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Bridging the Gap

Bridging the Gap

It’s easier than ever to contact someone wherever and whenever you need to these days. With high-speed internet, videoconferencing, Skype and cell phones, meetings are no longer defined by the limits of the conference table.

So why, then, are flexible work arrangements – many of which are made possible by today’s technological innovations – not taking off by leaps and bounds?  [private_basic]

According to Boston College’s Center for Work and Family, it’s a result of something called the “implementation gap” – a discrepancy between the idea and the realization of flexible work arrangements.

In its study called “Overcoming the Implementation Gap: How 20 Leading Companies are Making Flexibility Work,” Boston College set out to discover what a successful flexible work program looks like, for everyone involved.

Why Bend?

The case for flexible work arrangements is a strong one.

The study surveyed 58 representatives from 20 companies to determine how they developed successful flexible work programs. These companies found that flexible work led to increased employee satisfaction and greater commitment to employers. In turn, the companies saw a spike in productivity, employee loyalty, retention, and as a result of those factors, profit.

For example, Deloitte & Touche saved an estimated $41.5 million in turnover costs alone by implementing flexible work arrangements such as their Personal Pursuits program. The program allows employees to quit a job at Deloitte but maintain a relationship with the company through contact with company mentors and access to training; in return, Deloitte carries the costs of continuing the former employee’s professional licensing.

The Radcliffe Public Policy Center also found that for men in their 20s and 30s and women in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, the most important job characteristic is having a work schedule that allows them to spend time with their families.

Katie Kennedy Shepherd, new mother and owner of a Madison-based advertising firm, seconds the Radcliffe findings: “We’ve found that employees would trade a 9-5 job that pays more for more flexibility and time with family,” Kennedy Shepherd says. “At our company, it’s important that the work gets done, it gets done well and meets deadlines. What time it gets done during the day – or night – really doesn’t matter much. That’s an outdated view of ‘work.’”

Boston College’s study draws much the same conclusion: “In order to be competitive, and attract and retain the future workforce, having effective flexible work arrangements is not just an option, it’s a necessity.”

Two to Tango

But wanting something to be doesn’t always make it so – or make it easy to attain. Respondents to the Boston College study identified several key obstacles to implementing “new ways of working,” such as management resistance, employee skepticism and fear, and cultural resistance to major change.

The study’s bottom line is that for flexible arrangements to be a success, managers and employees alike must commit to making them work.

Virginia Amann is a mom and vice president with Porter Novelli’s Life Sciences division and is based out of her home. She says her company is accommodating of flexible work arrangements, but the company has seen the greatest success “when there’s a strong commitment on both sides.”

“What employees need to understand, at least in regard to the business of servicing clients, is that it’s really not a 9-to-5 job,” Amann says. “So for us, flexible really means fluid. When someone is needed, they’re expected to be available, and in turn, we accommodate their needs.”

Building Strong Bridges

According to the Boston College study, a few handfuls of major U.S. companies have overcome the challenges and seen real benefits.

Eli Lilly and Booz Allen Hamilton have both created teleworking arrangements, creating spikes in productivity while reducing commuting costs for both employees and the environment.

Through its “New Parent Reintegration” program, Intel allows workers to adjust their hours or work part time after parental leave. And Raytheon offers a 9/80 work schedule, allowing employees to work 80 hours in 9 days and get Friday off every other week.

These are not the only success stories. The study identifies 20 leading companies that have bridged the implementation gap and reaped rewards in employee satisfaction and retention, reduced costs and increased performance.

The study cites several key common contributors to successful flexible work programs:

  • Conduct research before creating the program to best understand employee needs, ascertain the company culture and level of support for flexible work arrangements;
  • Gain commitment for the program by enlisting support from those in leadership and positioning a flexible work program as a solution to a business problem;
  • Design the program to make the “new way of working the expected way of working,” and institute performance management systems that reward objective goals, not face time;
  • Implement the program gradually, first piloting it in selective divisions before going company-wide. Enlist support from Information Technology (to provide the necessary infrastructure) and Human Resources; and
  • Monitor the program to determine what is working well, what is not, and where adjustments can be made.

Implementing flexible work arrangements – and doing it right – can be a challenge, but the companies in Boston College’s study say the benefits are well worth it.

As Ann Bamsberger, a vice president at Sun Microsystems, says in the study, “Stop fretting about comp and benefits; this [flexible work arrangements] is the future.”

By Erin Celello.  Erin Celello hails from Madison, Wisconsin where she works as a public relations professional while moonlighting as a freelance writer, triathlete, and lover of two Vizslas, Newton and Leonard. She reflects on lessons in running and life at The Long and Winding Road.



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