Flexible Work Arrangements: Do You Dare Ask in an Interview?

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Flexible work arrangements are growing in popularity. An increasing number of employees work remotely, have flexible schedules, or work compressed workweeks. Flexible work arrangements can be attractive not only to employees, but also to employers who want to prevent burnout and improve employee retention.

Basecamp, the popular online project tool, is a Chicago-based company that has found great success with a team of employees who are all free to work remotely. Taking flexible work beyond simple telecommuting, the company allows employees to work a 32-hour week for a third of the year. Basecamp ardently believes that productivity is heightened, not hampered, by flexible work arrangements.

It would seem that employees at many companies would agree with Basecamp’s belief. One study  found workplace flexibility was a top job consideration for workers across generations, ranking right under salary and benefits. Another study by PwC, the University of Southern California, and the London Business School found that “a significant number of employees from all generations feel so strongly about wanting a flexible work schedule that they would be willing to give up pay and delay promotions in order to get it.”

Broaching the Subject of Flexible Work in the Job Search

If you value flexible work arrangements and are on the job hunt, how do you ascertain whether a potential employer would be open to giving you the work arrangement you want? Is it wise to inquire about flexible options in an interview, or will doing so reduce your chance of landing the position?

There are two key questions to ask yourself before you ask a potential employer about flexible work:

  1. How important is it to them? Is this a company that values predictability and face time? Is a centralized team integral to smooth operations? More traditional companies will be slower to change, while startups are more likely to have flexible options from the outset. Some international companies may even prefer you keep a shifted schedule to align better with work hours in another part of the world. Understand how work arrangements fit into a company’s overall values and structures.
  2. How important is it to you? What are your priorities in a work arrangement? If you will be unhappy in a rigid work environment, you aren’t doing yourself or the company any favors by punting the discussion. It’s worth sitting down to make a list of your priorities to understand where flexibility falls. Ask yourself if you would want to work at this company even if you had to keep a traditional schedule. Underlying this issue is the kind of work culture you want to join. That is a key consideration in selecting a position that will be a good fit for the long term.

You’ve Decided to Ask: How Should You Do It?

pathA job interview is a protracted dialogue. Flexible work arrangements are one data point among many that you and the potential employer will be investigating. You want to ask questions in a way that shows you are invested in the mission of the company and in establishing a mutually beneficial relationship.

The best way to understand the lay of the land is to inquire about how teams function best in the organization. Your questions should be organically related to learning about the organization of the company. Asking, “Can I work from home?” can seem abrupt, and it may suggest you are less invested in the position than other candidates are.

A more savvy question would be, “How are your teams structured? What work arrangements have you found best serve your mission?” From there, you can move to more specific questions about the hours  employees keep.

Insight From the Employer’s Answer

If an employer has a flexible work program or expresses openness to the idea, great! If they are adamantly against it or express hesitation, the reason behind the answer is as important as the answer itself.

If the company is committed to doing things the way they have always been done simply because they’ve always been done that way, it should raise a red flag. A recalcitrant management style will not create an environment where you or your career will flourish.

If the company has been burned by employees in the past who abused a flexible work program or is hesitant out of concern for how flexible work might affect productivity or client experience, those are concerns you may ease by proving your dedication as an employee.

Cheryl Hyatt is partner at Hyatt-Fennell Executive Search. 

By Cheryl Hyatt