An Independent Venture: Flexible Work Arrangements – Working Less

In the previous post I talked about working from home and keeping the approximate same hours. Below I’ll talk about the ways I looked into working different hours or less hours.

Flex Time

This a really popular option among tech and non-tech companies. The way it works is you work an extra hour for 8 days and you get the 9th day off so you keep your average of 80 hours per 2 week period. This doesn’t work in tech.

Flexible work arrangements typically require either hourly work or a fixed frame of time where you are working. In tech, full time employees are intentionally not hourly so they can be asked to work extra hours and the company pays the same salary either way. Similarly in tech, companies offer core hours and flexible start and end times otherwise. You can do 7 – 3 or 9 – 5 or 11 – 7. Due to this pressure to work long hours and a lack of consistent work time, flex-time tends not to work. Managers are happy to have you work an extra hour a day but you can’t have an extra vacation day.

Exception: The only exception to this is if you are on-call or supporting a customer product and you are asked to work nights or weekends. In these cases, I’ve been told to take the corresponding amount of time off that I worked.

Part Time

You’ve probably wondered if you could work 4 instead of 5 days a week and just get paid 20% less. Why not have a long weekend every weekend? This would be the thought process that lead me to ask about part-time arrangements.

I have seen part-time arrangements put in place at some of the old tech companies and some of the new ones, for young and old, for test and dev, for women and men. So what does it take to get in on this and what does it look like?

Here are some of the examples I’ve seen:

  • Highly valued software tester was going to quit to be a full time mother and she was convinced to work 3 days per week
  • Highly valued developer with PTSD was allowed to work 4 days per week and work from home 2 days of those 4 days per week
  • A full team was working part time to investigate the impact of offering this option: each member worked 4 days per week for 6 hours per day

When I asked about how I could get in on this, both the examples and the management gave the same response: you either need to be a superstar at this company for 5+ years or you need to be a lab rat. I was neither unfortunately so this wasn’t an option for me.

Being part-time outside of being a superstar or a lab rat means that you have to sacrifice benefits such as health care or other company programs like parking discounts or gym memberships. Health care is quite pricey and it does grind away at your self-esteem when you are treated as less than your peers even though you put in the same rate of effort, just for less time.

As a note, there are plenty of articles that explain why 8 hours per day is a recipe for stress, physical exhaustion, and just an unproductive worker. Example: work less hours

Related Articles:

Shared Worked

This is a really unusual option that I haven’t seen in play before. I’ve only seen reports of it.

The way this works is you have two people who can work a particular position. They will together do 1 person’s worth of work for 1 person’s pay. Typically these two people need to apply for the position together as if they were a single person and then work with the hiring manager to outline how they can split their responsibilities. I’ve only seen this proposed for managerial positions where 1 person would do a lot of coaching and career development and the other would do project management.

In order for this to be successful, you need to first find a person that has complementary skills to your and who you can work with closely. Next you’ll need to do the hard part of applying for jobs together and convincing your prospective employers why two people are better than one. Given how people are happier and more productive when they work fewer hours, you might actually be able to do this fairly effectively. Similarly, if you have a managerial position that involves a lot of travel, you might be able to make a good case for it.

As far as engineering positions go, I have never seen this before. I suspect this might have a lot to do with engineers having too many responsibilities or too few. If you manage code, deploy, test, debug, devops, design, planning, interviewing, and mentoring, it becomes hard to group those into equal parts without creating two separate roles. Similarly, if you only code and test, you will become too narrowly scoped if you only do one or the other. That’s my theory anyway.

Unfortunately, it looks like the “work less” options are all bust. Next up are ways you can take time off.

An Independent Venture: Flexible Work Arrangements – Working from Home

Continuing with this series of posts, I’ll describe some of the flexible work arrangements I’ve investigated. Thus far, I’ve explained that once I determined that my job was the main source of my unhappiness in life, I started researching how to change it.

I was working in a large tech company that was typical Monday to Friday, 7 – 9 hours of work per day. This company offered me all of the benefits of working for a large, established company that was successful enough to liberally fund its development groups. Given that this was a very comfortable position, I started off looking at ways I could make it work for me but also change the situation. Previously, I described ways of making small changes to your work life to reduce stress without any significant job changes. The changes here are more significant and will require working with your managers or potentially your HR department.

Working at Home

If you find that you are unhappy at work either because of your commute, your coworkers, or the work environment, you can look into working from home. This can take a few different forms and which works best will depend on the problem. Here are a few things I’ve tried.

Work from home in the morning to reduce commute stress

I noticed that my commute was causing me some stress, especially on days with bad weather. My commute time would go from 1 hour to 1.5 hours. Sometimes I’d be squished between smelly commuters in an overheated bus. Or stuck waiting on an off-ramp for 30 min. I decided I could try to change this by working from home in the mornings just until after rush hour and still make it in time for team stand-up.

I approached my boss about this asking if the work arrangement would work. Since no one in that team booked meetings before stand-up unless absolutely necessary, the arrangement had no problem and I got the green light immediately. Here’s a comparison of what changed:

  • Work start time: 9 am → 8 am
  • Commute time: 1 – 1.5 hours → 40 min to 1 hour
  • Commute method: Bus or car → car
  • Daily cost: Bus (free) or car ($20) →  car ($20)
  • Likelihood of finding parking in my building: 100% → 0%

Did this work? No. I exchanged my commute stress for more costly commuting and stress finding parking. Interestingly, I later found that if I rode a motorcycle, I would get free, guaranteed parking. Unfortunately, that does have an increased risk of death. [Disclaimer: I currently ride a motorcycle to work from time to time when I want to come in late]

Let’s try a different tack.

Work from home to avoid going to and being at work

Since working part of the day didn’t work out, I upgraded to trying out the full day. It turns out a lot of people like working from home or at least not having to work from their desk. Several of my teams have had a policy where if you don’t have meetings in a day, you don’t need to be in. Virtual stand-up was supported on these teams. Generally, I made use of this as often as I could, which was probably 2 – 3 times per month.

When I approached my managers on each new team and described my circumstances with stress and work, they said they understood and wished they could accommodate me. Usually they would say I could work from home if there were no meetings but I had to be at work during team meetings. On some teams they said they didn’t trust that the team would be productive if everyone started working from home (apparently the natural escalation from accommodating my needs is that everyone is going to want to work from home).

I decided to talk to HR about what I could do to force the issue. I did have a doctor or two that could certify that I have a need to reduce my exposure to stress at work so I could swing it if needed. HR at more than one company said that I could go the medical route but if my manager wasn’t willing to support the accommodation, my performance would suffer.

Conclusion: this is a good option but ultimately not in my control.

Can I just work from home all the time?

I never tried this. If working for myself doesn’t work out, this is what I’ll be aiming for. So, why didn’t I try this out?

Doing a fully remote job is definitely on my radar. One of the catches I’ve noticed about some remote jobs is that they require you to be at an office from time to time. This can range from once a year to once a week. Depending on your location and life situation, this can be challenging.

For my next venture of working for myself, I will primarily focus on working at home and going to meet clients when necessary. This won’t be easy or simple. I will need to make sure not to fall into the traps of working where I live like getting distracted by my cats, sleeping in too late, or just not being in the right mindset. There will likely be a post from me on that topic later on.

Next up: An Independent Venture: Flexible Work Arrangements – Working Less