I’ve been a flex worker for nearly 10 years now. In some workplaces, this kind of arrangement still raises eyebrows. I realize that change takes time, and changing attitudes can take a very long time indeed. That’s unfortunate for many reasons when it comes to work flexibility, because it allows everybody concerned to save a fortune in time, money, and stress… and who doesn’t want that?
When my youngest child started full-day kindergarten, I knew I didn’t want to return to the practice of law. It was simply not conducive to being the primary care parent, which I was, or prioritizing family life, which I wanted. Ann Crittenden’s The Price of Motherhood had opened my eyes to the sexism I had not educated myself out of. I had learned a bit about public policy from watching advocacy organizations in Washington D.C. and attending their events. I had learned a great deal about gender inequality, feminism, sexism, and economic consequences of unpaid domestic labor by being a mother. I was ready to jump back in from an entirely new angle.
I got on list serves hosted by organizations like the Center for American Progress, the National Women’s Law Center, Legal Momentum, and the National Partnership for Women & Families. I went to all their briefings, learned my way around the U.S. Capitol, and studied the art of getting called on during the Q&A sessions. I read their reports, and discovered there was a whole group of incredibly dedicated people making their living by pushing for policies that would make families operate better, promote women’s economic security, and really change the country. It brought such a welcome counterweight to the kid-centric pull of my life. It was multi-syllabic, among other things—like relevant, immediate, meaty, and fun. It made sense of my frustrations, brought clarity to my understanding of my own situation, and put in context my experience.
Just after the holidays during my youngest’s kindergarten year, I was approached by a panelist following a briefing on the impact of Social Security privatization on women’s financial security. I’ll never forget it. She said, “I see you everywhere I go. You know the answers to all these questions, and you know the subject matter as well as I do. Would you like to come and work for me 20 hours a week on this issue?” Could I really be that lucky?
Gentle reader, I was! I spent a year going downtown three days a week, first countering the privatization effort, then working for paid family leave, reporting on state polices around parental and sick leave, and even collaborating in the effort to get family caregivers income credits on their Social Security statements for time spent doing the unpaid work of family care. When that job ended, a mothers’ rights non-profit I’d been volunteering with asked me to come on board with them, reporting on legislative progress in Washington and engaging their members in policy matters pertinent to mothers. They had no local office—I’d be working out of my home, popping downtown for meetings and briefings, and using Google+ for staff conferences. In addition to the substance of my policy work, I blog and post, use SALSA and Constant Contact, talk, type, and text my way across the country… and sometimes further too.
Being in control of my work and my work space has allowed me an unsurpassed level of efficiency. No daily commuting, traffic frustrations, or parking to pay for. When I flip open the laptop, I’m “at work” with no one wandering in to shoot the breeze. Emails take care of most things, weekly staff meetings in real time allow me to see and hear my colleagues, digital calendars show us what each other is doing. I’ve never missed a deadline in 10 years, nor a parent-teacher conference or school event. During that time I got two children through elementary school, one into and off to college, and one going through the visits and admission process now. I’ve become an expert in my field and been around for the after-school hours with my kids. I’ve had dinner with my family almost every night, while generating a chunk of the household income. My clients put their money into me and my work product, not office space, furniture, and gourmet coffee. I have a deep bench of work friends right here, and regularly see them at coalition meetings, briefings, panel discussions, and so on. I love it.
I can’t imagine working the old-fashioned way would yield better results. Instead, I know it would slow me down, commuting would stress me out, and my time would be fragmented. Being in an office would cost so much more, yet my work product would be precisely the same. Who wants that? Flex makes sense for me, my work, and my family. Color me flex-y.
photo credit: istockphoto.com