible Working – How to Start the Conversation

26/10/2018 |

At Think Productive North America we are big fans of flexible working, and so are our Time Management Training participants. In fact, according to various studies, 87% of people have reported they are already, or would like to be, working flexibly. However, we still regularly get asked how to start having conversations around flexible work arrangements and how managers and their teams can make it work. 

Over in the UK one of our Productivity Ninjas Hayley Watts, is very much an advocate for flexible working. She says it has helped her out personally many times, but also allowed her to do her best work. When we think of flexible working, it seems as though our minds immediately jump to offering different arrangements to working parents. It’s not just parents who want to work in a way that better suits them, and it’s time that more teams begin those critical conversations about how they’re currently working and what they would like to change and improve going forward.

We hear a lot of people saying that simply asking for more flexibility can negatively impact their manager’s perception of their commitment to the role and the organization. We even meet a lot of managers who are outright opposed to flexible working, but since 87% of people surveyed want more flexibility, it seems highly likely that a good number of those surveyed must be managers themselves?


Flexible working conversation


But Where to Begin? 

Firstly, check out your company’s flexible working policy. We’ve seen quite a few that state they offer flexible working, but in reality go on to set out restrictions which mean little flexibility is really allowed. So, find out if your company has one, but don’t get disheartened if it doesn’t tell you what you want to hear.

Find out who will be making the decision about your request. What will they want from you in terms of working and hours? So, for example, if you usually have a team meeting on the first Monday of the month, a regular monthly account balance or stocktake, your manager might want you there for those things. Think about what they will care about, whether they are essential, and don’t pick battles you can’t win. This will help you to avoid outright rejection and prepare you to overcome objections later on, if there are any.


Ninja Planning


What would be your ideal? Work out what you would ideally like. Then decide on what the essentials are. You should ask for your ideal first, but know what you are prepared to compromise on.


Ok, Now, What Do I Say? 

Before you even start the conversation, think about how the person you need to ask likes to work and make decisions. Perhaps they would prefer an email, to allow them to mull things over, or maybe they prefer to discuss things face to face. If you work with someone who prefers email you could introduce the issue in advance of a conversation by saying something like “I’ve been thinking about the possibility of flexible working. I’ll send you some ideas by email, could you take a look?” That will allow you to gauge their initial reaction. If you think your proposal will be met with resistance, you might prefer to have the conversation in person. Much easier to gauge reaction as you have the discussion, and keep the conversation open.


Flexible working conversation


Some Conversation Starters 

“I’ve been reading about flexible working, and would like to give it a try. I think it could help me to be more productive. When could we talk about it in more detail?” 

“I’ve been thinking that some flexible working could help me to do a better job. What are your thoughts on flexibility?”

This could be a way to test the water, putting the ball in someone else’s court. Not so good if you think they might just say no straight away.

If your plans are fairly straightforward, for example, you’d simply like to start later and stay later, something that’s easy to explain, just ask if you can do that. Be prepared to outline the benefits when you introduce the subject and remember, being more productive and happier at work is a huge benefit in itself. For example: “If I were to start work later, I think I could be much more productive.” 


Things to Consider

1) Who do you need to get on board to help you make the case to the decision maker?

2) Identify possible objections and prepare answers for them, showing you have truly thought this through.

3) Be prepared to suggest that you test new arrangements out for a time to see how it works. Trial new arrangements for a month or 6 weeks and fix a meeting with the decision-maker to discuss the results. This way you can open the door with a possible opt-out for your manager, and tweak arrangements as problems arise in the trial period. This will lessen the chance of an outright “No” and allow your flexible arrangements to adapt and survive. You can also fix reviews in your diary with your manager to test that you are on the right track, and demonstrate that you’re happy to continually review your new way of working.

4) A lot of the time, conversations seem much more negative and daunting in our minds than they actually are. If you’re really anxious about approaching this subject, practice with a colleague or friend and play through different outcomes. It might well go better than you ever expected!


Remote work


Whether it’s working remotely, changing your hours or simply wanting to explore different options than the regular nine-to-five office set up for knowledge workers, be brave and start having those conversations. Here at Think Productive North America we can also chat through any questions or ideas you might have – just let us know in the comments below or at [email protected]


By Hayley Watts
Hayley is Think Productive UK’s Productivity Ninja for London and the South East of England. If you are interested in regular monthly productivity tips and techniques from us at Think Productive North America you can sign up for our Canada newsletter here

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