Could you share an inbox?

I’m Julia. I’m half a job-share. My other half is Victoria. Together we do one job. We both work three days a week and are both in the office on a Monday. It’s very different from working part-time. We share an email address, we share a desk and we share all the work.

It’s the first time either of us have done a job-share and while we feel lucky to have found an employer that is willing to give a job-share a go, I don’t think either of us were prepared for how hard it would be.

We’ve been at it for about two months now and are still figuring out how to make it work – for us, the people we manage, and our colleagues.

Job share Victoria and Julia image

Victoria and Julia

You have to invest a lot of extra time upfront in sorting out the logistics (how do you actually share an in-box, how do you write a to-do list, and what’s the best way of handing over work?). And if I’m honest, it’s hard making it work for our families too. We both have young children so we end up handing over work late in the evening when they’ve gone to bed.

There are lots of ways to work flexibly, and these days we are hearing more and more stories of how employers and employees are increasingly recognising the benefits. But it’s still relatively rare to find job-sharers. It’s an unusual relationship, and one that is not often found in the workplace. It requires a high level of trust, honesty and openness.  And you don’t see much written about that. We did our research before applying for a job together, and picked up lots of tips. But what we feel is most important to get right is how the actual job-share relationship works.

The other thing that no-one really mentions is how great it is to have a job-share partner.  I’ve had fantastic colleagues before, but having a partner feels different. If you like the sound of job sharing, but never see them advertised, don’t be put off. Our job wasn’t a job-share until we asked for it and applied for the post together. More than likely, you’ll have to make the case, but it’s a case worth making.

   Together we bring a broader set of skills and expertise, double the ideas, double the energy…

“Wait a minute – I’ve only got one pair of hands.” We’ve all been there before – children clamouring for attention just as you’re trying to get tea ready. Thankfully, in the other part of my life – my working life – I do have two pairs of hands.

I’m Victoria: Julia’s other half.

Julia and I have been sharing a job for about two months. It’s early days but the benefits are already clear; for us and, we hope, for the staff that we manage and our organisation.

Our job was advertised as a full-time role and we applied together (separate applications, but stating we were applying as a job share). We spent a lot of time thinking about the benefits that a job share could bring to the role – and made sure that came across in the application and at interview.

Our application focused on the particular strengths that we bring as a job share – we’ve managed teams in the same department before so have a strong track-record in working together. We made it clear that we could compliment and build on each other’s strengths. We also highlighted our similar management and working styles.

We interviewed separately at first to prove that we had the right skills and experience as individuals for the job. We then had a second interview together when we presented how we saw the job share working. We also had the chance to meet the team we’d be managing and answer any questions they had about the job share.

I’m not saying it’s an easy option. You have to put as much energy into making the job share partnership work as on getting to grips with the job. However good you are at handing over work, it’s never quite the same as being there in the meeting, so you need to develop really good listening skills.

Some jobs are easier to divide up than others. For us, simply splitting up tasks isn’t an option. Things move fast in our organisation and we both have to be up-to-speed all the time.  It’s hard to switch off on your non-working days. We both are constantly checking our phones just to keep up with email. And thinking and planning time is happening at evenings and weekends at the moment. But it’s early days and we’re hoping to have a lot of this cracked before too long.

Before we applied for the job we created a strapline for ourselves – ‘double power’. Together we bring a broader set of skills and expertise, double the ideas, double the energy (none of that Friday lull that full-timers can experience), and ‘on-tap’ cover during holidays and sickness. With all that in its favour, it’s a wonder there are so few job-sharers about.

Now if I only I could work out a way to get Julia to help out with tea-time, I’d be sorted!

Here are our tips for anyone considering a job-share:

  1. Have those difficult discussions before you start (what if it doesn’t work out, what if one of you wants to leave, what if one performs well and the other doesn’t, can I ring you on your day off?)
  2. Set up a ‘contract’ to set some ground rules for how you’d like the partnership to work and how you’d like to be perceived as a team. What do you need from each to really flourish? What does your job share partner need to know about you to help the partnership work? Be really honest; if there are things you need to say, say it before you start.
  3. Be generous with your knowledge and expertise. There’s no room for competition in a job- share relationship. Get used to talking about what we think / did / are going to do – not I.
  4. Work really hard behind the scenes to make it as seamless as possible for your colleagues and clients. They should only have to tell it once to one of you.
  5. Spend time at the start explaining to colleagues how the job share will work. At first you will need to keep repeating things like: ‘You only need to tell one of us’, ‘Only one of us needs to come to the meeting – not both – and it can be either of us’. But it will all click in time.
  6. Work out a handover routine that will work for both of you. For us, writing handover notes throughout the day works better than leaving it to a mad panic at the end of the day. Agree a regular time to handover work by phone – and keep checking to see if the arrangement is still working.
  7. Be prepared to constantly review how you’re doing; what’s going well, what not so well. Ask your colleagues for feedback and be open to suggestions.
  8. And when people get your names confused – take it as a compliment that your seamless job-share arrangement is succeeding!

By Julia Cream and Victoria Flint


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