Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Can Telecommuting and a Four-Day Workweek Build a Better Workforce?

(BUSINESS WIRE)--With the uncertainty of the economic climate, many companies are considering several options to help employees lower their costs and help their paycheck stretch further. Gevity (NASDAQ: GVHR), a leading professional employer organization (PEO) that provides HR services to businesses nationwide, today released guidelines and tips for companies considering alternative workforce arrangements including telecommuting and flexible schedules such as a four-day workweek.

“Some U.S. businesses are turning to telecommuting and a four-day workweek for two key reasons: to save costs and keep their best employees,” said Meredith Johnson, Gevity’s Chief People Officer. “With a shorter workweek, employees immediately save 20% of their commute costs so it’s a great way to help them retain more of their take-home pay when budgets are tight. Effectively, it’s a pay raise at no cost to the employer. Businesses also may actually realize productivity gains and increased employee satisfaction due to fewer distractions, lower stress, and more control over time.”

The Planning Process

“Employers that are ready to consider alternative work arrangements should make sure to complete their due diligence,” said Johnson. “First, evaluate which job functions are appropriate for telecommuting or a four-day workweek. Jobs that are high on daily customer contact or require access to in-office reference materials won’t travel well, but those that are heavy on computer work, require great concentration, and have clear objectives can be ideal.”

“Also consider which employees are viable candidates for flexible schedules,” Johnson said. “Those who demonstrate good performance and self-accountability will generally do best. The new demands on supervisors also should be considered. They may need training in ‘management by results’ in addition to the traditional ‘management by observation.’”

Other guidelines to consider include:

1. Make a list, check it twice. Create a checklist to analyze each job function for telecommuting compatibility. Look specifically at the type of work performed, the employees’ personalities, and the performance measurements you’ll put in place to optimize the initiative’s success.

2. Location, location, location. Think about where the program will be implemented: who will be off-site and when, who will not, and what the company will look like. Most employees will want to telecommute or participate in a four-day workweek, but many won’t be able to. Be prepared to deal with this fairly and sensibly.

3. Think technical. Consider the related IT costs of telecommuting. Ensure that your organization is equipped for virtual work arrangements, including appropriate software, computers, connectivity, security and technical support. Virtual work arrangements can increase demands on IT staff if they are not well implemented.

4. Spell it out. Use a formal telecommuting agreement that clearly articulates the terms of the arrangement. It should cover company expectations, who is responsible for equipment and appropriate workspaces, schedules, etc. Most importantly, it should establish telecommuting as an accommodation, not an entitlement, that can be modified at-will by the employer, should company requirements change.

5. Start small. Consider launching with a pilot program. This will help work out the kinks in a relatively controlled environment.

6. Some face time is good. Some time in the office will almost certainly be required for telecommuters. This can help address the decreased teamwork and sense of belonging that may occur in those who are not in the office on a regular basis.

Like any major change, telecommuting and other flexible work arrangements will take some getting used to. Once the system is fully operational, however, the move should pay ongoing dividends for the company, the workers and the environment.

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