Want to Telecommute? What You Need to Know About Flexible Work Arrangements

Back in June, the president issued a directive to all executive level departments, calling on them to expand the use and availability of flexible work arrangements that make it easier for employees to enjoy greater work/life balance. “In doing so, we can help ensure that the Federal workforce is engaged and empowered to deliver exceptional and efficient service to the American public while meeting family and other needs at home,” the president said. The agencies were asked to review their current policies and amend or establish flexible work arrangements as necessary.

While the directive ensures that agencies have policies on these programs, that does not mean that you are automatically qualified to participate. It is still left to the discretion of the agency, and your boss, as to who can enter into flexible work agreements.

If you’re interested in pursuing a flexible work schedule, here’s what you need to know:

What might be available to me?

There are a variety of flexible work programs available, including job sharing, part-time employment, telework, compressed work schedules, and flexible work schedules (these can be known as flexitour, gliding, variable day, variable week, and maxiflex, and each offers a different degree of flexibility). Here, we’ll focus primarily on the latter three.

I know what teleworking is, but what’s the difference between the compressed and flexible work schedules?

Compressed work schedules are fixed, and traditionally the employee will work 9-hour days, and have one extra day off every two weeks. In some instances, employees can receive approval to work four 10-hour days, and have an extra day off each week. Either way, a full-time employee must work 80 hours over the course of two weeks.

The flexible work schedule has the same 80-hour requirement, but at hours that are more convenient to the employee. Each agency sets specific “core” hours during which the employee must work and then the employee is free to choose whether he or she would like to start earlier in the morning, or work later in the evening in time slots that are known as “bands”. Agencies can determine whether to let employees complete this work requirement in less than 10 days over two weeks.

Are there limitations on who can request a flexible work arrangement?

Everything is at the discretion of your agency, and more importantly, your boss. If they don’t feel like the arrangement will work, you probably won’t be permitted to do it. For teleworking specifically, there are some positions that are not conducive to such an arrangement, like someone who regularly works with highly classified information or who has frequent face-to-face contact each day. By law, employees who have “been officially disciplined for being absent without permission for more than 5 days in any calendar year” or someone who has been disciplined for “reviewing, downloading, or exchanging” pornography during work hours or while on a government computer, are not permitted to telework.

How can I make flexible work arrangement benefit me and my boss?

You’ve hit the nail on the head—flexible work arrangements are only effective if you can logistically make it work for you and your boss sees the benefit, too. If you find that you are too easily distracted by other things at home when you’re teleworking, or if your boss sees your productivity suffer, your plan won’t work out. So, what can you do?

Conduct a self assessment: Think about why you want an alternate work schedule, why it is better than your current arrangement, what challenges you might face in a new work schedule (and how you’ll overcome them), how would your personal life would benefit, and how that would that impact your work. When you approach your boss to discuss an alternate work schedule, explain what you’ve learned from the assessment, particularly how you think you could be a better employee.

Set a plan: Decide with your boss what times you’ll be working and on what days, and how you’ll log those hours. How will your boss know that you’re in at 6:00am if he or she isn’t there? This plan should include notes on what you’ll need if you’ll be working at home or outside of the customary hours your boss works (what supplies do you need at home, or what information might you need to work on your projects once your boss leaves for the day—obviously the latter will change regularly).

Understand what’s expected of you: Will your boss expect something different from you now that your schedule has changed? Are there duties that need to be completed early in the day that will now be assigned to you? And will your performance be judged differently? Talk about all of these things with your boss so that you know the expectations and can plan your days accordingly.

Anything else I should know?

If you are going to be a teleworker, you’ll need to attend a telework training (this applies whether you plan to make this a permanent work schedule, if you’ll be doing it on a temporary basis or from time to time when OPM calls for unscheduled leave). OPM’s training is located at: www.telework.gov/tools_and_resources/training/index.aspx, but your agency might have its own. You’ll also need to enter into a written telework agreement with your boss. This plan will include the location at which you’ll work, what equipment you’ll have, your schedule, a safety checklist, and some contact information.

No matter what arrangement you set up, be sure you understand how you’ll be compensated for working on holidays, Sundays, or working overtime, and whether you can receive credit hours.

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