Fast-forward your career on a flexible schedule
Priyadarshini Gupta, 46, has never believed that flexible work arrangements necessarily imply a compromised career path. Ten years ago, when she started her home chef business, there was no question of quitting her job as a senior consultant in the diversity and inclusion (D&I) section at human resources consulting firm Mercer. “I wanted a meaningful career, but I also wanted to do things I had a passion for,” says Mumbai-based Gupta, calling it a lifestyle, and not life stage, choice.
Over the last decade, Gupta has grown from doing mid-level projects to becoming a D&I expert who now consults with companies like Godrej, Mahindra Logistics, Whirlpool, Larsen & Toubro, and Red Bull. Flexibility, she says, has allowed her to grow, and she’s confident that if she ever had to return to full-time work, she could handle the D&I agenda of an organization at a regional level.
While Gupta has spent a little over a decade working on a flexible schedule at companies like Tata AIG, Cummins Inc. and Mondelez International, the concept of controlling your own work schedule remains relatively new to India. It is, however, fast gaining popularity. According to LinkedIn’s Top Attractors survey in 2016, a flexible work schedule and the ability to work remotely are increasingly important perks for Indian professionals.
On their part, employers have realized that the way to retain motivated and skilled workers is to make sure their personal and professional goals are aligned. Raj Raghavan, director, human resources, Asia Pacific, Amazon, adds that flexible working arrangements have to be backed by robust processes which encourage collaboration, internal cohesiveness, and ownership among team members. “Focus on these elements has led to significant contribution by employees in our virtual customer service (VCS) initiative, which is a work from home opportunity for Amazon employees,” says Raghavan.
Employees, however, still stop short of asking for flexibility benefits. The fallout, they fear, could include being overlooked for key roles, falling off the radar, not being able to keep up with office dynamics, or getting “mommy tracked” (getting fewer opportunities because the organization assumes a mother won’t be able to handle a challenging role). The absence of role models who have proved that flexibility can be successful is another big barrier, says Sonali Roychowdhury, HR director, Procter & Gamble (P&G), India.
However, HR experts believe that your position within the firm today is unlikely to suffer if you want to work your own hours. To work flexi-time and advance your career, keep these things in mind:
Structure your arrangement
Roychowdhury believes that for a flexible work arrangement to succeed, it’s important to have a “proactive conversation” with your employer, where short- and long-term goals, and constraints, if any—like location—are discussed. “Flexibility has to be viewed more broadly than just managing time,” she says, explaining that the arrangement also needs to meet your personal goals.
At P&G, this personalized flexibility approach has been divided into three parts—schedule, career, and benefits flexibility—with options including work from home, flexible hours, less than full-time roles, location-free roles, and personal leave of absence. “A plant manager, who had a need to be based out of a metro location due to schooling requirements for his child, telecommutes on Mondays and Fridays, thus allowing for quality time at home and his personal need for balance. Then there’s a senior leader pursuing a global assignment while working out of India due to personal considerations,” Roychowdhury says.
Be a good communicator
Uma Karunakaran, an HR and learning consultant who works with organizations such as Accenture, BPCL and Knorr-Bremse, believes employees need to take the lead in making sure all expectations and outcomes are spelt out and planned. “Maintaining an open communication channel is very important,” says Mayank Chandra, managing partner, Antal International, a recruitment consultancy. Employees need to be rigorous about sharing morning and evening reports, discussing day plans versus achievements by end of day. “Have informal meetings with people in office to understand what’s going on,” says Karunakaran.
She says that while working a flexible schedule, it’s important to ensure that your contribution is visible, tangible and measurable. “Out of sight can easily be out of mind, the employee has to make sure that’s not the case. For example, a strategic HR partner working from home can’t just be sending dashboards—that’s just administrative work. This person will have to be clued in to the business requirements, where the business is heading, and give vital strategic inputs,” explains Karnunakaran.
Regular face-to-face meetings are crucial. “Employees should be open to travelling every month/fortnight to meet the people they are reporting to. Also, video-conferencing has become a very crucial tool,” says Chandra.
Gupta says that while her work style has been flexible, the content, scope and delivery have always been critical to the organization. Compressed work weeks, part-time work or job sharing have never really been part of her work ethic. “In the past 10 years, there have been many weeks I have worked all seven days and then months that I have taken off to explore or run a home-stay in Goa,” she says.
On her part, constant prioritization, a focus on the job at hand and a readiness to collaborate have helped her succeed. “As for the organizations, their belief in my capability and trust has actually made me extra conscientious of what I do,” she says.
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