Achieving work/life balance is an increasing challenge today with “time demands, scheduling dilemmas, and the problems that arise when work spills into home life or when home demands spill into work life”. Furthermore, “crisis-oriented work patterns and chaotic work routines that demand workers’ constant presence, can make breaking away from work difficult, magnifying this strain. By measuring productivity and commitment based on “face-time”, rather than the amount of work that an employee has accomplished”, we can create further issues. (2) On the other hand, when we introduce alternatives to the “one size fits all” work model, we create the potential to improve the quality of peoples lives by allowing for more flexibility, while at the same time strengthening employee loyalty, creating less turnover, and ultimately increasing a company’s overall profits.
Flexible work arrangements can mean many things including:
- Flextime- the variation of an employees starting and departure times.
- Job sharing- where two employees share the responsibilities of one full time position.
- Remote Work (or flexible work locations)- can be conducted either at home or off-site on a consistent or occasional basis.
- A compressed work schedule- refers to a regular workweek in fewer days.
- Telecommuting- essentially refers to working from home on a regular basis. (3)
An example of this potential can be seen in a recent sociological study that used an “already existing corporate initiative by the name of the Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) to predict corresponding changes to health-related outcomes”. Collecting “longitudinal data from 659 white-collar employees, at the headquarters of a Fortune 500 company in the United States, the study looked at moving employees and supervisors away from time oriented measures of work success, to a completely results based appraisal of productivity and accomplishment”. The results showed “that by increasing the employees’ scheduling control and reducing their work-family conflict, ROWE innovation promoted employee wellness and increased productivity, while lowering the costs borne by employers for health care as well as absenteeism”.(4) In another study that looked at employees using flexible work arrangements, they found that “63% of workers said that they were absent less often as a result of their flexible work arrangement schedule”.(5) Furthermore flexible work programs enable employers to schedule work across larger portions of the day, while allowing them to make more efficient use of facilities, while often requiring smaller office spaces including less equipment.(6) Flexible Work Programs have also become an important tool for retaining valuable employees and attracting future talent.
However, one of the “challenges that companies sometimes face when implementing flexible work programs, is a hesitancy from supervisors to promote this flexibility, due to apprehension with regards to the impact it may have on work quality and productivity”. (7) What many have found is that this concern can be quite accurate when flexible work programs are not implemented properly. Another issue that arises when discussing the pros and cons of flexible work arrangements is with regards to accessibility, and whether or not the requests for such programs are well received by employers and management. In one study “78% of respondents feared that they would be perceived as less committed to their jobs by their supervisors if they utilized flexible work arrangements. Employees also reported frustrations stemming from inconsistent program implementation, and for some workers access to flexibility appeared to be based on the sole discretion of a given manager”. (8)
Accessibility and flexible work arrangements can also be subject to unconscious gender bias. In another noted study “researchers found that men in high-status, non-hourly positions who said they wanted to advance their careers were most likely to be granted a compressed work schedule, while women in similar scenarios seeking flextime were far less likely to get it. Meanwhile, men in low-status careers who asked for family flex time were more likely to have their requests approved than women in like situations. In this situation, managers tended to believe that women who asked for flexible working hours were more likely than men to use the time for personal, rather than professional, reasons and that this form of gender bias is often simply a reflection of antiquated stereotypes about men’s and women’s family roles”. (9) In this respect women are often assumed to have one foot out the door when they ask for more flexible work arrangements, while men are often perceived to have more job commitment. Despite this gender bias “it appears employees are the ones who are really driving employers’ policies and that in particular, young male workers are seeking to spend more time with their families. As a result employers are adapting. In a recent 2014 Catalyst report, they found that nearly four out of five respondents said their companies offered some form of flexible-work arrangements.” (10)
We summarize this acknowledgement of Flexible Work Arrangement week with a few tips from the HR Council on how to make flexible work more successful:
Maintain a high level of contact by encouraging a two-way flow of communication between management and the distance worker, and the distance worker and their other colleagues. This is especially important if an off-site employee is working on their own.
Use a combination of face-to-face communication, the telephone and e-mail. Face-to-face is best for key management tasks focused on motivation, team building, performance management and introducing changes in the work or the relationship with the employee. Telephone communications can be effective for planning, reviewing, and strategizing. E-mail is best for quick contact and confirming conversations.
Informal processes may need to become more formal. For example, comments and ideas made over lunch break or by the water cooler may need to be e-mailed to off-site workers.
Be super-organized and plan well. Reliance on face-to-face meetings often results from disorganization, with managers spending their days reacting to situations and solving problems that would not arise as often as they do if work were well managed.
Beware that “out of sight” can mean “out of mind”. Take care that off-site workers get access to training and promotion opportunities. Career development is important for all employees no matter where they work.
Ensure appropriate orientation for staff that work in the office so that they are assured that all employees – regardless of their work location – are equally pulling their weight.
Promote team building between on-site and off-site employees by inviting employees who work at home to come in for a special lunch, training or other activity.
Ask home-based employees to provide occasional office coverage to keep them in touch with the realities of the workplace. (11)