Building a community of women who work in technology – hosted by Betsy Speare, Jennifer Marsman & Helene Love Snell

My intent was to mix up the topics every week, but I just LOVED this post – Anandi’s tone and attitude is perfect.  The “take charge of what you want” attitude really resonated with me – and I think it will with you as well.   Tangent:  here’s an extra link to a great article on the “Three Biggest Myths about Women in Tech” on VentureBeat – it makes me hopeful that this topic is becoming more mainstream and that perhaps we are on the verge of change…???  Course, I am a bit of an optimist.    BTW, i can’t figure out how to change the “written by” on this post – directions appreciated.  Enjoy…

To follow the Women in Technology Blog – go to https://womentech.wordpress.com/feed/

– Bets

An-web (2)Blog post by Anandi Raman Creath, Senior Program Manager, Microsoft Corp.

Continuing the evolving discussion on work-life balance, I’m here to tell you that it *is* possible to get the work-life balance that you want. But like Amysaid, it’s not at all easy.

I’ve been lucky enough to work at Microsoft since 2002, and I’ve worked a compressed schedule, so I had every other Friday off and currently work part-time.

It’s a half-time schedule, so I’m in the office 2 days a week and do a little work from home on the other evenings. This allows me to spend 3 full days at home each week with my 2 year old. I’ve been working roughly this same schedule since I returned from maternity leave.

When I tell people at work about this uncommon arrangement, they get a wistful look in their eyes and say things like “wow, I wish I could do that” or “my job could never accommodate that” or “you’re so lucky, I’d never be allowed to do that”.

NOT TRUE, people! I started out just like everyone else, working 45+ hours, email every waking moment, fielding questions and putting out fires for a company-wide initiative. And who could forget those delightful summer Saturdays spent in the office?

And then I realized I wanted more out of life than just work. Don’t get me wrong – I love my job, and I love my company with its myriad opportunities and amazing people. But I wanted time for myself and my hobbies, and more recently, time to really *enjoy* this new family thing we’ve got going on.

It goes without saying that this is not just a womens’ issue. My husband requested (and got!) a compressed work week so that we could care for our daughter ourselves for her first year. He was home with her on the two days I worked, and then he’d go to work for the next 4 days. It was surprisingly easy to arrange this with our employer. Harder to get through the weeks without being completely exhausted, but that’s life, right?

So without further ado, here’s the advice I’ve given to many people who asked how they too can get the work schedule of their dreams. (Short of winning the lottery and quitting altogether, that is.)

How to get the sweet gig:

1. First, read up on your company’s policies and procedures around flexible work. If they don’t have them, you’ll need to decide how badly you want it, and then be the trailblazer and help them get a policy in place.

2. Figure out what *you* want with respect to work schedule and pay/benefits. A lot of people approach this as “I’ll do whatever my company lets me” but I think that’s the wrong way to go about it, and everyone leaves the discussion unsatisfied.

a. A compressed schedule (e.g. 4 day work week or 9 days/2 weeks) will allow you to keep a full time workload and salary, but you’ll have to work longer days to make up for the day you’re off.

b. A part-time schedule will give you reduced work hours (duh!) but also reduced pay and potentially fewer benefits. In addition, you’ll really need to think hard about how your work can be scoped to fit into fewer hours.

c. Telecommuting one or more days a week may not change your schedule, but may allow you to shift your schedule rather than spending time commuting.

3. Write up a short proposal detailing what schedule you’re requesting *and* addressing any concerns that might come up. You need to position it as something good for your work group, not just what’s in it for you.

4. Discuss with your manager. Be confident about what you’re asking for, and address his/her concerns with solutions. Be willing to discuss it “up the chain” as needed.

Once you’ve got the sweet gig:

· Be clear with your management and team about your work schedule and location(if you’re telecommuting). It really helps to have the same schedule each week so people get used to it.

· If you’re not in the office but working, BE AVAILABLE.I can’t stress this enough. Sign into IM, answer your phone and email in a timely fashion and call in to scheduled meetings. People need to know and see that you’re working. Sounds unfair, and we think people should “just notice” our awesome deliverables, but that’s not enough.

· A subset of the previous point – if you are working from home and your young kids are around, you MUST have childcare.There is no way you can do a great job working if you’re also taking care of your kids. Not putting in that “face time” at the office means you need to do an *extra* good job, and that’s not going to happen with distractions.

· If you’re working part time, don’t regularly work more than what you agreed to.Obviously you’ll have to put in extra hours around crunch time, but keep track of this, and make sure it evens out later. It makes no sense to work full-time hours on a part-time salary. If you have too much work to accomplish on your schedule, talk to your manager about prioritization.

· Be equally clear about your availability on days you’re not working. Give out your cell phone info for emergencies, but don’t accept non-urgent meetings and don’t respond to non-urgent emails either. You need to “train” people to understand your new schedule. They won’t respect it if you don’t.

· Review the arrangement periodically with your manager.Quarterly is good. Actively solicit feedback about what’s working and what’s not. Actually do something about what’s not working.

· Don’t be apologetic about having an unusual work arrangement. Be an ambassador, so people can see that we don’t have to chain ourselves to our desks 80 hours a week. Do great work and evangelize what you’re accomplishing and HOW you’re accomplishing it with your dream schedule and your newfound, totally awesome work life balance!

I’d love to hear other stories of flexible work arrangements, and any other tips you can share for making it work for everyone involved!

the house of peanut

check out Anandi’s blog at http://houseofpeanut.blogspot.com
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Comments on: "Your dream schedule in a tech company – it CAN be done! Four steps to find the schedule you want!" (12)

  1. […] to Anandi  this week as  our guest blogger –  remember her awesome post “  Your dream schedule in a tech company – it CAN be done! Four steps to find the schedule you want!.” I have to admit that my first reaction to this blog was less than enthusiastic.  The […]

  2. I love the fact that you’re honest about not just wanting to spend time with the baby, but to do some things YOU enjoy; your hobbies. And I’ll gladly help you keep you busy with at least one of your hobbies. Great post!

  3. Anandi’s post is correct. This company is quite amazing wrt flexibility in employment. I’ve been here for 15 years and have had the opportunity to try it all. I’d like to share my story because I’ve seen the same outcomes by two other women in my organization. Perhaps this will give you additional insight into how you can make it work and what might be an outcome for you.

    Prior to children, I worked the typical 60-70 hour work week, earned credibility and grew in seniority. Eight years after I started at MSFT, my 1st grader was “misplaced” during transport from school to offsite child care two times in the first week of school (new neighborhood, new school). I decided I needed to be at home when school got out.

    Windows Server had paved the way for women to do this and so I did my homework to bring this into Windows Client (apparently a first). My manager recognized that it was the only way to keep me at the company and helped me through the process. I really appreciated his help in doing this.

    My job could not be done in less than 40 hours a week so I pursued a job share. This arrangement probably works well in jobs where there are set functions and little upheaval. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case for me so the arrangement only worked for about a year.

    A reorg forced the separation of the two of us into two part time jobs. I also became an IC because the new organization didn’t support part time managers. My new managers scoped the deliverables down to part time hours, but ultimately the job really wasn’t appropriate for part time since it involved a lot of participation in offsites and meetings after 3:00. I was scrambling for [irregular] childcare when I had these late meetings, which happened at least once a week and on different days.

    Now I was at 3/4 pay & benefits, plus I had to pay for childcare. More had to give to get the work done to meet my deliverables. I really had to focus on priorities and all “tax” items had to go. The team meetings that occur in the late afternoon and the morale events where the obvious ones as they were often optional. As I missed more of these team building events I definitely felt less a part of the team. All doctor and dentist appointments were scheduled off work hours, without exception. Lunch at my desk was the norm as I didn’t have time for breaks in order to meet the deliverables.

    Over time I became comfortable with walking away from my desk at 3:00 sharp. I was able to do my full time job as a part-timer because of the above concessions. But I felt the part time status was hurting me career-wise as well as in the wallet.

    So I went back to full time work, but with the understanding that I would come in early and leave at 3:00 to meet the school bus. I’d work from home in the evenings if I needed to crunch on something. I still needed irregular childcare due to offsites, but at least my full time pay could help me pay for it. Missing morale events is still commonplace.

    The point of sharing my personal history as a blog response is to support Anandi’s post. The company *will* work with you to make it possible. But you need to figure out what you’re willing to give up. Most of us pride ourselves on our capabilities. We worked hard to get our education and land at Microsoft. We love what we do. Balancing between the love for work and the love of our families is difficult. I’m a little concerned about the terminology of the “sweet gig” and setting expectations with everyone. Everyone needs to be flexible, including yourself. Most people find alternative paths when they are confronted with immovable objects in their path. There are concessions everywhere. From your perspective, from your family’s perspective, and from your team’s perspective. As Tim Gunn says “Make it work.”

    • Vicki – this is great, thanks so much for sharing. I didn’t get into the “sacrifice” part much in my post because it was getting *way* too long. What I didn’t write about is similar to what you talked about – I don’t go to many team morale events unless they’re during my work hours, and my career velocity is very, very slow since I started working part-time. I’m sure it’s *possible* to get promoted when working part-time, but so far I haven’t figured out how to make that work without putting in a ton of extra hours. So I don’t. But that is the choice I have made, and for me it is totally worth it. I spent 10+ years focusing on career before having a child, and I was ready to shift the balance when she showed up.

      I think it just depends on the individual and how much they want to give up. I’m not sure what concerns you about the terminology I used. My writing style is informal – I’m writing so people will read it, not writing to set HR policy 😉

      • Anandi,
        As you mentioned, your career velocity was impacted…as was mine. It was my trade off to make and the company helped me to make it. Please don’t take my concern over “sweet gig” as a personal criticism. Just saying…it can sometimes be bitter sweet.

      • Absolutely! I think a flexwork arrangement is definitely something to re-evaluate for yourself periodically too to make sure *you* are happy with the results. I could imagine a teleworker deciding it was too lonely, or the part-time person returning to full-time once the kids were in school, etc. (just examples). But yeah, I was no way implying that this is a completely consequence-free path 😉

  4. @Jackie – I’m sorry to hear you were laid off. I do think that’s a good point to consider, specifically when thinking about going part-time. We don’t have job security in this industry, but I think when you add a flex work arrangement, it probably costs a little more of whatever security one might have, because it’s easier for management to rationalize laying off someone who works part-time than the person who puts in 60+ hours a week.

    For me, the tradeoff is worth it. I can’t predict the future, so for NOW I’m willing to take something less secure, knowing that I could walk into work any day and be told that either my position has disappeared *or* that my part-time gig is over and I need to come back to work full time. There are never any guarantees, so I see it as a “take it while you can get it” sort of thing.

    @Cloud – you are right that it’s easier if you’ve been in your position for a while. I also think it’s easier to negotiate if you don’t have direct reports, though. But, the job I’m currently in was just advertised as a part-time position. I didn’t have history with this team and was lucky enough to interview and be able to get it.

    @Kathy – yes, there is some degree of guilt for having a “special arrangement”, but when people comment on it, I make it pretty clear that I get paid less, get less vacation, etc. So it’s not exactly the free ride they think I’m getting. For telecommuters, I think you probably have to put in more effort to get “noticed” so people remember you’re there. But it’s great that you could get that to work out!

  5. Great post, Anandi! I can’t agree with you more regarding how to approach an employer with a plan in place regarding a flexible work schedule. I had asked for a permanent telecommuting arrangement because of my husband’s job located outside (way outside) of Silicon Valley. My manager knew me, my unique skill set, and my work ethic and very much supported me all the way. On the other hand, I felt dreadfully guilty that the company gave me such special treatment and thus, I only lived and breathed work for the first couple of years. But what I ended up with was a completely unbalanced life. I’ve now since committed to a more regular and strict daily schedule so that I remember to live my life outside of work. Of course, I still pull the occasional all nighter or weekender when there are fires to fight, but overall I find that I’m much more productive and a lot happier.

  6. I love this post and am so glad that both you and your husband are able to work flexible schedules at Microsoft. I, too, used to be a flex worker there but was caught in the terrible 2009 swirl of layoffs. More than half of the part-time workers at Microsoft were let go that year simply because they were part-time and were “easy targets” to help senior management make their budget numbers. In my division, every single person laid off was part-time, female, senior with tenure, and a mother. And, yes, we were all high performers; most of us had even been promoted at least once while part-time.

    While the corporation has great policies, it comes down to the individual manager and senior management to enforce and protect those policies. It is wonderful to hear that perhaps part-time and flexible work schedules might be coming back to the company, which would be fantastic for any worker.

  7. Awesome post! I currently work a “standard” 40-45 hour week, but I returned from both of my maternity leaves to a month of working part time (my husband and I split baby care that month, so I worked 3 days/week and he worked 2). And after my first daughter was born, I worked a 35 hour week (really a 70 hour two week pay period) for over a year. It was awesome.

    I got these arrangement just like you did: I knew what I wanted and I asked for it.

    However, I will add one caveat- I think this worked so easily for me because of two things: (1) I was fairly senior in my position- I think this arrangement might be harder for a junior person just starting out to set up, since he/she won’t have as much “organizational capital”, for lack of a better word. (2) I had a reputation for being very efficient and productive, so my bosses knew that I would get the job done.

    I went back to the full time schedule because I wanted to change to a job that needed that, and I’ve found the work-life balance with a full time job to be fine for me now that I’m more used to motherhood, so I haven’t tried to change it again.

    Also- great new site. I’m on the edges of the tech industry- I work in data management and analysis in biotech. But I suspect a lot of the things here will be relevant to me- I’ll add it to my feed reader!

  8. Thanks Diya! Yes, it’s not just about kids, for sure. In all honesty, I don’t think your workplace really needs to know *why* you’re requesting a flexible arrangement, or at least not the gory details. I think you need to start the discussion with “this is what I want, and this is how we can work together to make it work”.

    And yeah, I definitely agree it’s good to really sit down and consider what you want out of life. It’s something we always say we’ll get to “later” and then never do 😉

  9. Anandi, this is brilliant. And I have to say, it’s not just a consideration for those with children. I think as we get older, we also happen to gain more responsibilities both in the workplace and in our personal lives, whether it’s caring for elderly parents, volunteering for a charitable organization or balancing health requirements with work. The neat 4-step plan presented here gives us readers something very valuable to think about. Besides earning a pay check, where should each of us be spending our time? And how do we use Anandi’s proposed steps to get that time. While salary and benefits may be reduced, we could also think of it as paying for our time. Anyway, I personally will be considering what I would want my life to look like over the next few months. Thanks Anandi, fabulous article.

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