Part-time executive: the wave of the future?

I recently heard about a CMO, Anabela Perozek at Shoebuy (former VP of marketing for Staples), who was building an online shoe and apparel business into an Internet Retailer Top 100 brand, all while working part-time and juggling career with family. In the wake of interesting Atlantic cover stories about “having it all” and candid admissions from Pepsi’s CEO about not having it all, will the best-of-all-worlds answer be for future executives to join Perozek in part-time status?

Start-ups have been ahead of the curve for years; strapped for cash but dreaming of top talent, plenty of start-ups have brought on CMOs or CFOs who only work a few days a week. This isn’t a decision a company should just waltz into; pulling it off requires some savvy collaborative strategy. The first step, of course, is hiring the right people; you can’t have a team that falls apart without daily C-suite guidance, and you can’t have an executive who is slow to flip the switch and get right back into the groove.

As Michelle Gardner points out, a part-time CFO, for example, can offer all sorts of benefits to a business, including helping to upgrade financial processes (which can then be managed by someone else on a day-to-day basis) and improving forecasting.

What’s in it for the employee? The aforementioned flexibility, of course; a part-time executive can spend the rest of the 4o-hour workweek pursuing other passions, luxuriating in bonus time with family and friends, or finally writing that Next Great American Novel. While less time means less money and fewer benefits (unless you’re a great negotiator), there’s a chance you could make more per hour. As Fortune reported, “hired gun” C-suite execs can fetch $2K/day – and surely more in some cases. The time crunch may actually make you more productive, and if you’re able to slice some superfluous work stress out of your life, you could very well wind up living longer and healthier. Cool perk.

Google CEO Larry Page, for one, thinks everyone can chill out about being such workaholics. “The idea that everyone needs to work frantically to meet people’s needs is just not true,” he said recently. Page and Richard Branson both believe the future of the workplace should and will include an increased number of part-time employees at all levels – and, yes, they’d be voluntarily part-time employees. Of course, it’s probably easier for Page and Branson to imagine getting by on a mere 60% of their current salaries; one can’t help chuckle when someone with a $31 billion net worth opines that “we should be living in a time of abundance.”

“It is a good example of reinforcing a belief that [Google’s co-founders] haven’t worried about paying rent or filling the refrigerator for a long time,” analyst Patrick Moorhead told Computerworld.

In the past, of course, the trend of the part-time executive has been tied closely to economic downturns. Page and Branson paint a rosier picture that would restore life-work balance, cut costs for businesses and potentially put a dent in full-unemployment numbers – since, as Branson speculates, businesses would sometimes hire two part-timers instead of a single full-timer. If this catches on, you can definitely expect us to offer some advice on collaborating with a person who shares your job title, office chair and coffee mug… OK, hopefully you’d each get your own mug.

What do you think?

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Post by Adam McKibbin

Adam McKibbin is the content marketing manager for iMeet Central. His writing has been featured in Adweek, the Chicago Tribune and The Nation, and he’s produced content for some of the leading tech brands on the Fortune 500.