1. Think about what you need versus nice to have

Drawing up a list of what you need versus what's a nice-to-have can help clarify your situation in your own mind. For instance, it might be vital you leave at 4.30pm on two specific days and if the role won't allow it you might need to rethink your employment (or your childcare arrangements), whereas working a nine-day fortnight may be a nice-to-have. In addition, you might have some specific needs at the beginning of your return-to-work transition that you won't need on an ongoing basis. Be clear in your communications with your line manager about anything that might be temporary as you're likely to be able to agree this informally as part of your comeback plan.

"In private practice, there is a real lack of enthusiasm for it, so some understanding of your clients and employer are key. As a manager, I am happy to support people who wish to make applications, but accept there is a point at which a team cannot properly function and so being clear about what you want, why and when is imperative to ensure transparency in decision making of flexible working applications."

Nicola Hogg, team manager, in-house public sector

"Agreeing to work half days made a difference in my application. I was able to demonstrate that I was contactable every day which helped minimise the impact of my flexible working. As a manager, it was possible for me to look at this strategically and make a business case from the point of view of a sceptical manager. The business case must be sound to demonstrate that there will be no negative impact on the business. I broke down each significant task that I do and outlined to what extent it would be affected by the change."

Chris Purcell, partner, third sector

2. Consider how you could flex your flexibility

Sometimes you'll need to be available and/or in the office when, ideally from your perspective, you wouldn't have been. It's helpful to anticipate business situations that might require you to break away from any agreed flexibility and get stuck in (team away day or a client media crisis on a non-working day). If you can show your employer how you would accommodate business priorities that clash with your flexibility, she or he is likely to be reassured of your commitment and more likely to approve your request. It's also useful to let other colleagues know how you can be (or have been) flexible to avoid any potential resentment. Do let your employer know how much notice you are likely to need (where the situation allows) in order to rearrange childcare.

"Think about what you want, why you need it and how any adjustments may affect your role and that of your colleagues. Initially, I went back to work for four days for two months and adjusted my working hours to start an hour earlier and finish an hour earlier. I was able to explain why this was necessary for me and opted to have a Monday off as I am mainly in court on Thursdays and Fridays and my colleague had court on Tuesdays and Wednesdays should I need to cover for her. The most convenient day for me to be off was a Monday. In essence, show that you are not only thinking about yourself but also the department/firm and make suggestions as to how best to compromise so your requests can be accommodated with as minimal disruption as possible."

Karen Wilkie, associate, Peterkins

"Have an idea of the days and hours you would ideally like to work but be reasonable and sensitive to full-time colleagues who may perceive certain arrangements as unfair. Compressed hours can be particularly controversial if unavailable to all team members. Explain that you are prepared to be flexible and to make changes to suit business needs, eg re-arranging childcare in order to attend an important meeting on a day you would not normally work or keeping an eye on emails on your days off."

Katherine Allan, solicitor, RBS

3. Seek solutions and find allies

What would it take to convince your line manager your request is a really good thing for the business (perhaps because it solves or improves a problem, eg you working anti-social hours at home to support clients in different time zones) or, at least, not a problem? Consider what potential headaches your flexible working proposal could create and find ways to solve them. There may be colleagues or clients who will be in your line manager's mind when she or he considers your request, so is there a way to get them on side? You sharing client organisations' approaches to flexibility and their output-oriented culture could be a useful influencing tactic too. As could sharing what your partner's organisation has agreed to in terms of flexibility. "Foster a spirit of collaboration and co-operation. Let your colleagues know you will help them at their pinch points (when overworked/at holiday time) and you will find they are willing to reciprocate."

4. Have a discussion as part of a KIT day

Many returners find it's helpful to their relationship with their line manager (and to securing a 'yes' to their request) to have a chat before putting it in a formal application. Your line manager may have additional thoughts or questions you can answer to assuage their concerns. Flexible working is a standard item for discussion on many returners' Keep In Touch (KIT) days so raise it early on and be mindful of the time it can take to accept or decline a request.

5. Make your application

Legally speaking, flexible working requests can take up to three months to be reviewed and accepted or declined, so work backwards from your return date to make sure you submit it in enough time. Your organisation may have a standard flexible working request template. If not, see the legal section at the start of this guide for what to include. Ideally, you will have had positive and productive discussions with your line manager and your application will simply be a formality