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Workplace Flexibility: Make Your Job Work For Your Life
Our social, family, and work lives are in constant flux. Our daily life is changing incredibly fast and in diverse ways. We are constantly presented with new demands at work. We have a wider variety of opportunities including more extracurricular activities for our kids, expanding work responsibilities, more causes to support, lectures and events to attend, higher education to pursue, longer commutes and new technologies. We have more complex lives than we did even 20 years ago.
With constant social and economic changes and with continual demands for our time and attention, the eight-hour day, five-day workweek is no longer a viable arrangement for many. Fortunately, modern technologies and the pace at which we are globalizing the market have changed the way the workplace operates. But the creation and implementation of complementary ways of approaching workplace flexibility have not kept up with these changes.
In realizing there is a need for diverse approaches to workplace schedules, many companies have experimented with options ranging from the 4/10 workweek, to telecommuting, to flexible start and stop times.
Flex Time Increase Employee Performance
At first glance, options like the 4/10 work week and telecommuting don't seem to apply to common perceptions of an administrative professional. We see the admin's role as someone who is on-call and in the office at all times to provide support and hands-on assistance. Yet research points to not only the benefits of flexible work schedules but also the potential for employees in support and administrative positions to implement flexibility strategies. Research conducted by Corporate Voices for Working Families, a nonprofit organization working with the business community to create and advance important policy changes to issues surrounding working families, shows that providing employees with flexibility in the workplace “enhances employee performance, engagement and the ability to meet or exceed business requirements.” They also cite workplace flexibility with improvement in employee health, well being and resilience. These benefits apply across a wide spectrum of professional roles.
Flex-work advisor, Pat Katepoo, founder of WorkOptions.com, has heard first-hand from her clients about the benefits of implementing workplace flexibility options. “Time is the final frontier and it translates to so many other things.”
When employees have more flexible use of their time, there's an increased level of control of the everyday details of life. More thought is put into cooking a meal instead of ordering fast food, more time for laundry and errands, more money saved on gas and less money spent on quick, off-the-cuff purchases made because of lack of time. Katepoo puts it this way: “When people have more control over where, how and when they get there work done, that perceived control translates into less stress, which produces better health and quality of life.”
As corporations continue to experiment with new methods for tailoring work schedules to diverse lifestyles and needs, it's vital that employees also take personal inventory of what kinds of schedule options they need. It's equally necessary for employees to start a conversation with their managers and human resource departments about options that exist and about their vision for an ideal work schedule. While the research about workplace flexibility strategies is still ongoing, there are many options and guidelines that can apply to administrative and support staff roles. Below are several viable methods for creating more flexibility in your work life.
Flextime options are probably familiar to most employees as a way to eliminate frustrations raised during peak commute times and as an option for coordinating parents and childrens' schedules. Often companies set up individual agreements with employees to work with specific scheduling needs. Other times, companies will provide a window of time in which employees can show up and leave work without having to consult a supervisor. Flextime options also include occasional adjustment of hours to accommodate appointments and unplanned emergencies.
According the Katepoo, the value of flextime is in the smaller details. “Even 30 minutes difference can be a huge help to someone who has to get a child to childcare or battles traffic. Flextime allows for everyday realities in people's lives.”
The compressed workweek
Need a day to unwind before your busy weekend? Need a full week day to complete errands? Do you have a side project or hobby you'd like to commit time to? Although not yet as common flextime, the compressed work week is a great choice for creating a better work/life balance. The shortened work week allows an employee to compress full-time job responsibilities into a shorter amount of time. For administrative professionals working with managers and bosses who are always on the go, working remotely and collaborating with other companies via web-conferencing makes it possible to create a compressed workweek that fits for both you and your manager. Corporate Voices suggests developing a vision of your ideal workweek and then drawing up a proposal to present to your manager. Katepoo says that one of the biggest mistakes employees make when proposing flex options is to wing it. She stresses the importance of having a well-formed plan in writing. When it comes to the compressed work week, having a trial period is an excellent way to increase your manger's comfort level with your decreased presence in the office. “I've seen bosses change their minds after seeing a solid proposal and a trial period,” says Katepoo.
Remote work and telecommuting
Have you dreamed of going to work in your comfy jeans and T-shirt? Are you hoping to actually use all the supplies you bought for your home office? Have you and your friends talked about renting a shared workspace instead of dragging yourself to the office everyday? Remote work and telecommuting allow employees to execute a full-time workload while outside the office, whether that be in shared workspace, from a coffee shop or in the comfort of your home. There are a lot of people doing just that.
According to WorldAtWork, an association for human resource professionals, the remote workforce has grown rapidly over the past decade. In a survey from 2010 WorldAtWork found for the U.S. teleworking population in 2010 was estimated at 26.2 million — nearly 20% of the U.S. adult working population.
“With telecommuting, in most cases, people continue to want to work 40 hours a week, but one, two or three out of the five they work remotely,” says Katepoo. By strict definition remote work does require occasional presence at the office, while telecommuting usually involves working part-time at the office and part-time at a site away from the office. But both of these arrangements allow for increased flexibility in your life. When it comes to proposing and implementing remote work or telecommuting, Katepoo recommends you start slow. “Pick the slower day of the week to work remotely or choose one or two days a month to start.” When it comes to implementation, Katepoo says a good first step would be to research software such as shared documents, real-time messaging, and project management tools. In your proposal, show how you will use those programs to enhance communication and job performance while working remotely.
Asking for options
With an array of workplace flexibility options before you and some of the research already done, the most daunting task is still ahead. It's time to ask. One of the biggest hurdles to creating a more flexible schedule, Katepoo says, is that employees don't want be the ones to suggest the changes. This is especially true for employees working at companies that have no policies on workplace flexibility options. But if you don't ask, you won't see results, says Katepoo. “Your boss isn't going to be the one to ask if you have enough time for your family or suggest you work a four-day work week. The proposal has to come from you.”
So it's time to create that proposal. Be specific about what you need. Do your research. Then set up a time to speak with your manager. Prepare for the talk, similar to the way you would for a job interview. Present your manager with your best proposal and be willing to be incorporate your manger’s suggestions and address his or her concerns. With preparation and creativity, you will give them the reassurance that if you move forward with a flexible schedule, you'll make it a success.
Find flextime, compressed workweek, job-sharing and part-time proposals as well as other tips and self-assessment quizzes on Pat Katepoo's Work Options website.
Corporate Voices is leading a national campaign to engage the business community and broaden awareness for the positive business and employee benefits of workplace flexibility. Check out their campaign website for more information.