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How not to be an asshole when you work a flexible schedule

Fact: The modern workplace looks very different today than it did twenty years ago. Many of the changes are the result of new technologies enabling new work processes and habits. One of the biggest shifts? The freedom to work anywhere, anytime.

More and more of us are asking for—and receiving—formal permission to work a flexible schedule. Flexible can mean everything from where you do your work (home instead of the office) to when you do it (7 a.m. to 3 p.m. instead of the more typical 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.). Sometimes it’s for a specific duration—while tending to a sick parent or caring for a newborn. Other times, it’s a standing arrangement—having the ability to work two days a week from home rather than endure a three-hour commute every day.

Regardless of how and why you earn a flexible schedule, your employer expects that the arrangement enhances, not impinges upon, your ability to do the job you were hired to do. Flextime usually leads to happier employees and better output, but it’s incumbent upon the employee to do it well so the perks aren’t one-sided. This is particularly true for workers who enjoy flexibility that coworkers don’t necessarily have.

If you’re lucky enough to be granted a flexible schedule, safeguard it—and your professional reputation—by avoiding these common pitfalls.

1. Assuming people “get” the arrangement. Your colleagues don’t need to know every detail of your private life, but, to the extent you can share with your team why you need the accommodation, they’ll have an easier time getting on board with your privileges.

2. Acting like you deserve it more. When it comes to validating flextime, don’t assign a higher value to your own needs. Caring for a newborn may trump crate-training a puppy in your estimation, but keep that to yourself.

Caring for a newborn may trump crate-training a puppy in your estimation, but keep that to yourself.

3. Abusing the privilege. You know what I’m talking about: blocking out time on your schedule for errands, but pretending it’s a conference call. Or starting your workday at 9:20 a.m. rather than 8:30 a.m., simply because no one is around to notice—unless that’s an agreed-upon aspect of your flex schedule.

4. Allowing a colleague or direct report to suffer because of your flexible schedule. It’s an asshole move to put coworkers in the position of having to explain to a client why you’re not there or run a meeting in your absence. Another way to inflict pain? Constantly reminding colleagues about the complexities of your work-life balance, as if no one else is juggling shit, too.

Another way to inflict pain? Constantly reminding colleagues about the complexities of your work-life balance, as if no one else is juggling shit, too.

5. Leaving coworkers hanging. It’s one thing to ghost an ex (we’ve all been there.) It’s another to go radio silent on your colleagues the afternoon before a big presentation. Before you stop work for the day or the week, make sure your team knows exactly where your projects stand. Over-communicate so that no one is ever left guessing when you’ve stopped work for the day, or when you’ll be back online.

6. Spending too much office time at the water cooler. Sure, flextime can be lonely, and it’s nice to connect with coworkers when you’re onsite. But limit the time you spend chatting about non-work events. Nobody likes a no-show who still somehow finds the time to gossip.

7. Checking office manners at the (bedroom) door. When you work from home, no one really knows if you stay in your jammies all day, but just...don’t. Got a video meeting? Put your best face forward, just as if you were in the office. And when you’re on the phone for work, silence your home phone, don’t leave the dryer running in the background, and (try to) keep the dog from barking.

Not being an asshole when you enjoy a flexible schedule at work often comes down to maintaining strict boundaries between your private and professional lives and resisting utter self-absorption, even as you juggle your unique set of challenges. As you manage the myriad issues that arise from working from home or taking calls in the car, it’s up to you to make sure your customers, clients, and colleagues feel the value of your flextime, too.

Laura Shear is a Bay Area-based freelance writer and consultant. Once a professional chef, she now primarily cooks for a discerning party of four… with mixed success. She's addicted to home improvement projects and rescue puppies and firmly believes rosé should be enjoyed year-round. Through her writing, she enjoys tackling the thorny issues around parenting, generational cohorts, and cultural trends, endeavoring to do so without being too snarky.