It’s been a few years since we last discussed how to create the best office at home on Corporette — but a reader emailed me for an update, particularly for working moms, so I thought we’d discuss. For working moms campaigning for more flexible working arrangements, having a great home office can make everything easier; if you’re productive and get work done at home, it gives you confidence that you can work from home more often, which means saving time on your commute, offering flexibility when your kiddo is sick, and more. So — here is my $.02 for setting up a home office, but I can’t wait to hear your tips:
As I mentioned a few weeks ago, my friend Y has had a very successful run as a part-time associate, working reduced hours (about an 80% schedule) for years now. I asked her for some of the top tips she’s learned along the way, and she was kind enough to share her tips for both negotiating a reduced work schedule as well as the tips below, how to have a successful run as a part-time associate. Ladies who’ve negotiated similar flexible work arrangements — do you agree with Y’s tips? What are your best tips for how to be a great part-time associate?
As an associate working reduced hours, here is what I learned along the way that I would offer as advice to anyone in the same position, or contemplating making the switch:
1) Remember you are making a professional sacrifice. Remember how I said in my first post that you can’t have it all? The reduced work hours approach, in many cases, forecloses certain professional opportunities. In the BigLaw world, when you’re not available 24/7, you’re simply not as desirable for certain assignments or projects. As a junior associate, I didn’t really realize this, but as I got up there in years, it became clear to me that my professional experience was not — and could not be — as well-rounded as that of my peers, and could not progress at the same rate. Most days, this was just fine, since I continued to remind myself that I was making the sacrifice to be able to raise my children as I wanted (by then, there were more of them). Some days I did feel frustrated at my perceived lack of professional development. All in all, I would say: Be prepared to make the sacrifice, and remember what you’re gaining in return.
2) Stick to your agreed-upon schedule (mostly). We corporate types didn’t get to where we are for lack of hard work, and I would venture to guess that many of us have a hard time not going above and beyond. But when you’re on a reduced hours or part-time schedule, you have to be disciplined about leaving the office at the agreed-upon time and/or not working beyond the hours you’ve committed to. Avoiding “schedule creep” can be a huge challenge, particularly when everyone else is working many more hours than you are. I made a concerted effort to remind myself that a deal is a deal and that I wasn’t doing anything wrong by leaving the office at 6:00 every day; in fact, I wasn’t being paid to stay beyond then.
3) But be flexible. No part-time job in the corporate world is truly limited to 9-5 hours. While it’s important not to be a pushover or feel bad about not working to the extent your colleagues are, it’s key to demonstrate that you’re still committed to your job and are willing, when necessary, to stay late at work, get online after the kids are in bed, or travel overnight. It’s a delicate balance, and you have to have the professional experience to determine when the extra hours are necessary and/or would be appreciated by your colleagues.
4) Anticipate some level of jealousy or animosity. While others are burning the midnight oil and you head out to your second job as a mom, some may resent you for leaving earlier. I always just ignored this, since I had an official arrangement with the firm and was getting paid less than them, in accordance with how much I worked.
5) Reassess the flexible work arrangement as time goes on. Just because a reduced hours schedule suits you at one point doesn’t mean that it will always be right for you. There may come a time that you throw yourself back in the game on a full-time basis because the kids have grown, your spouse or partner becomes more available, or your life otherwise changes. Fortunately, it should be easier to transition back to a full-time workload since you’ve had your head in the game as a part-time employee rather than being out of the workforce entirely.
Ladies — have you ever tried reducing your working hours to 80% or less? What were your thoughts on it, and what are your best tips for other women considering such a flexible work arrangement?
I’ve always been in awe of one of my old friends, Y, who’s negotiated reduced work hours at numerous Big Law firms in a major market — and advanced while doing it. I reached out to her to ask for her top tips on negotiating reduced work hours and her own thoughts on the journey. Below, we present Part 1, Y’s thoughts on negotiating reduced work hours — you can find Part 2 here, where we look at her thoughts on being a successful part-time associate. Thank you so much, Y! – Kat
Working mothers can’t have it all. I truly believe that. Something’s gotta give, and when I had my first child I wondered what that would be — and how much. There are obviously many answers to that question — there is no “one-size-fits-all.” For me, the answer was asking for a flexible work arrangement at the BigLaw firm where I was a second-year associate, so that I could continue in my career while also having time to spend with my family.
I remember when I first negotiated for reduced work hours. I had been on maternity leave with my first child and knew right away that I could not possibly raise a tiny person and also work full-time (which in my job meant being on call 24/7). After contacting the powers that be at the firm about discussing a potential flexible work arrangement, I received a call from a partner, and the conversation was not nearly as scary as I thought it might be. That may also be because I went in with zero expectations, figuring that if the firm wouldn’t agree to a flexible working arrangement, I would walk. At that point in my life, working full time at an AmLaw 100 firm was not on the table for me.
By that time, I had done my homework and knew that some women were already working at the firm on an 80-percent basis. (Depending on their practice area and reason for working part time, they either worked reduced hours on a relatively regular schedule or committed to billing 80 percent of a full-time associate’s yearly billables, even if that meant working long hours on a deal one month and taking time off the next.) When I stated that I wanted to work four days a week and be home in the evenings with my baby, the partner agreed to offer me an 80-percent arrangement. He added that there were no guarantees with regard to the bonus but that the firm would aim to give me one that was prorated.
Having heard horror stories of women who officially worked part-time and were paid accordingly but billed just as much as a full-time associate, I asked what would happen if I ended up billing more than 80 percent of what a full-time associate would. Would I be reimbursed at the end of the year? The answer was no. While it didn’t seem equitable, it did incentivize me to stick to my reduced schedule rather than revert to my type-A personality and try to do it all (despite my cognitive recognition that, as a mother who wants to remain intimately involved in her child’s upbringing, I could not). “One last thing,” the partner said as we continued to talk. “I’m not saying that we’d definitely never make a part-time partner, but we most likely wouldn’t.” I just said “fine” — it was not even remotely on my radar at the time, let alone something that would have influenced my decision.
That started my long journey as an associate with a reduced work schedule.
Here are some tips I would offer to anyone thinking of requesting a similar part-time arrangement:
Are you familiar with all the types of flexible work arrangements? Have you thought about asking for one, either because you’re currently pregnant and thinking about your return to work after maternity leave, or because you’ve returned to your regular schedule after having your baby and want to try something different? We’ve put together a quick reference guide to the six common types of flexible work arrangements — and we also have some awesome upcoming posts from one of Kat’s friends who’s had a very successful career mainly with reduced hours / part-time work. (Ladies who have one of the other types of flexible work arrangements, would you consider guest posting or being interviewed? We’d love to hear from everyone!)
The six main types of flexible work arrangements are:
What are some of your best tips for adjusting upon returning to work after maternity leave? What do you wish you’d known, or what did you come to realize?
For my own $.02: Among my friends, the end of maternity leave has loomed large in all of our lives — but on a kind of sliding scale. Women who had to go back to work at 10 weeks (or even sooner) dreaded it terribly, while women with longer leaves — 6 months or more — typically felt much better about it and almost welcomed the end of their leave. A few bits of advice along those lines:
A few months ago, a friend and I were talking about how her huge company has a pretty strict face time requirement at the office. As a parent she felt it really limited her upward mobility at the company, and she felt somewhat like she didn’t have a voice in the matter. So we began pondering: how do you start a special interest group at your office to give people in a similar situation a voice? Do you think starting such a group puts a target on your back (as in, you want to work on Easy Street, not Real Life)? Do you think it’s better to band together with other working parents — or couch such a group’s interests in terms of “women’s interests” — or a more general work/life committee?
(Some offices even have work/life committees, of course — which sometimes leads to pretty comical comparisons of things like “making it a priority to go to a Katy Perry concert” vs. general parenting, or “Katy Perry concert” vs. labor and delivery. I swear I am not making that up, that was actually a comparison used in a law firm memo.)
Some tips for starting your own affinity group, such as one for working parents: