In the past six months, I have needed more flexibility from work than any other point in my career. Between both of my parents getting sick and moving to senior housing, and my two children joining more school activities and sports, I’ve had to reduce my hours, shift my schedule, and find ways to get my work done whenever I could find some quiet time and wherever I found a decent wifi connection. Here’s are 6 lessons I learned in the process about accessing flex.
1. Under promise, and then deliver. I try to be up front about asking for the flexibility I need so that my boss and teams are never surprised. But where I struggle is in assuming I will be able to accomplish more than is realistic; I overpromise and then struggle to deliver. Whenever I talk to my boss about needing some flex accommodations, she always asks me what, if any, tasks I need to shed. And I usually don’t shed enough. I’m not trying to be a superhero, I truly believe I will be able to accomplish what I sign up for. But then I get preoccupied with my parents or my children, I’m tired and wish I had a lighter workload, or I’m dealing with life and death issues and suddenly I don’t care at all about a particular work assignment. And then I wish I had taken my boss’s lead. When it comes to flexing during a family situation, under promise, and then if you can, over deliver. That way no one is left scrambling to get work done, and you can focus on what truly matters at the time.
2. Keep your house in order. When my father got sick unexpectedly last year, I was not prepared. I didn’t have a copy of his health care proxy, or a list of his meds. I didn’t have his primary care physician’s number programmed into my iPhone and I had no plan for taking care of my mother while my father was hospitalized. And I couldn’t call out of work, because I didn’t have my house (or in this case, office) in order. I was behind on a deadline, I hadn’t been copying my team on important client communication, and I had procrastinated on a major writing assignment. Instead of asking my team for some extra support, I kept plowing through the work and skipping sleep to catch up. I was physically and emotionally exhausted. The next time things got hectic on the caregiving front, I was ready. I now keep a spreadsheet that lists all of my major projects, the due date, status, notes and potential coworkers who can back me up. It takes just 5 -10 minutes at the end of everyday to update it and it’s worth it. As a caregiver, I know I could be called away unexpectedly at any time, so I am ready.
3. It’s on you, and you alone, to make flex work. Flex is a privilege. And it’s on you to make it work – nobody else. I reduced my work hours by 50% for a month last summer while I was caring for and moving two sick parents. I just couldn’t be fully present at work, and I couldn’t afford to take an unpaid leave. Working part time was hard. Not only was I working a reduced schedule, I was working with two teams in two different time zones. One day I sent my team in California a note, asked them to finish something, told them I’d be offline and to send it to the client without my input. One of my team members responded by asking for my input and said she’d wouldn’t send to the client until I weighed in. I was so frustrated. I wasted about twenty minutes stewing over the fact she hadn’t read my instructions carefully, and stressing over the fact the assignment wouldn’t get to the client. Then I just decided to hop back online and sort things out. Making my flex work was my responsibility, not my coworker’s. And you know what? Sometimes it’s a little messy. So what? Deal and move on.
4. Doctors aren’t corporate, but you can still try. Just like it’s not up to your coworkers to make your flex work for you, it’s not up to the medical team either. Doctors, nurses and social workers are focused on their patients, not their patients’ families, and they schedule based on their own work priorities and lives – not yours. In the corporate world, I’d never call a meeting without confirming the schedule worked for all participants. In the medical world, it happens daily. But when you’re the healthcare proxy, you need to be in the loop on all major decisions. Let the medical team know your schedule limitations and competing priorities and respectfully ask that you work to find mutually beneficial meeting times and communication methods. It won’t work out every time, but more often than not, the care team will appreciate knowing how and when to reach you and what level of involvement you prefer.
5. Your personal life is personal, not client business. Speaking of clients, err on the side of less is more when it comes to clients and the reason for your flex accommodations. Sure, it’s okay to be human and let your clients know you are taking some personal time or changing your hours for personal reasons, but when it comes to the details, they need to know what work they can expect, when they can expect it, who to call in your absence, and when you’ll be back online. They don’t need to know your mother’s prognosis or your father’s diagnosis. They probably have their own families to worry about and they hired you to give them leverage, not weight them down.
6. Work can happen anywhere, as long as you’re prepared. I once conducted a client call from an empty wheelchair outside an emergency room. I reviewed a client’s website from a salon while my daughter was having her haircut. I ran a webinar from the parking lot of an assisted living facility. Work can happen anywhere you have cell reception and wifi. When you’re a caregiver, be prepared to take advantage of down time. Keep your phone charged, your hotspot handy and a laptop or tablet with you at all times. Don’t waste precious minutes because you didn’t come prepared.