Flex Schedules: By the Numbers

Flex time doesn’t only have to be for mid-level managers; interested executives can negotiate the same work-from-home time too.

Most execs need to work on site 50+ hours a week. But some executive work is eligible to participate in a trend that started with lower-level employees: working from home. It is easiest to apply to sales, but finance, marketing, purchasing, IT and other functions can sometimes get in on the action. Interested?

Lee Iacocca estimated his executives averaged 48 minutes a day of truly productive work; the rest of the time was consumed by “administrivia” (his word).

Executives can boost that 48-minute time considerably by spending an uninterrupted day working from home.

This work-from-home option can be a benefit you extend to some of your staff, or it can be something you take advantage of yourself. It can be a way to work around an undesirable relocation or just a way to enjoy the peace and quiet of a home office.

Avoid over-promising

No matter what your reason, the biggest negotiation blunder employees make is over-promising. Don’t take an eight-hour day and turn it into a 10-hour work marathon just for the privilege of working off-site. That extra time belongs to you, not the company. In effect it’s like giving you time off: you recoup time that would otherwise be spent in work-related activity (commuting). Average door-to-door travel time might be around 45 minutes one way. That’s 1.5 hours per day. Times 200 workdays a year means 300 hours of personal time you wouldn’t have if you had to transport yourself to the office.

When offering this to an employee, you’d likely put in some reporting structures to allay your fears that they’ll spend time walking the dog, doing errands or picking up kids from school. Daily logs and weekly goals will keep them in line. You’d keep those goals comparable to what they’d accomplish if they were on site for 8 hours. Likewise, when you ask for (or simply decide) that you’re taking 1+ days a week at home, set up the same type of communication so your higher-ups see the value.

Three steps to demonstrate your needs

If working at home is something you want to negotiate with a current or prospective employer, you have three things to consider.

  1. Is it a must-have or a nice-to-have?
  2. Is this new for the company, or has it been done before at the exec level?
  3. Can you demonstrate that you’ll really be more productive at home?

Must-have often occurs when you don’t want to relocate your family to take a new job. As a must-have, it constitutes a deal-breaker that must be negotiated before you treat salary and benefits. Line up your reasons — both those that benefit the employer and those that make it important to you. Clarify how you’ll manage your function without coming in to the office every day. I’ve helped execs negotiate many different work-remote permutations.

If the company has established the precedent for this flexible practice, you merely need to demonstrate how the company will benefit. However, if this is a new concept to them, you’ll be well advised to bring in some information about how this has worked well in other companies. Articles and studies are readily available and easy to search out. Pick those that focus on employer benefit and feature people at your level.

Third, be aware that employers worry about you running a department remotely. Work from home is primarily a lower-level perk. And since lower-level employees are more likely to slack off, this arrangement is still equated you with them: guilt by association. They’re worried even the best will give in to temptation to sleep late, leave early, get in a round of golf, engage in lengthy personal phone calls, do errands, pick up your kids from school, etc. You’ll want to make a case that you’ll be more productive, not less. Thus, productivity ideas center on liberating more energy, time, attention, and responsiveness.

It’s certainly possible, and demonstrating this plausibility in a list with quantitative benefits will be an asset. Feature these benefits to leverage your proposal:

  • Handling a brief before-hours or after-hours task can be quickly dispatched from home in off hours instead of being deferred until regular working office hours.
  • Working around other time zones is easier to accommodate at home.
  • Skype and other video-telecommunication innovations make virtual space almost like real space.
  • Internet computer and desktop sharing programs make interactive files available to boss and coworkers without being physically present.
  • Daily work logs or reports can improve at-home accountability more than if you’re parked at your desk downtown.

Effective negotiation tactics
If you can’t get this work-from-home option outright included in the plan from the get-go, try suggesting starting with a trial period and evaluating it after a few weeks or months. Or propose planning for a trial period to start later on, once you’re sure of the work flow and relationships.

Negotiate, too, for the employer to pay all or a portion of your home-office expenses: high-speed internet connection; business-related software; hardware upgrades; special security backups; perhaps even a desk, decoration, lighting or an ergonomic chair.

Ensure your at-home work is set up for success. This means affected people feel good about the arrangement. Build a few “How’s it going?” check-ins into your conversations with those affected by your decision.

300 hours is seven-and-a-half 40-hour weeks of time! If you don’t want to work at home, perhaps you might consider letting some of your underlings try it. That’s a tax free benefit of $7,500 worth of time at their level.

If your executive salary of $150,000 translates into $75/hour, your 1.5 hour commute is worth $112. If every Friday was work at home day, you’ve given yourself time worth $5,850. That’s something to write home about, eh?