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Kamis, 19 Agustus 2010

Is Flexible Work a Good Idea, Even During Recession?

by Kristina Cowan, PayScale.com


A worker in Chicago rouses himself in the wee hours to be in the office for most of the European workday -- which means his typical hours are 5 a.m. to 3 p.m. An employee for the same company has worked from her Denver home since 1999; her clients span the country and so does her team, with members in Denver, New York, and Los Angeles. Working remotely has reduced travel and allowed team members to develop regional expertise.

These employees, who work for accounting and consulting firm BDO Seidman, offer a window into the world of flexible work, which some say is more important than ever during recession. Instead of cutting jobs to save money, employers can use flexible strategies, such as reduced schedules, job sharing, or temporarily transferring workers to contract status, says Cali Williams Yost, a workplace flexibility strategy consultant based in Madison, N.J.

What Is Flexibility, and How Common Is It?

Flexibility is defined in myriad ways, experts say, depending on the workplace. According to Rose Stanley, practice leader for WorldatWork in Scottsdale, Ariz., and Judi Casey, director of the Sloan Work and Family Research Network in Chestnut Hill, Mass., some popular examples are:

  • Flexible schedules with core hours: Workers choose when they start and end their days, but agree to be in the office for core hours, such as 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
  • Compressed workweeks: Such as those consisting of four 10-hour days
  • Telecommuting: Employees work from home, perhaps once a month or a few times a week
  • Working remotely: Full-time employees work from their homes in different cities or states
  • Paid or unpaid leaves: To care for family members, pursue education, or for other reasons


Research suggests flexibility is becoming more prevalent in the U.S. workplace. The Families and Work Institute's 2008 National Study of Employers found the percentage of employers allowing some workers to periodically change starting and quitting times increased from 68 percent in 1998 to 79 percent in 2008.

Yost agrees flexibility is increasing, but says it's evolving randomly, not strategically. "That's great to some extent. But the next step is organizations stepping back and placing a strategic structure and objectives around what they want worklife flexibility to help them achieve," she explains.

Making Flexibility Work

Yost urges employers to implement flexibility from the start as a business strategy, not as a benefit or policy. "It's a process, a consistent process that lets individual employees and leaders come together and create flexible solutions that work for that business and that person," she says; but most companies "marginalize it and take it out of business, and it has very limited impact and definitely does not achieve business goals."

Testing out flexibility in a pilot program is a good idea, Casey suggests. Getting a flexible setup "100 percent right the first time" is unlikely, she notes, and a pilot gives employers and employees a period of trial-and-error to see what works -- and what doesn't.

Employees under flexible arrangements need to be very responsible, getting the work done even when the boss isn't around, Stanley cautions.

Pros and Cons

Flexibility offers many benefits, according to Yost. It can boost recruitment and retention, help employers extend hours and improve client service, and increase worker productivity. If the unexpected strikes, such as a snowstorm, employers and employees can set up shop at home and lose no time if they work flexibly, Yost notes.

Rather than laying off valuable staff, employers should turn to flexible-work solutions, Yost says, which would prevent workers from losing health insurance and drawing on unemployment -- and might help the economy recover more quickly. Casey says turning to flexible options now would help employers avoid the high costs of hiring replacement staff once the economy rebounds.

As to challenges of flexible arrangements, Casey says employers may have to tailor communication and management styles. If an employee telecommutes once a week, for instance, a manager must decide what should be accomplished during that day, and how to communicate with the employee.


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