Job-sharing is a growing part of the flex work movement, and it’s personal for Irenka Krone-Germann and Mirko Humbert. Irenka, who co-founded the PTO (Part-Time Optimization) Association in 2014 with Anne de Chambrier, is now director of the association and co-founder of We Jobshare Sàrl. More than 20 people and experts are now working actively in Switzerland as part of the initiative to promote these flexible working models. Irenka holds a doctorate in economics and has authored several books and papers on job-sharing and part-time employment. After spending years as a digital nomad, Mirko, a freelance designer, decided that work-life balance should be at the center of employees’ interests. That led him to serve as the other co-founder of We Jobshare Sàrl. The website that is part of the PTO Association, www.go-for-jobsharing.ch, contains tools and instruments to help people of both genders implement job-sharing models at all levels of a company’s hierarchy. As businesses take those steps, all of those involved in the movement hope the resulting flexibility will lead to better balance between women and men in the professional environment and improved work-life balance for everyone in society. Irenka and Mirko are preparing for the 2nd International Colloquium on Job and TOP Sharing, scheduled for Nov. 6 in Basel, Switzerland.

1MFWF: What is your personal experience with and interest in job sharing, specifically, and work flexibility, in general?

Mirko: As a freelance designer, flexibility was always at the center of my work life. Since the beginning of my career, I’ve been pursuing a freedom of movement that cannot be achieved with a 9-to-5 job. Thanks to the internet, I spent four years in China as a digital nomad, working for clients based anywhere in the world. Coming back to Switzerland, I gave up part of the freedom of movement when I became a father, but the quest for flexibility was still there, as I needed to make time for my son and daughter. I came on board of the Association PTO during the year 2015 and helped Irenka and Anne with the promotion of the first colloquium on job sharing. Since then, I have been exploring this option for my own career and already gave it a chance to build a company with Irenka.

Irenka: I work as a “slash-er” (two jobs in two different, interesting fields), and thanks to job sharing, I could do both and even more activities (social ones). Job sharing is more than a working model. It is a spirit of work and sharing, where you learn in your work with your professional partner by exchanging ideas and concepts. In 2016, I had the chance to co-found with Mirko Humbert the first matchmaking platform, www.wejobshare.ch.

1MFWF: The PTO Association and “Go-for-Jobsharing” initiative recently released a new “practical guide” on job sharing. What is your primary audience for this publication, and what do you hope it will achieve?

Irenka and Mirko: We have two main audiences: job seekers and employers. On both ends of the job market, we meet the same challenge: the lack of knowledge. Employees don’t know how to find a partner and apply for the job, while HR teams are afraid of the unknown. We tackle this issue by explaining what job sharing is and giving practical advice to get started. We also have testimonials and films that are very important, as they show what can be achieved with the help of job sharing.

We also have groups that can have more specific interest in job sharing; for example, men or women who would like to reduce their working hours after having a baby, older people who would like to work less in their last years before retirement, or managers who could greatly benefit from a top sharing. All these specific cases are discussed in the guide.

1MFWF: The association is planning a colloquium on job sharing in Basel on Nov. 6. Why is this the right time for such an event, and for whom is it most important?

Irenka and Mirko: Thanks to digitalization of the workplace, flexible work has been making tremendous progress worldwide. However, we feel that this progress comes more in specific industries and from freelancers who organized themselves differently. In larger companies with complex structures, we see more and more needs for flex work, and the interest of these companies in working models like job sharing has become stronger. We feel that job sharing can be a wonderful tool for them to take a step in that direction, but they need to be convinced of it. A one-day event with top speakers is a good way to convey this knowledge, as it gives the HR managers an opportunity to meet with the job-sharing experts.

1MFWF: Speakers and presenters at the event include everyone from government officials and politicians to researchers and business leaders (including U.S.-based 1MFWF supporters Paul Rupert and Melissa Nicholson). Why is it important to have such a diverse group discussing job sharing? How can these different kinds of people work together to help promote this kind of flexibility?

Irenka and Mirko: The international aspect is very important to us. We want to show that the issue is global; it’s not just a Swiss issue. The international aspect is also important for Swiss companies, as one-fifth of the Swiss population comes from other countries. We think that cross-cultural job sharing could greatly help with integration of this foreign workforce. Also, each country that will be at the colloquium faces different types of issues to implement job sharing, mostly related to labor laws. Discussing the issues faced will help to give us a better understanding of the actions needed on the road to job sharing.

1MFWF: While this conference is taking place in Europe, work flexibility is a topic that is growing in importance everywhere. What do you see as the future for job sharing worldwide? What should people who are interested in job sharing and other flexible work options do now to prepare for that future?

Irenka and Mirko: Work has already changed drastically in the past years, especially in the industries that have been most impacted by the sharing economy. The hotel and taxi industry have changed forever, and other industries will follow. Experts have mixed feelings on these changes. The main drawback is the lack of social security and income stability in the new jobs created by the sharing economy. We feel like job sharing is the right tool to bring the sharing economy to the corporate world, without the inconvenience. We believe once companies start to really understand the potential of job sharing and overcome their fears, they will give it a bigger chance, so it may take a bigger share of part-time employment.

On the employee’s side, we believe that “slash careers” are a great option to prepare for the future of work. Multiple careers seem to be the right choice in order to get ready for the increasing demand for different skills from employers. It also allows for a more fulfilling work-life balance and sharing views and ideas between working sectors. Big companies can also highly profit from it, as creativity and innovation will come in the company and increase the overall benefits.

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photo credit: Irenka Krone-Germann (l), Mirko Humbert (r),