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About the Flexible Work Arrangements

About the Flexible Work Arrangements

When employers talk about the flexible work arrangements they usually mean flextime, job sharing, job-splitting or work redesign, telecommuting, part-time work options, compressed workweek, and daily or informal flexibility. Here’s what they all mean to most companies.

Flextime allows employees to work with their managers to set starting and quitting times.  Some workers will arrive at work late and leave late; others will arrive early and leave early. Manager and employee will agree on the schedule, which will revolve around a set of core hours when the majority of workers will be at work. It means parents can be home in time to meet the school bus, workers can take a late afternoon course, volunteers can keep their commitments. It often means coverage can be improved and it’s a no-cost way to improve employee morale. Flextime can resolve scheduling conflicts and sharply reduce lateness and absenteeism.

Job Sharing divides the responsibilities of a full‑time position between two part‑time people who share the tasks and responsibilities of one job. They must have close communication and share a spirit of cooperation. Job sharing gives managers an opportunity to keep people who would otherwise be lost. Having “two for the price of one” means more productivity and better coverage. Job sharers can often cover for each other during vacations or personal emergencies, and helps the company recruit and retain skilled workers. Job sharers often work a three-day week, spending time together in mid-week to catch up and make the transition seamless.

Job splitting (work redesign) redesigns the tasks in a job so that it fits staff and business needs. For instance, tasks that can be done in isolation can be assigned to a telecommuter, duplicative tasks may be eliminated. One full‑time job may become appropriate for two part‑timers. Two employees may split a job, but work independently of each other. Looking at the tasks of a job in a new way helps employees to better fit their skills to the tasks to be performed. It may eliminate duplicative work, permit better use of employees’ skills, enable more flexibility and more effective work distribution. It attracts and retains quality employees. And it promotes a dual agenda — making employees lives more livable while achieving business goals.

Telecommuting allows eligible employees to perform some of their work at home or at an alternative work location. It may be done part‑time or full‑time, but is usually a part‑time arrangement. It enables a company to hire those with disabilities who otherwise could not work, widens the geographic pool of workers, and allows employees to better handle their personal commitments. It often reduces occupancy and real estate expenses, and nearly always improves productivity as a result of fewer distractions. It allows technology to be used to achieve more business goals. And grateful employees are more committed, more likely to go the extra mile.

Compressed Workweeks condense full‑time hours into fewer than five business days or two workweeks. For instance, “four/tens” are four ten‑hour days worked in a week; “9/80s” are 80 hours worked over a two‑week period in nine days (five 9‑hour days one week and four 8‑3/4‑hour days the next, with one day off). A compressed workweek may improve coverage and allow space and equipment to be used more efficiently. When it is voluntary, it has been shown to improve morale, reduce stress and make employees more satisfied with both work and personal lives.

Voluntary reduced workload or part-time options allow employees to cut back both workload and hours either temporarily or regularly. This option allows new mothers to return to work gradually, and retirees to phase out gradually. It can enable employees to complete their education or handle temporary emergencies. Allowing part-time is proven to attract and retain talented employees who wish to work a reduced schedule, and it widens the pool of potential employees. A Catalyst study has shown part‑time workers to be nearly as productive as their full‑time colleagues.

Informal or daily flexibility means generally having control over your schedule.  Managers focus on results or output rather than micromanaging the hours an employee works. Employee, manager and colleagues work together to ensure coverage and decide how the work will be completed, with customers and performance always coming first. An October, 2000 study found daily flexibility has the most potential for increasing employee satisfaction and retention. Daily flexibility creates a more considerate, respectful atmosphere, helps each employee work up to his/her full potential, retains quality employees and enhances employee satisfaction.

Who is eligible for FWAs? Each company’s policies are different, but generally any employee should be eligible for a flexible work arrangement. Manufacturing employees are often thought of as ineligible, but there’s no reason why they can’t share a job or work reduced hours if all positions can be filled, or have some say about their schedule. Managers should consider all proposals based on business needs, asking how the work will get done rather than why the arrangement is needed. Flexible work arrangements are a business strategy to be used to increase employees’ effectiveness and help each to work up to his/her full potential. Business needs must be the first priority.

Myths about FWAs There are many myths – widely held beliefs – about flexible work arrangements. Here are some of them:

If I allow one employee to reduce his or her hours, everyone will want the same arrangement.

A Catalyst study of 24 women who had reduced their workload 11 years ago found all of them now hold mid‑ or senior‑level positions. Half the women went back to work full‑time and half are still part‑time. Study after study has found part‑time employees are equally or more committed to the company. Company loyalty is usually enhanced because the company went out of its way for the employee. The study actually found part-timers were nearly as productive as their full-time colleagues.

Someone not working a traditional schedule is not productive.

Make sure the work being done is measurable, and focus on results to see if an employee is productive. If not, alter or end the arrangement. A Catalyst study found part‑time employees were producing nearly as much as their full‑time colleagues.

A team cannot be a team unless they work in the same place at the same time.

With the advent of technology and global companies, global workforces and the Internet, team members can – and often do – reside and work anywhere in the world. They can be in many different time zones. Communications can be face to face, on the phone, by voice mail, fax or email. While teamwork may be more difficult, it can be done with careful planning and good communication.

If I allow one employee to work flexible hours, it won’t be fair to the others. I must treat all employees equally.

The 21st century workforce is diverse and has different needs at different times of their lives. One solution will not work for every employee. Treating an employee fairly means giving their needs and desires equal individual attention and respect.

If I let them work when I’m not there, I will have no way to know if they are working.

 How do you know they’re working now? Just because someone looks like they’re working hard doesn’t mean it’s on company business. They could be studying the odds in preparation to placing a bet or planning their next vacation. When an employee’s results are measurable, outcomes of tasks and projects assigned can be measured and the focus put on results.

If I allow one employee to reduce his or her hours, everyone will want the same arrangement.

A reduction in the number of hours worked means lower earnings, and most employees cannot afford to reduce their hours. Just 2% of professional employees of the Fortune “100 Best Companies to Work For” are part‑time and just 10% of hourly or administrative workers.

Employees’ role

Employees, too, have a role in the flexible work arrangements process. They can think about how the job will get done, prepare a formal proposal, consider piloting the proposal, and be ready to discuss goals and ways of measuring success. They can meet with their manager and team to discuss the arrangement, be flexible, and ready to compromise

Manager’s role

The manager’s role is to consider each proposal in the context of a commitment to flexibility, looking at each on its own merit and giving equal consideration to each request. Consider business needs; ask how the work will be done. Be flexible, ready to compromise, and work hard for a positive outcome. Ask the right question: “Can we give you flexibility and still get the job done?” Asking the wrong question – “Why do you want flexibility?” – often leads to a situation that calls for the wisdom of Solomon, having to decide which employee’s personal issue is the most important. Keep checking to make sure the employee understands your communication and the needs of the business. Be as flexible as you can possibly be and still meet business needs

Pilots

Try piloting a flexible work arrangement. Pilots allow us to learn gradually, and give everyone a chance to get used to the new arrangement. Set goals, asking what success would look like for each stakeholder. Determine how that success will be measured.

Establish a trial period (3‑6 months). Create a communications plan and put terms for the trial period in writing. A pilot is a trial.

The employee’s job will be to demonstrate that they can fulfill the requirements of the job.  The manager’s job is to make sure goals are clear and measurable, and to set up a plan for measuring and communicating.

The pilot may fail, and people might be disillusioned. Address that up front. If it happens, will it keep you from trying again?  Or will you just learn from your mistakes and try once more?

Unfulfilled expectations can cause problems for any project. Make sure everyone has a chance to communicate about his or her expectations, both personally and professionally.

Keep all lines of communication (formal and informal) open between you and your employees. Make sure you know exactly how and when you will communicate – particularly if team members are working different hours. Use all the technology available to maintain contact.

Communication is more important when you are trying something new.  Let your staff and co‑workers know you really want them to be honest about their feelings, and make it safe to do so – no recriminations.

Finally, put it all in writing.

Some possible objections to FWAs . . .

 Too much work, too few employees.

(Sit down with your staff and ask them how it can be done more efficiently – how could flexible work arrangements help? What tasks are we duplicating, and what could be eliminated?

Not enough time to plan.

(Give the conversation about FWAs top priority and get it on the schedule; FWAs may save you time in the long run).

 No one really cares about flexibility.

(Make sure you issue the invitation to propose FWAs in a way that sends the message that their careers won’t be affected if they do it).

I can’t control people who aren’t here. How will I know if they’re working?

(How do you know now? Those who manage FWAs say it makes them better managers because they make jobs measurable and learn to focus on results and outcomes.)

 Our customers want to know that the person who always helps them is going to be here when they want them.

(Serving customers is any organization’s top priority. But other companies’ experience has taught us that customers love an organization that cares about its employees. It is important to communicate your staff’s intention to continue to give them the highest quality service, while offering flexibility to staff.)

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