Flexible and remote working might be all the rage, but there’s one workplace arrangement that doesn’t get as much exposure as it should. Job Sharing.
Choose the right partner
If you have a say in the matter, be sure to select someone with whom you can easily communicate, collaborate, and disagree. These arrangements often require difficult conversations about prioritizing work, office politics, and personal matters so you want to be sure you pick someone compatible. But don’t seek out your perfect clone either. These situations work best for you — and for the company — says Bailyn, if the job sharers have complementary skills, experience, and perspectives.
Decide how to divide up the work
“There are a number of ways to slice any given job,” says Williams. “It’s important to conceptualize all different parts and divide them up in the most effective way.” Some people split the work by each taking responsibility for certain tasks. This is called the “islands model” or a “job split.” Others share the same workload and simply divide up the days (usually with a bit of overlap). This is called the “twins model” and is often the simpler of the two. The model you choose will depend on the nature of the job and what preferences and skills each of you bring to it.
Communicate, communicate, communicate
“For job-sharing to work well, both parties must zealously convey and seek information from the other,” says Friedman. “Think ‘mind meld.'” Ideally this communication should happen face-to-face, says Bailyn, but many job sharers use other ways to connect, including email, phone, and Skype. Use this time to agree on work priorities, discuss any issues that have come up, pass off work if necessary, and check in about how things are going generally. “You can’t leave anything unspoken. It has to be very explicit,” says Williams.
Secure your supervisor’s support
If you proposed the arrangement, make sure your boss is onboard. “It’s possible to be successful in an organization that doesn’t generally support job sharing but not if your manager is against it,” says Williams. “If your supervisor doesn’t support it, it’s probably not going to work.” Ask your boss for feedback regularly. Be vigilant about communicating with her about the arrangement. When Friedman was a senior executive at Ford Motor Company, a pair of his direct reports shared a job. “What made it work so well was their willingness to go the extra mile to keep me and others informed about how they were coordinating their work; this gave all those involved a sense of confidence and trust that this was a good deal not just for the job-sharers but for our company,” he says.
Manage expectations and perceptions
Indeed, it’s not only your boss who needs to be informed. Anyone you work with—colleagues, clients, vendors—needs to know how to reach each of you and who they can expect to respond when. Some job sharers will share an email account and phone number. Others automatically cc their other half when responding to any email. The key is to make sure it’s a seamless experience for everyone around you. “All those who interact with you should experience a unity of understanding and purpose,” says Friedman. And any time you talk about the arrangement, focus on how it benefits the organization. “The main thrust of communications with co-workers and clients should focus on the benefits to others, especially the ‘two heads are better than one’ argument,” says Friedman. “Others want to know how this set-up will be good for them, not for you.”
Battle the bias
Bailyn says that one of the biggest barriers to making these situations successful is the attitude of others. In fact, some people perceive any flexible arrangement as a sign that you aren’t committed. Williams has observed this stigma in her research at the Center for WorkLife Law. “In most organizations this is seen as an ‘odd duck’ arrangement,” she says. The best way to challenge this bias is to excel at the work. “Make it very clear that you’re meeting the norms the organization has for people who are dedicated to the job,” says Williams.
Give it time
Once you’ve settled on an arrangement that you, your partner, and your boss think will work, try it out. Set a pilot period and experiment with how you split the work and communicate. Then tweak as necessary. “It’s good to give the process a bit of time to work out the kinks and get people used to it. After some experience, most people react positively,” says Bailyn. No matter how long you’ve been sharing a job, it’s a good idea to continually reassess and make adjustments based on what’s working for each of you, your boss, and the organization.
Principles to Remember
- When selecting a partner, choose someone you can easily communicate, collaborate, and disagree with
- Ask your boss for feedback regularly — be vigilant about communicating with her about the arrangement
- Make sure it’s a seamless experience for your co-workers and anyone outside your organization
- Leave anything unspoken — talk to your partner regularly
- Assume everyone will be fine with the arrangement — combat bias by excelling at your shared work
- Set the details in stone — it’s better to experiment and make adjustments as necessary
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