24 June 2012, by Tan Yi Lin
Sometimes, I wonder if I’m being too greedy in wanting to have it all.
I want to be able to spend as much time as possible with Coco before she grows up too quickly and starts going to school. I want to hold and cuddle her before she stops wanting to be babied. I want to bring her for morning walks on the beach and evening rides on the playground swings, while the sky is still bright. (I shall stop short of romanticising this and saying that I want to spend every waking hour with her, because that could mean MANY a waking hour in the middle of the night and very few sleeping hours.)
In short, I MISS MY BABY DEARLY WHEN I’M AT WORK. Very very very much.
Yet, I want to continue working for a host of reasons: for personal growth and development, for the chance to contribute to society through work (albeit for a small remuneration, thank you), for adult conversation and a social life, for ‘me’ time and let’s be honest here, for the money.
I had saved four weeks of my 16-week maternity leave to take every Wednesday off from work, from December last year to May this year. Being paid in full to work a four-day week was lovely while it lasted. It sucked having to revert to a five-day work week when my maternity leave ran out.
Then, I received some unexpected good news:
In March, the organisation that I work for announced the introduction of family-friendly initiatives. One of these initiatives was the allowance of telecommuting to help staff manage family and job responsibilities better. The organisation recognised that with the aid of technology (e.g. home Internet network, remote access to the office network and the provision of lap tops), telecommuting allowed staff to work away from the office.
Under the new guidelines, we could apply to telecommute up to an equivalent of three days per week. This could be in the form of working from home every morning or every afternoon, or working three full days from home, or a combination of both half and full day telecommuting arrangements.
In other words, the new flexible work arrangements were truly pretty flexible, as long as you had the support of your immediate supervisor.
It was too good to be true: I could continue to work full time while spending precious weekday time with Coco AND save on the hour-long daily trundle on the MRT to and from the CBD on certain days. I could have my cake and eat it too? Really?
The timing of the announcement couldn’t have been better. I write articles for Maybebaby on a freelance basis and had just happened to be assigned the topic, “Flexible Work Arrangements: How To Get Your Boss To Say ‘YES’”.
Brilliant. The research and expert advice on the topic would come in useful when negotiating my own work-from-home arrangement with my boss.
Hah. Well, I wrote the article but sat on my telecommuting application as I still had enough maternity leave to see me through a few more four-day work weeks.
When I finally got down to putting in an application, I simply filled up the form and sent it to my boss, forgetting to follow the very advice that I had carefully set out in the article that I wrote.
In particular, I didn’t talk to the HR department to find out what other colleagues were doing with regard to flexible work arrangements.
My boss asked me how many other colleagues were on the work-from-home scheme.
I didn’t know.
She asked if the staff who had applied for the arrangement were working mums (or dads).
I didn’t know.
She wanted to have an idea of the telecommuting schedules that had been approved prior to my application.
I didn’t know.
Those weren’t the only questions that I didn’t have a good answer for.
In other words, I didn’t come prepared. I had assumed that there wouldn’t be any obstacles in my way. I didn’t consider my boss’ viewpoint — that she could have had genuine concerns about shortage in manpower or an increase in the rest of the team’s workload, even if she was personally supportive of flexible work arrangements.
She made a fair request: that I speak to HR to find out more about the new telecommuting guidelines.
Sheepishly, I made an appointment with HR and thereafter re-presented my case to my boss with added certainty, clarity and confidence:
– I would apply to telecommute every Wednesday, as unlike other weekdays, my mum goes into the office early on Wednesdays.
– There were currently ten people on the telecommuting scheme. All but one of them were working mums, with the exception being a case for parental care instead of childcare. Telecommuting schedules ranged from selected mornings or afternoons only, to the maximum of an equivalent of three full days.
– I reassured my boss that I would be contactable via email and mobile phone throughout the day in the event that any work exigencies arose and that I was well-equipped to handle urgent requests from home.
– I vouched that my productivity would not drop while working from home. If the need arose, I could go into the office on Wednesdays to attend important meetings.
– Most importantly, I promised that I would continue to deliver quality work on time, so that neither my nor my team mates’ work performance would be disadvantaged.
To my delight, my application was approved, on the condition that the Wednesday telecommuting arrangement would be for a three-month trial period, to be extended for another three months if we were both happy with it. At the end of the sixth month, the arrangement would end and upon review, I could put in a fresh telecommuting application if I wished.
My telecommuting arrangement started on 20 June. While it’s too early to evaluate whether this form of flexible work arrangements work for me — and for Coco and for my team — I feel very blessed and thankful to be working for a caring organisation and employer who understands that providing family care is important to working adults, and is willing to take the initiative to help its employees meet both their work and family commitments. With the support of my employer and my family, it does seem that I CAN have it all.
I hope that the article on getting your boss to support your request for a flexible work arrangement will be useful to other working parents too. It may be more challenging if the nature of your job requires you to be at the frontline e.g. receptionist, customer service officer, etc. But you’ll never know until you ask. While you shouldn’t have to wait until your employer officially rolls out family-friendly initiatives to broach the subject, please learn from my mistake and take the time to put together a convincing case to support your request before you do!