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Flexibility for Me, Not Thee

Vivia Chen

August 26, 2011

Obama-vineyardweb Are we ambivalent--perhaps even hypocritical--about flexible working arrangements? People want it for themselves, but for others? Well, maybe not.

According to research from iPass, the Mobile Workforce Report, a third of 3,100 employees surveyed say they will walk if employers fail to "support flexible working via mobile devices," reports Computer Weekly.com. That report says already 95 percent of employers "allow employees to work remotely via laptops and mobile devices," but that 40 percent wanted even more flexibility.

Everyone wants more work freedom, but being physically in the office carries more weight than you'd expect in this day of nonstop communication. We seem to confer greater legitimacy to the efforts of those who toil in the office. Are we suspicious that people working out of the office are goofing off? Or are we just uptight that they have too much autonomy?

Consider the grief that President Obama has been getting for spending time away from his office during this current economic crisis. (One critic, Donald Trump, said on Fox News that Obama "takes more vacations than any human being I've ever seen," adding, "We have to work in this country to bring it back." )

He vacationed on Martha's Vineyard before Hurricane Irene forced him to return to D.C. early. But he probably put in the kind of hours that would warm the heart of any Am Law 100 managing partner; he just didn't do it in the Oval Office. Though the criticisms of his trip seem quaint (not to mention blatantly political), the fact that they have any traction at all shows that there's strong symbolism in the idea of sweating away at the office.

But Lauren Stiller Rikleen, the executive-in-residence at Boston College's Center for Work and Family, argues that there's also powerful symbolism in being away from the office and spending time with the family, even if the vacation is more of a workation. Rikleen writes in Forbes:

The fact is, if we take the politics out of the discussion, there are important lessons to be learned here about fatherhood. This is because the president is also the father of two young girls, both of whom have expectations about family time during the summer, even if their dad is the leader of the free world.

Not only is the president making his kids happy, the whole nation benefits, Rikleen says:

Our country is better for his modeling engagement as a dad, even as he remains engaged in the grave responsibilities before him. When the White House sets a positive example that shows parenting as a priority, the lesson learned is good for families everywhere.

But are we ready for this melding of work and family for those in high-power positions, or does it make us feel uneasy? Is it comforting to see pictures of our president playing golf or biking with his kids, or do we feel he's not giving it his all unless he's tied to his chair?


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I'd love for Donald Trump to release a daily schedule and time records.

Perhaps he's forgotten that George W. Bush shattered the all-time record for most vacation while in office.

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The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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