When it comes to making both dinner and the deadline, sometimes it’s the flexibility of the schedule—not the size of the paycheck—that matters most. The Working Mother 100 Best Companies have reimagined the traditional 9-to-5 in family-friendly terms. Find out what they’re doing and how you can do it for yourself.
Flex your day
Want to drop off your children at school every morning—and still get a shot at a corner office? These days, you don’t have to start your own business to pull it off. Many companies realize that allowing people to telecommute and/or set their own hours helps boosts productivity.
Switch up your start (or end) time. realigning your hours can open up new pockets of productivity. Denmark–based toymaker LEGO Systems, for instance, allows U.S. employees to start their day anytime between 7:30 and 9 a.m., whatever is most efficient for commuting and family needs. To persuade your boss to adjust your hours, base your case on how it’ll benefit the company, says Penny Locey, a consultant with Keystone Associates, a Boston career-management firm. Stephanie Regan, an administrative professional in the legal department of accounting and consulting firm BDO USA, started work at 7 a.m. when son Christopher, now 20, was in grade school so she could leave early to take him to after-school activities. She sold this to colleagues by emphasizing that if they dropped work on her chair at night, she’d be in early enough to finish it by the time they got in at 9 a.m.
Marriott International gives its employees flex coupons that allow workers to take paid time off in short increments. Instead of burning a whole vacation day to meet the fridge repairman, they can take off only a sliver of time, as little as two hours. See if your manager will allow you to do the same, or at least “bank” a few hours—either formally or informally— when you’ve stayed late in exchange for days you need to cut out early.
Try a day at home. This may be the day you log the most hours and shuffle a week’s worth of laundry through the machines. (You can fold later!) Anja Ferrer, a database marketing specialist for the Charlotte, NC–based Bank of America and single mother of Brandon, 13, and Drew, 9, says she puts in hundreds of additional hours now that she’s not commuting an hour and a half each way. Thanks to the financial service firm’s "my work" program, more than 22,000 employees, like Anja, have created their own schedule, too.
Flex your week
If your weekends are already crammed with family activities, a Monday-through-Friday grind may not work for you. Get a little daylight (and get those errands done) with the following strategies.
LEGO Systems allows its hourly-wage workers to put in full-time hours within a shortened workweek: Employees can distribute their hours among four days or vary them as needed. If you’d like to try a flexible arrangement, write a plan for the hours you’ll be available, where you’ll work and how colleagues can reach you, says Locey. Also suggest a one-month pilot and a date when you and your manager will evaluate how well the arrangement worked. “You have to establish trust,” she says.
Investigate part-time (with benefits).
Find out if there’s a minimum number of hours your company requires to be eligible for benefits, and tailor your schedule accordingly. Many companies will let you scale down to 30 hours per week and still retain full-time status. Mastercard Worldwide, for example, pays 75 percent of the family health-insurance costs of employees who work at least 17 1/2 hours a week, the same contribution it makes for full-timers.
“Telecommuting and flexible hours have made it possible for me to be a working mother and keep my sanity,” says Andrea Eubanks, a Sacramento, CA, project manager at IBM and mom to Kevin, 19, and Brandon, 14. The Armonk, NY–based technology firm gives Andrea and more than 15,000 other employees a palette of options: they can work from home, crash at temporary desks in remote offices or even collaborate with co-workers in a coffee shop. consider if a mobile approach could work for you by cutting down your commute and allowing you to get more done in fewer hours. Map out what you need to do, and the potential spaces you could use as work sites.
Flex your year
Not all months are created equal. Some beg for burying your nose in work. Others, when the kids are underfoot, call for Popsicles and pool time. Singer Stevie Nicks famously crooned, “Can I handle the seasons of my life?” Yes, with these full-year strategies in mind.
Check out summer hours.
Pharmaceutical giant Merck offers summer hours, in which employees work nine-hour days Monday through Thursday and depart at noon on Friday. Minneapolis-based assurance, tax and consulting firm Mcgladrey & Pullen’s FlexYear program allows employees to work a full-time schedule part of the year, then either take off the rest or maintain a reduced schedule for the remaining months. if your company quiets down in the summer, make the case for switching some of your hours to create long weekends.
Take a sabbatical.
Create your own sabbatical by taking unused vacation consecutively. Also, see if you can “roll over” unused time from prior years. Research what other colleagues have done when they’ve taken time off for long trips and other plans, so you have precedents to cite.
Flex your career**
More than ever, women are reaching personal and professional achievement by taking the scenic route. If you’re planning a few years off, here’s how to keep your options open.
Keep your edge.
Stay abreast of new trends, attend conferences and keep up those certifications. See if your company will reimburse tuition for relevant courses. New York City–based telecommunications giant Verizon communications offers more than 17,000 courses through distance learning, mobile learning and self-paced training. “We want employees to be able to take advantage of learning when it’s best for them,” says Alan Gardner, vice president of human resources for Verizon Wireless.
Consider an on-ramp/off-ramp program.
Although formal on-ramp/off-ramp programs aren’t yet common, if you think you’d like to take a break from your employer, negotiate ways to stay in touch during your time away. Most companies won’t guarantee your job for years, but you can remind your bosses of your value while you’re out by taking on occasional freelance projects and offering to attend important company events and meetings.
You never know where the next opportunity will come from, so keep your network strong. Meet colleagues face-to-face at least every month, recommends Los Angeles career coach David Couper. Too far away to meet? “Have a meeting by Skype,” advises Andrea Nierenberg, principal of the Nierenberg Group, a New York City executive-training and consulting firm. If you’re at home with kids, aim for a networking activity once per quarter.