Want More Flexibility in Your Schedule? Just Ask

Nearly 80 percent of employees say they would like more flexibility in their careers.

Most people, though, have difficulty trying to persuade their boss to give them what they want.

While nothing is a sure bet, there are smart steps you can take toward achieving your work/life balance goals by adjusting your hours and work style.

Summer is a great time to approach your boss for a flexible accommodation because most industries are generally a bit slower, and people often take half-day Fridays or are more casual.

This isn't true everywhere, but there's potentially more opportunity for trial periods now.

Do your homework

Before you knock on the boss' door, you have to do your homework. Look at policies and protocol within your company. Talk to people you work with who telecommute and find out what worked for them. Sometimes your boss will be more receptive if he knows that other departments or other companies -- especially competitors -- are doing the same thing.

Talk to peers and friends in your industry and even your neighborhood to learn about policies in their companies. Employers competing for talent want to know that their policies are comparable to their competitors or they risk losing good people.

When the boss says, "Sorry, it's not our policy to allow you to telecommute," you can respond by saying, "Telecommuting has proven highly effective for many companies -- both big and small -- in recruiting and retaining the best people and increasing productivity and morale. In fact, I've researched companies in our industry that have implemented such programs that have worked out well, and I'd like to share my findings with you."

Focus on mutual benefits

Another "no" many people face is from the boss who says, "Sorry, but we need you in the office because 'face time' is so important."

Your response: "As much as I appreciate the value of face-to-face, in-person contact, the truth is that much of my time in the office is spent at my desk, in front of my computer and on the phone because of the nature of my work. With a telecommuting arrangement, someone like me could still be working in the office a few days a week. I would schedule my time in the office to be there for regular meetings that require my attendance. On my work-at-home days, I would be completely accessible by phone and e-mail just as I am now."

There's extensive research that indicates companies can expect increased productivity from home-based employees. There's little truth to the notion that home-based workers slack off. In fact, they often put in more hours than their traditional colleagues.

If working from home means you'll avoid three hours or four hours of commuting time, offer to give back half of the time to the company, and half of it goes to you. No one loses; everybody gains. Stress that your proposal would be beneficial for both the boss and for you.

Propose a trial

A common dismissal from managers is, "If we make an exception for you, we'll have to do it for everyone."

The reality, however, is not everyone wants to work from home. Many people love the camaraderie and environment of the office and they want or need to be there every day. For those who want to work at home, they have to be sure it works for their lifestyle, the position, and for the company.

The best way to prove this to your boss is with a trial period that has defined goals. In general, a great employee in the office will be a great employee at home. So propose benchmarks.

If your employer were to allow you to work from home one day a week, or leave an hour earlier to reduce your time in the office, or to use hourly vacation or any of the other flexibility programs, how would the success of this benefit be measured? Make sure you both agree on the goals and the methods of continuous communication.

Take small steps and don't expect overnight miracles. Offer to work from home just one or two days a week to start, and suggest a three-month trial period before pressing the boss for a permanent change. If the arrangement works well, your boss will see the benefits.

Remember -- if you want it to work, you can't use the "I didn't know" excuse because you weren't in the office. You have to actively make sure that nothing falls through the cracks. Accept the responsibility for communication and performance. This will build trust between you and your boss and co-workers.

Tory Johnson is the workplace contributor on "Good Morning America" and the CEO of Women for Hire. To connect directly with Johnson, visit www.womenforhire.com.