Making a Flexible Work Arrangement Work for Your Company

You’ve likely noticed that flexible-work options are trending among top employers. But did you realize lawmakers have made requesting flexible work arrangements employees’ legal right in some states?

As of Jan. 1, 2014, employees in Vermont and the city of San Francisco now have that right.

The new San Francisco law – called the Family Friendly Workplace ordinance – lets employees with caregiving responsibilities request flexible or predictable work schedules. To comply with the law, their employers must tell their workers about these new rights, meet tight deadlines when responding to requests and keep relevant documents.

Making it work for your company

You may not be obligated by law to accommodate job flexibility requests, but if you’re getting more of them or planning to allow some job flexibility for business reasons (e.g., improved job satisfaction, reduced absenteeism, greater commitment and reduced turnover), there’s a lot to consider.

  • How, exactly, do you implement flexible work arrangements under a consistent HR policy?
  • How do you help supervisors around your company make decisions that appropriately balance employee and workplace needs?
  • How do you manage the related liabilities?

Start pulling your strategy together by taking these preliminary measures.

1. Be clear about who’s eligible

Because some positions lend themselves to flexibility more easily than others, supervisors have to make case-by-case decisions about when to allow it. However, as you write your company’s policy, make it clear that eligibility is based on whether a flexible work arrangement meets the business needs of an employee’s work environment. The reason an employee requests flexibility doesn’t matter – all requests should get fair consideration. (See also: Are Your Flextime Policies Fair?)

You may choose to provide other written suggestions that help managers and employees understand eligibility as a business matter.

For example, you could remind employees that they should plan on meeting the same performance standards under the new arrangement, and remind managers that they should use the same measurement criteria they’ve always used to evaluate performance.

2. Understand all flexibility options (and what you’ll allow)

All variations of job flexibility fit into two main types – schedule and location – and it can be helpful to think of them in that regard.

For example, here is how Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) defines flexible work options:

Schedule-based flexibility
  • Compressed work week – Employees to work full-time hours in fewer than five days per week
  • Flextime – Employees start and finish work at nonstandard times
  • Job-sharing – Two people share the responsibilities of one position, splitting hours and responsibilities evenly or unevenly
  • Part-time work – Employees work a permanently reduced workweek
Location-based flexibility
  • Telecommuting – Employees do part or all of their work from home or a remote location
Each type of flexibility offers its own set of benefits and challenges that you should encourage supervisors to consider when evaluating an employee’s request.

3. Set guidelines that all parties can understand

Yes, you should emphasize the case-by-case nature of each flexible work arrangement when coaching supervisors and employees on how to handle them. But it might be helpful to provide some general guidelines for making any proposed arrangement more workable.

These guidelines could address best practices like trial periods, how to communicate the arrangement to relevant departments, and how to adapt job tasks to the new plan.

4. Design a request and review process

In addition to a written policy about eligibility, you should create a set of procedures regarding flexible work arrangements. Include steps for employees to follow and steps for supervisors to follow.

For example, would you like employees to speak with someone in HR before requesting flexibility? Should employees prepare a written proposal? How long do managers have to respond to requests? Does it have to be in writing?

Designing a formal process will help establish consistent, company-wide job flexibility practices.

5. Reduce associated risks

Don’t fail to plan for the liabilities associated with certain flexible work arrangements.

Schedule flexibility can be tricky with non-exempt employees. For example, an extended workday could necessitate a second meal break. Therefore, overtime conditions must be closely monitored as well.

With location flexibility, be mindful of payday requirements, perhaps making direct deposit mandatory for telecommuting eligibility so those employees still have access to their pay on payday. Also, consider how remote employees will see mandatory workplace posters.

Putting it all together

Making a flexible work arrangement work for your company is no easy task. But with careful planning and a clear policy and procedures for supervisors and employees to follow, it can make your workforce more productive than you might think.

If you’d like more time to focus on strategic HR initiatives, click here to learn how Insperity can help you reduce some of your most time-consuming administrative tasks.

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