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What to Do If Your Flex Work Arrangement Gets Axed

The Glass Hammer—By Robin Madell

“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.”

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