At General Mills headquarters in Minneapolis, Denise Silva, Manager of Inclusion and Flexibility, plans an annual Flex Fair to showcase the company’s flexible work options. “We talk about flexible work throughout the year, but the Flex Fair is our big annual push that really gets on everyone’s radar screen,” Silva says. “It’s big and it’s visible because we want to make sure everyone knows that flexibility is a corporate priority.”
Planned to coincide with National Work and Family Month in October, the fair is a time when employees learn more about flexible work options and other company-sponsored tools for work-life balance. Here’s how General Mills pulls it all off:
Booths. Silva invites employees to host their own booths, which in most cases are nothing more elaborate than a table, a few staff people and some literature. Because each department coordinates their own message and handouts, Silva keeps her coordination role manageable.
In a typical year, booth topics will include part-time work, telecommuting, technology, manager support, time off, child care, the employee assistance program, flex work options, and the company’s “Flexible User Shared Environment” program which is a flexible workspace/hoteling option for employees who don’t need to work on-site in a dedicated office every day.
Notably, the telecommuting booth is staffed virtually, so employees discuss remote work options via live chat. At the manager booth, leaders get tips and tools for talking about flex with their employees.
In 2011 the company also offered open forum discussions on flex options, telecommuting, and part-time work. This was an opportunity for employees to share best practices and questions in a supportive, problem-solving type of environment, explains Silva.
Time and Effort. Silva starts planning about five months in advance and estimates she spends a few hours each week organizing the fair. She has a volunteer advisory committee that also helps with planning and promotion.
The day of the fair is the most labor intensive, of course. Silva’s advisory committee helps her recruit and manage approximately 100 volunteers to help with set up, take down, registration, and driving attendance. (Volunteer shifts are short—just 30 minutes each—so no one gives up a large chunk of the work day.)
Fair Day Timeline. From 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., volunteers hand out literature and promote the fair as their coworkers come in for the day. Employees are encouraged to drop off questions they hope to get answered later during the fair.
Booths are open from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. A registration table offers cookies and other treats for attendees as well as a prize drawing.
Next, in nearby conference rooms, the open forums start at 12:30 and run in half-hour intervals until 2:00.
Return on Investment. Silva says anywhere from 800 to 1000 employees attend the fair each year, or roughly one third of the building. “We’ve done it three years in a row and attendance isn’t going down,” she says. “It keeps people aware that flex is still important.”