There's one thing virtually all working moms agree upon: The key to success—as both a professional and a parent—is piecing together some sort of flexible work arrangement. The good news is that employers are increasingly open to this. But consider the fine print: What sounds good or looks appealing on paper can have trade-offs that nobody is likely to tell you about. Here are a few pitfalls to watch for:
A bigger workload than expected. A flexible work schedule-whether it's a work-at-home agreement, a job-sharing set-up with a coworker, or a four-day workweek—doesn't always mean a reduced workload. Whatever your schedule, your employer will still expect you to perform at the level you would if you were in the office full time, under the boss's watchful eye. This means you might find yourself logging more hours than you agreed to—it's just putting in the time at home rather than at the office.
Flimsy boundaries. Once your bosses or colleagues get used to reaching you wherever you are, they can forget that you go off the clock sometimes. Phone calls and E-mails late at night, or on weekends, can be frustrating and annoying, even an invasion of privacy. Try to set clear boundaries, so that your work doesn't expand into a free-for-all.
Latent disapproval. Even when the full chain of command has approved your flexible hours, don't be surprised if there's some underlying resentment by those working a standard, full-time week. It might trickle down from top and middle management to your immediate supervisor, and it can be subtle. But those stuck in the conventional mode worry about not being able to control what you do with your time and their inability to keep proper tabs on your whereabouts. Coworker envy, too, can be palpable, making you feel alienated and out of the loop.
To combat this, make an effort to walk around the office when you're there and establish your presence, catching up on what you're missing while you're off site. Don't evade the issue—acknowledge the differences in your work schedule, so that it doesn't become a deeper problem that might cost you your freedom down the road. And, of course, your best weapon will be great performance.
Missed opportunities. It's not quite out of sight, out of mind, but being out of the office means you might miss out on promotions, plum assignments, and certain perks. Without promotions or key opportunities, your salary could stagnate, and over time that equates to lower real income and forgone retirement savings, since you're not increasing the amount you (and your employer) are contributing to a 401(k) plan. It's not necessarily a conscious snub, but some bosses and coworkers might interpret your schedule as a sign of a low dedication to your job. Do your best to convince them otherwise.
Guilt. This is the touchy-feely one. Aiming to please both your family and your boss can leave you torn between two very distinct loyalties. Your self-worth is tied up in both. From the very beginning, aim for a balance between your job and your family—and decide where you're willing to cut corners.