What to Do If Your Flex Work Arrangement Gets Axed

iStock_000004026171XSmallBy Robin Madell (San Francisco)

“We live in an age of advanced technology, which provides opportunities for more efficient and flexible modes of communicating and working. Eliminating policies such as a flexible work schedule diminishes our progressive advances, and most often negatively impacts women more than men, as women are predominately the primary caretakers and are in greater need of flex time.”
–Tammy Marzigliano, Partner, Outten Golden LLP

First it was Yahoo’s decision to cut work-from-home arrangements. Now Best Buy is following suit. In the current corporate climate, flex work opportunities — previously embraced by many HR departments as good for retention and smart for business—are under increased scrutiny as struggling companies look for ways to cut corners.

What this means for employees is that those with previous telecommuting arrangements may suddenly find themselves scrambling to rebalance their work-life arrangements if corporate flex policies change. To be prepared, it’s important to be proactive by exploring steps you can take if you find yourself with a new manager who’s anti-flex work, or if someone in the chain of command says you can’t work from home anymore.

Don’t Panic

In the wake of hearing the news of changed telecommuting policies, it’s easy to imagine the worst-case scenario and assume a full loss of privileges. However, take time to read the fine print, as there may be some wiggle room.

“Even the Yahoo ban on telecommuting wasn’t an all-out ban because the memo makes reference to working from home to help balance life’s necessities (waiting for the cable guy, in their example),” says Sara Sutton Fell, CEO and Founder of FlexJobs.
 “Inquire as to whether you’re allowed to work from home even just a day or two each week.”

David Lewis, president and CEO of HR outsourcing firm Operations Inc., adds that while there is not much an employee can do that is inconspicuous when a company or manager changes the policy, you can take practical steps to ease the blow. “Ask for an extended transition time, say 2 to 3 months, so you can make arrangements,” says Lewis.

Assess Corporate Fears

When flex-work policies change company-wide, there’s a reason behind it. If you can do some research and find out what that reason is, you may have more bargaining power. Tammy Marzigliano, partner at Outten Golden LLP, notes that cutting back programs like these may be a sign of a more systemic problem in the workplace. In the same light, Fell suggests assessing what your manager’s or company’s fears with telecommuting are, and attempting to address those directly.

“Is it communication?” asks Fell. “If so, show them you’re the best communicator they’ve got — through phone, email, and other virtual means. Is it not knowing whether work is being accomplished? Again, be the best “accomplisher” you can be — and keep them apprised of your daily and weekly accomplishments through email so they know they can count on you virtually.”

Lewis notes that a more aggressive and confrontational approach may be needed if working a traditional flex-work schedule is off the table, and agrees with the idea of pushing management to reconsider their decision by focusing on the core issues and attempting to resolve them. He gives the following example.

“Yahoo’s decision is based on poor management of remote staff, not that flex working can’t work,” says Lewis. “Specifically, most companies who offer flex work are concerned about productivity, about employees doing laundry and cooking during working hours — in general about productivity. Working with leadership on ways to assure them that you are productive may reverse the decision. Furthering that with ways to prove you are may seal the reversal.”

Prove It

How can you assure your organization that you’re productive at work? You have to prove it. Organizational change expert Marian Thier is currently assisting a client who is facing the end of her flex arrangements. In response, Thier has advised her client to provide specific data about exactly how she spends her time in her home office. “Yes, it’s tedious, but factual and cumulative,” says Thier.

  • Keep a log of time and activities — two weeks in half-hour slots.
  • Do a cost/benefit analysis: list everything with actual dollar amounts (for example gas, parking, food, uninterrupted work hours).
  • Create a portfolio of your workspace, including photos that show where you work, and prove that it is isolated from the rest of the house.
  • From your log, highlight the number of daily interactions you have with fellow employees.
  • Provide details that demonstrate collaboration and show how technology is used to support collaboration and decision-making, as well as information sharing.
  • Develop options to share with your boss (for example, talk with others in your department to create a proposal that would satisfy specific needs of your company and other employees).

Be Flexible

In a national survey of more than 500 Americans conducted recently by SurveyMonkey Audience, nearly half of workers (46 percent) would like their job less if their work-from-home arrangement were taken away – one quarter say working from home is their most valuable perk, while 21 percent might quit and 6 percent would definitely quit.

That said, there are many different ways that working from home can work. When corporate policies change, if you can stay open to different types of possible telecommuting arrangements, you may be able to come up with a scenario that still gives you some flexibility — even if it’s less than you’re used to. “Ask for a part-time telecommuting arrangement, where you’re working either part of every day, or part of every week, at home,” suggests Fell.

As one example, if your company or manager has left the door open to some possibilities for telecommuting depending on the situation, ask for a chance to prove your telecommute-worthiness through a trial program. “Start with several weeks or months, with regular check-ins and assessments,” recommends Fell. “This will hopefully make your manager more comfortable with the idea.”

Find a Fit

One of the biggest reasons people leave jobs is a values clash with a boss or employer — and an attitude about flexible work schedules is one of the main values clashes, according to Dr. Janet Scarborough Civitelli, workplace psychologist and founder of Vocation Village. “Companies with leaders who think focusing on time/place rather than results is a smart idea will increasingly see some of their best employees seek more evolved workplaces,” says Civitelli.

Though bans of flex-work programs at companies like Yahoo and Best Buy are highly publicized, FlexJobs notes that a February 2013 analysis of available telecommuting and flexible jobs shows these types of jobs are continuing to grow. CNN Money lists telecommuting as one of the best benefits of the 100 Best Companies to Work For, and notes that companies like Cisco, Accenture, Intel, and PwC all have 70 to 90 percent of regular telecommuters among their workforce.

So if you can’t “beat them” at your current company, consider “joining them” at another. “Look for a job that does support telecommuting,” says Fell. “Find a company and manager who support your idea of work-life balance.”