Asking for the Perfect Flexible Schedule

There’s a lot of talk about flexible schedules these days—working from home one day a week (or always!); working four-day weeks instead of five; or shifting the traditional 9-to-5 to something that works around your family, hobbies, or preferred working schedule, just to name a few.

But while you’ve probably heard of these options, you may have pushed them aside, thinking that a flexible work schedule “just wouldn’t work” for your job or company.

Well, I’m here to tell you that, in many cases, it can. And it can definitely make a huge difference in your life: Yes, it can improve your sleep, relationships, and hobbies, but it can also help you maintain your health and vigor on the job.

While it probably wouldn’t have worked in some of my previous jobs, like when I worked in investment banking or when I was on the buy-side, I recently took a corporate job, where it did. Here’s what I learned through the process of asking for more flexibility and a change to my schedule—and how you can do it, too.

 

1. Prioritize Your Most Important Needs

As you think about what type of flexible schedule will work best for you, ask yourself: What are the two most important needs in your life outside of your day job? What are the schedule adjustments that would most dramatically affect your stress level and happiness? Is it making time for your daily workout class, or is it needing to make calls during normal business hours for that startup idea you’re trying to get off the ground? Having two schedule changes to propose is often helpful because it allows room for a potential compromise to get at least one.

For me, I wanted to work from home on Fridays so that I could have less distraction from impromptu office meetings and friendly interruptions, thus leading to less of a to-do list over the weekend. Plus, I could get laundry and other tasks done while on conference calls, again leaving more time for purely my interests over the weekend. I also wanted to start my workday later than my boss, who has a long commute and gets into the office before 6 AM in order to leave in time to pick up her kids from school.

From there, you can strategize how your work schedule might be adjusted to meet these needs. If you are running a nonprofit on the side and need to be at some weekday events, say, maybe you can designate specific hours of being logged into your work later in the evening or on an off day to tie up your responsibilities. Or if you need to make a morning swim session to prepare for the triathlon you’ve been training for, instead designate a period of time before heading off to the gym, or an hour before bed, to pre-address anything going on in the morning while you’re away.

Of course, your schedule and preferences aren’t all you’ll have to think about, which brings me to…

 

2. Understand What an Appropriate Ask Can Be

Every workplace has a culture that allows for different types of flexibility. There will be some aspects that you will not be able to change, and that’s important to understand before you go any further.

First, read your employee handbook to see if there are major ground rules that you need to observe. At my job, for example, it’s acceptable to get a workout in during the day as long as you’re finishing your workload on time and not leaving during critical work periods. But if you’re on market hours, you probably won’t be able to leave during the middle of trading.

It’s also worth asking a couple veteran employees how they manage other priorities and view the company’s perception on non-work related activities and to pay attention to what others on your team are doing. If you have a group that runs at lunch, it’ll be easier to join them than to ask to leave early to go to the gym. Or if you have a group that leaves to make their children’s sports, you may be able to adapt your needs to coincide with their time away.