REINVENTING THE WAY WE WORK
BY KAMRIN BAKER
PHOTO BY ALISHA DAVIS
When Jina Hwang Picarella, Ph.D., delivered her twin daughters, they were nine weeks early and placed in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).
While she was coping with the tumultuous emotional undercurrent of this situation and the standard upheaval of parenthood, Picarella found herself in an identity crisis, unsure of her future as a mother—and as a professional.
After two weeks in the NICU, doctors instructed Picarella to keep her daughters from child care outside the home, so she made the mandatory—yet difficult—decision to permanently step away from her job. Picarella’s daughters grew into happy and healthy babies, but she was left feeling small.
About a year into full-time motherhood, Picarella read the Spring 2017 issue of Today’s Omaha Woman and saw a familiar face: Jessica Charlsen, a former cohort in the Women’s Fund Circles group, who was working to reinvent the way women could re-enter the workforce after taking time off to build their families.
“What we found is that it’s the eight-to-five work model that really needs to change,” Charlsen says. “So we drank a lot of wine and figured out what we needed to do to pull the trigger. Changing that is kind of a big deal.”
They landed on the idea of job sharing—a concept that matches two talented individuals to fill one full-time position, giving them the flexibility they need and companies a range of broader skills and perspectives.
Job sharing is a common labor model in countries across Europe, like the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Switzerland—but not in the United States.
“We want to provide options for flexible work,” Picarella says. “There are a lot of options out there, like working remotely, condensed work weeks, working part-time, but job sharing was very ad hoc and just showed up in pockets. How can we utilize and evolve it to make it possible for a large number of people? We needed to standardize it.”
After working with the Omaha Chamber’s Startup Collaborative to get the idea off the ground, the pair was awarded a Fintech Fellowship, among other helpful endowments, and launched Job Share Connect.
Job Share Connect is a platform run exclusively by the two friends to encourage companies to integrate job sharing as an option for employees. Their combined expertise (Charlsen is a longtime marketing professional and Picarella has 15 years’ experience working as a human capital consultant) brought them to a place where they could really “have it all.”
In fact, they are practically a case study for job sharing; they split the duties and pick up the slack based on their complementary skill sets and life circumstances.
“We’re both doing everything we can to ensure each other’s success, which is a pretty amazing relationship to have,” Charlsen says.
Picarella agrees. “You have someone else rooting for you, someone to celebrate all your wins with, to help each other up, to motivate each other. The baton gets passed and one of us can run a little longer when we need to.”
Now, they teach others how to do the same.
“We’re getting people educated on the concept, we’re getting companies educated to work in the traditional work model to fill positions in a creative way,” Charlsen says. “You can create kind of a unicorn employee as we match people with complementary skills who can cross-train each other.”
These two have it down to a science. Well, a holistic science. Charlsen and Picarella have a talent pool accessible to companies who are interested in filling a position through job sharing, and the candidates go through rigorous compatibility testing and intense matching processes to get a full assessment of their strengths before they even meet with an employer.
“We do this all for you,” Charlsen says. “Companies get to retain and hire you, and you get to know there has been due diligence on your end.”
The process doesn’t end after candidates are hired. Charlsen and Picarella provide coaching sessions for individuals, teams and managers, and train throughout their onboarding process.
The end game is to develop an online platform where Charlsen and Picarella do not need to manually test, quiz and match all candidates. The team is building what they call an “eHarmony” for job sharing. Once this is live, they can stick to their mission of educating and onboarding as far and as wide as possible.
But why go through the dating-app-esque rabbit hole of finding the perfect fit?
“You know, if it solves a problem for us, there must be people out there feeling the same way,” Picarella says. “It’s not just women with kids. It’s people who are going back to school, people who are about to retire and want to keep working, millennials who want flexibility, people who have a side hustle or passion or dream who need stability to enjoy their lives.”
The two say their work is targeted to people who have high expectations of what they want out of their lives and are on a mission to get there. They know who those people are because they are those people.
“When I am doing the work that I should be doing, I am on fire. I have lightning bolts coming from my fingers. That is the best me,” Charlsen says. “Now, that is not what I get from my family at home. What I get from them is sustainable joy. That is a piece that is important to me, a piece that grounds me. Me without one or the other is not me. I want to give people their lightning bolt and their sustainable joy. That’s what this all is.”
Still, they are serving a specific clientele. Picarella says their approach works best in small to mid-sized companies and with employers and candidates who reject the stigma of part-time work.
“This is not the right decision for everyone. We need people to be as invested in this as we are,” Charlsen says. “There are a lot of people who say ‘I could never do that. I could never job share. I’m too much of a control freak.’ But I always ask them: ‘What if you had another you?’”
While some folks see job sharing as a radical idea, these business partners believe they are onto something—and that changes in employment and labor are on the horizon.
“As far as women’s issues go, there’s a glass ceiling, but there’s also a stiletto ceiling,” Picarella says. “Really, this is about raising each other up, not being competitive, and trusting and supporting one another. It is continuous coverage of a job that needs to be done.”
While Charlsen and Picarella are hopeful that job sharing will become a viable option across the country, they see it as an opportunity to keep jobs in Omaha and become an example of what can happen when companies are willing to do something about an issue in the workforce.
“We see a lot of people who acknowledge there is a problem without doing much about it, but we are looking to solve it,” Charlsen says.
It’s just one other option for those who need it.
“As I’m raising my daughters, I can say ‘You can do whatever you want,’ and mean it,” Picarella says. “As opposed to, ‘You can do whatever you want, but if you want to have kids then you’re going to have to pause your career, yadda yadda.’ It’s a different conversation now. It’s a movement. It’s a paradigm shift.”