Part-Time *NOT* Tech
What tech can learn from other industries about flexible work
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Part-time work is becoming increasingly popular across many white-collar professions. However, the tech industry remains a notable exception, despite high salaries, the ability to work remotely, and a labor-constrained market. It still feels like there is this stigma against non-full-time employees.
So what can the tech industry learn from other industries and professions about flexible work?
Pharmacists are highly skilled and educated healthcare workers. Retail pharmacies are often staffed with a mix of full-time, part-time, and per-diem pharmacists. The blend of these different working arrangements allow pharmacies to stay staffed through busy seasons, vacations, and sick days.
Notably, the majority of pharmacists are women, and these arrangements allow them to stay in the workforce (or leave and return easily) even after starting families. Personally, I have a friend who left work after the birth of her first child and during COVID, but returned to per diem work a few years later when she felt she was able to.
Many retail pharmacists are also floaters, which means they can be working across many different physical locations rather than just at one.
Pharmacists can work across stores and work even down to per-diem because processes are very standardized, and they work through a queue of prescriptions to fill. At the end of the day, what they got done is what they got done, and the next day, the next pharmacist will pick up. Computer systems log notes and communication and any knowledge transfer that needs to happen.
Flexible arrangements may be a key to better gender diversity, especially for mothers who want to stay in the workforce.
A mix of full-time, part-time, and other contingent workers allows for a workforce that can dynamically adjust for “predictable unpredictabilities” like sicknesses, leaves, and vacation time.
Standardization and effective processes and workflows across stores make it easy to drop someone in and out at any given store. Where can standardization make it easier to have a more flexible workforce in your business?
What work can be more queue based? This type of work requires less context and is easier to start and stop frequently. e.g. for an engineer, a large refactor might be hard to start and stop, but can bugs be picked up with not much more than the context on a ticket in a bug queue?
Entrepreneurs-in-residence (EIR) have become popular in venture capital firms, but they are now also commonplace in many different types of businesses and organizations.
While every arrangement is different and bespoke, typically an EIR offers their network, expertise, and business acumen to the VC's portfolio companies while also scouting out their next full-time move, whether at a portfolio company or elsewhere. The EIR is usually compensated with cash or equity, gets the branding of the VC firm, and a strong signal to help them in their next gig. The VC gets a domain expert and their name attached to their firm without having to spend the money to hire them full-time. Generally, it’s a low-risk, high-return situation and a win-win for all involved.
Reforge, the professional education startup, has used their Executive-in-Residence program to great success. Their EIRs help teach courses, act as brand ambassadors, help grow the network, and sometimes become full-time employees as well.
Chroma, a new startup in the AI space, has a clever Hacker-in-Residence program where developers are paid to build on top of their platform while helping give feedback to the company.
Consider an EIR or similar program for different roles or needs you may have at your company. They can help bring an expert to your company for a limited time as well as grow your network and hiring pipeline.
Management consultants work for firms that provide high-value strategy support to help clients improve their businesses. Consultants can be considered "on the bench" until they are assigned to a billable project for a client. While there is some work consultants can do when they're not staffed, they usually don't generate revenue for the firm unless they're working on billable hours. Some firms allow consultants to take their ‘bench’ time off or use it more flexibly while they’re not billing.
A consultant friend of mine decided to return to work half-time after the birth of her first child. She did this by taking on only half the typical client load, which allowed her to ease back into work gradually. Another friend who worked for one of the big 4 consulting firms used bench time to travel around the world.
If your company does client or project-based work, consider offering flexible arrangements based on client load as a retention benefit.
Client-based work is certainly not easy, but job seekers should explore agencies and consulting firms as they may be able to provide a specific type of flexibility not available at more product based companies
Non-profits are often more resource constrained than for-profit businesses. They don’t have the luxury to pay top dollar for talent and have to get creative with how they are able to attract talent. Leaning on flexibility and the mission-focused nature of non-profits is the competitive advantage non-profits can wield over companies with deeper pockets.
The USDS for example, is a technology arm of the US Government. Through smart branding and marketing, they’ve taken what may be seen as an unappealing government job (to techies used to big tech at least) and made it appealing to tech workers looking for a change of pace.
While not exactly part-time, the USDS employs talent through a ‘tour-of-service’ model that lasts at most four years. The time bound makes it more palatable to take on a job that may not have the compensation employees are used to, but are willing to stomach for a mission they care about.
For another example, in one of our recent Part-Time Profiles in Tech, we featured an entrepreneur who was able to work for a non-profit because they allowed a 3 day/week working arrangement.
Mission + Flexibility can top pure compensation.
Creative employment contracts can change how a person views an engagement
Job seekers: consider looking outside of the tech world for more flexibility. What you sacrifice in compensation you may make up in other areas that are important to you.
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