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The End Of 9-5 Made Life More Complicated; Here's How To Take Control Again

We can work remotely and multitask and have flex hours—but doing so means we have to coordinate, collaborate, and communicate in ways we didn't have to 20 years ago. Here's what that extra effort looks like in action.

Life was simpler when we worked 9-to-5, in the same office, on the same days, and we had the evenings and weekends to take care of the other parts of life. Today, more of us work from different locations and across time zones, and, if we aren’t careful, our other priorities get lost in the shuffle.

We can telework from home two days a week to avoid sitting in traffic, or shift our hours to meet the plumber before going to the office. But to do this successfully, we have to coordinate, collaborate, and communicate with others in a way that wasn’t necessary back in those simpler days.

My experience is that many people still don’t understand what this extra level of effort looks like in action. Here’s how three people recently figured it out and found satisfaction on and off the job.

"I’ve Accepted That I’m a Coordinator"

Rich is the owner of a small accounting firm, and divorced father of two who shares custody with his ex-wife. He has office space, but for the most part he and his staff work remotely from their respective homes.

He’s a believer in work flexibility. But he had to read my new book, TWEAK IT before he understood that the coordination he did on a regular basis was a necessity, and not an annoying burden:

"One thing I’ve accepted about my work+life fit is that I’m basically a ‘coordinator.’ I feel like I spend a decent part of my day organizing things. In the beginning, it made me mad. But now I realize that part of my life really is about arranging my work, my kids, friends, girlfriend, my own stuff, etc. It’s very key to getting everything done. And if I don’t take the time to get it right, then many things can suffer."

"It Never Crossed My Mind to Collaborate with My Colleagues"

This past week I got a call from a senior level administrator at a nonprofit. He didn't want to retire completely for a while, but he was interested in proposing a plan that would allow him to work remotely for a period of time each year in order to be closer to his grandchildren.

We talked about his job responsibilities, and whether or not they could be done well if he weren’t in the office regularly. For the most part, the answer was "yes," except for the rare instances when a particular issue flared up. His physical presence would be required; however, another senior person could step in initially until he got there. Although these events were infrequent, they were important. And if he couldn’t figure out how to address them, his superiors would have trouble supporting his proposal.

I suggested that he reach out to a few of his peers at similar levels and ask if they would be willing to play the "on call role" for him. And then, to make it fair, offer to cover for them on vacation, or in a way that would be most helpful to their work+life fit.

He paused and responded, "It never crossed my mind to collaborate with colleagues, but that makes complete sense for all of us."

"I Could Ask My Team to Call Me If They Really Need Me"

The truth is that we don’t talk to each other when we want to work flexibly throughout the day.

In our national 2011 Work+Life Fit Reality Check survey, we asked, "When you make those occasional changes in how, when and where you work, who do you discuss those changes with?":
•79% said "your supervisor"
•63% said "your spouse, family or partner"
•52% said "your colleagues"
•45% said "those you supervise"

Imagine how much easier it would be to come in a few minutes later in the morning so that you can meet the plumber, or leave a few minutes earlier to attend your son’s soccer game, if we communicated with and supported each other more openly.

For one woman who recently attended a speech I gave, the challenge was to stop always eating lunch at her desk. She genuinely felt that if she walked away for 30 minutes, something would happen and, therefore, she could never leave.

I challenged her. "Is there another way you could be available but not necessarily at your desk eating?" She responded, "Well, I guess I could bring my phone with me, and I ask my team to call me if they really needed me." She hadn’t thought to ask.

If we want to take back our life, we have to coordinate, collaborate, and communicate with each other in a way that wasn't required in the past. And many of us still don't understand what that means or looks like. As the stories above illustrate, the potential personal and professional payoffs make the effort worth it.

How do you coordinate, collaborate, and communicate with others so that what matters to you—on and off the job—actually happens? Tell us about it in the comments.

Cali Williams Yost has been pioneering ways to lead flexible workplaces in the new economy for nearly two decades. As a consultant, speaker, and CEO and founder of Flex+Strategy Group/Work+Life Fit, she shows organizations and individuals how to partner for award-winning flexible workplace success. She is the author of Tweak It: Make What Matters to You Happen Every Day, (Center Street/Hachette, January 2013). Connect with Cali on her Work+Life Fit blog and onTwitter @caliyost.

[Image: STILLFX via Shutterstock]

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  • NYC Finance

    This is great advice!  Unfortunately, some of us have very "old school" supervisors who think you are not working unless they see you in the office.  I find that when I work remotely, not only am I busier (literally attached to my computer and blackberry -- perhaps to "prove" that yes, I am working), but I get more done without the distractions of being in the office. That said, I can sit in front of my computer for 10-12 hours, only leaving to use the bathroom or grab something from the fridge. It's a fine line with and old school manager as they really don't understand the concept. But, I should also be "available" almost 24/7.  As a manager, I'm very flexible with my staff working remotely. We connect via email and IM constantly, whether in the office or remotely -- I don't think it makes a difference where someone is physically located. And, I find they appreciate being able to work remotely, work longer hours (i.e., no commute!), take less sick/vacation days  and are generally happier. 

  • MomCorps

    Very helpful and informative piece.
    The idea of flexible work options and working remotely has been discussed in
    the media in ways that give professionals unrealistic expectations. And because
    of this, you’re right—many still don’t understand what it takes and what to
    expect in regards to workplace flexibility. Too often, conversations are
    centered on who’s to blame for the mishaps of workplace flexibility, but this
    piece gives us ways to fix them. It would be nice if we could make an impact
    simply by talking about “having it all,” but from a business development
    perspective, we must actually offer doable, rational, and actionable ideas to
    teach professionals and companies how they can find success with workplace
    flexibility. –Allison O’Kelly, founder/CEO of Mom Corps

  • WFRN

    When I managed a small team of 15, I asked my team at regular intervals if there was a small thing that I could do to make it easier for them to be productive at work and have a life.  We implemented many of these small, and not so small changes that benefited both employee morale, willingness to pitch in during unexpected issues and a culture where people didn't feel so stressed. 

  • Pat Katepoo

    [She hadn't thought to ask.] 
    Cali, this is a consistent client issue I've observed over the years, which reflects the research on women's negotiating behaviors (well-cited in one of my favorite books, Women Don't Ask). Of course, men don't always readily see their options, either.

    As your examples demonstrate and encourage, expanding and exploring various options often produces a workable solution.