Posted by: Providence Chamber of Commerce | February 20, 2012

WSJ MarketWatch: Employers see benefits of workplace flexibility

By Ruth Mantell

WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) — Workplace flexibility — telecommuting, flexible hours and other employee accommodations — is an idea growing on employers who are trying to grow their companies out of the recession.

While the idea of workplace flexibility is familiar — companies have been working for years on strategies to enable employees to have some say over when and where they work — it may become more appealing for firms looking to retain workers stressed by higher productivity demands, and attract those searching for a better spot, industry participants said.

“Employees are maxed out,” said Kyra Cavanaugh, president of Life Meets Work, a Chicago area flexible workplace consultant. “[Companies] just can’t get anymore productivity out of employees coming out of the recession, and they are starting to leave their workplace. People are fed up. Market forces are making flexibility a more strategic alternative to some of the other ways that companies used to manage growth.”

Longer-term trends may also push firms to adopt more flexible policies. Women are continuing to obtain high levels of education, incentivizing them to remain in the workforce, and creating demand from families for increased flexibility. Also, there’s evidence that younger workers, who will be make up a larger chunk of the workforce as baby boomers retire, place strong emphasis on their work product, rather than hours spent in a cubicle.

According to a 2010 report from the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, the benefits of flexible workplace arrangements — less absenteeism and turnover, and improved worker health and productivity — can outweigh costs.

Coming out of the recession, Cavanaugh said, she is seeing companies shifting to more structured policies about flexible work, and away from one-off arrangements for individuals. Much of the recent growth at Life Meets Work is from companies that already have programs, but want to make them better, she said.

“Companies are saying that they need to be more formal about flexibility,” Cavanaugh said.

Karol Rose, principal for advisory services at FlexPaths, a Hillsdale, N.J.-based flexible working services provider, said companies are increasingly seeing that flexibility can serve a business need, and that there is considerable interest in teleworking.

“More and more are realizing cost savings,” Rose said. “It’s not necessarily a company going from bricks and mortar 100% to 100% remote working. The key with flexibility from a cost and function perspective for employees and managers is to make sure it works for both parties.”

Amra Metcalf, marketing director for eTripTrader, a Boise-based provider of an automated work-shift trading technology, said enabling workers to plan their own schedules, within limits, can help managers, as well as reduce absenteeism.

On February 29, 2012 GPCC and RI SHRM are presenting a forum on Workplace Flexibility, where TWO HRCI Strategic Credits will be awarded to attendees.  The keynote presenter is  Lisa Horn, Co-Leader, SHRM Workplace Flex Initiative. Also, a panel of local business leaders that have won the Sloan Award for Excellence in Effective & Flexible Workplaces will share best practices and models for implementation. Panelists represent: Atrion Networking Corp, Embolden , and KPMG. The Presenting Sponsors of this event are KPMG  and 360 Corporate Benefit Advisors.  To register, contact or visit the Events tab on our home page.

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