In November 2015 Women’s Agenda and Professional Mums published their second Part Time Power List. A list of the most influential professionals working part time*. As I scrolled through the list, it struck me that most of the professionals on this list worked at least four days per week, some five days or more per week.
As a part time professional myself, I consider most of the professionals on this list to be full time with flexible work arrangements. Not part time. Flexible Work Arrangement Power List doesn’t have quite the same ring to it though, does it?
Let’s not confuse working part time with working full time with flexible working arrangements. They are very different arrangements. Both can involve flexible work arrangements such as working from home and varied start and finish times. The distinction is important: working part time means that there are other parts of your time usually dedicated to work that you are dedicating to something else whether it be family, a hobby or another job. Being constantly connected to work via phone and/or email while simultaneously engaging in another activity eg parenting, a hobby or another job is NOT working part time.
More genuine part time career opportunities are needed for working parents.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s fantastic to see so many influential organisations on this list allowing their staff to access flexible working arrangements, including varied start and finish times and the ability to work from home, and there should be more of it for everyone (not just parents).
Even before I became a working mum, I thought the corporate world’s obsession with face time in the office from 8.30am to 5pm Monday to Friday to be unnecessary. Especially since technology now allows us to be connected to work remotely via email and phone. The downside to this though is the temptation to stay connected once you leave the office and have your personal/leisure time interrupted by work. I’m sure many professionals are doing more than a full time week of work these days.
Since returning to work in a part time capacity almost four years ago, initially two days a week and then three days a week, I have learnt a lot about managing myself as a part time employee to ensure my reputation as a reliable, competent and productive professional remains intact. I have found the keys to being a successful part time professional are communication, work/life boundaries and managing expectations.
Here are my power tips for part time professionals:
1. When you’re feeling overwhelmed with your to do list, ask yourself “what must I do today and in what order?”. This makes sure you are meeting deadlines, colleagues’ expectations and will hopefully make you feel calmer.
2. Work everyday like it might be your last. When you’re a working mum, or anyone for that matter, you never know if you might unexpectedly find yourself on carers leave or sick leave. At the end of every day I always make sure my record keeping is up to date so colleagues can find my work if they need to. There’s nothing worse for you and your colleagues if you’ve put lots of time and effort into a document that never sees the light of day because you had an unexpected hospital stay on your work days (yes, this has happened to me when my first born had reactive airways). You will also enjoy your days off far more if you don’t have to worry about loose ends at work.
3. Be focused at work. This is a skill you’ll master as your child settles in to daycare and you settle back into work. Some days will be easier than others. I often feel like I’m an ‘on call Mum’ at work. In reality, I’ve had very few phone calls from day care during work time. I even stopped taking my mobile phone to short meetings to ensure I am giving the people in the meeting my full attention. This is one of my favourite things about work – giving others my undivided attention and reconnecting to my professional skills and strengths without distractions.
4. Have an automatic out of office message set up for your ‘days off’ telling people when you will read their email and who to contact for urgent enquiries. If you expect anything significant might happen on your days off make sure your contact person is available on these days, knows enough about your work to assist and can contact you in an emergency. To ensure this system works though you need to establish clear expectations on what constitutes ‘urgent’ with your colleagues and clients.
5. Consider whether you can commit to checking emails and phone messages once a day on your days off. This may alleviate your colleagues and managers concerns about your part-time arrangement. I used to do this during my son’s nap time. I’d do a quick scan of unread emails and only respond to anything that couldn’t wait until my return. You may also need to ask your employer for permission or special access to be able to check your emails from home. Now that I have 2 kids at home (and 1 that never naps) I rarely have a quiet moment to check emails. I rely on my previous tip more these days.
What strategies do YOU find to be the most useful for successfully working part time? Let me know in the comments below.
*You can read the full article about the ‘Part Time Power List’ here.