The University Record, January 30, 1995

Seminar explores options for flexible workplace

By Rebecca A. Doyle

“People in most organizations today are hurting,” Suzanne Smith told her audience of managers and supervisors at a Jan. 20 seminar on flexibility in the workplace.

“After years of lean-and-mean and downsizing, too many firms are understaffed and too many workers are suffering from survivors’ syndrome,” she said, “wondering when, if ever, the stress will go away.”

Smith, who has studied workplace flexibility for the past 22 years, is co-author of Creating the Flexible Workplace. She cited statistics from several recent studies that show 43 percent of business and industry do not have a large enough workforce to meet the needs for their immediate future.

Studies also show, she emphasized, that the top complaint employees had about their jobs was the lack of personal time, and that many would trade money for personal time off.

In speaking to many companies about workplace flexibility, she notes that the workplace is changing and that implementing a plan that allows employees to make some choices within a set of parameters defined by management can reduce the turnover of top workers by nearly one-half.

Flextime

Although workplace flexibility is not limited to scheduling of work hours, most companies that offer flexibility for employees use scheduling at least as a starting point. Employees who are offered flexible scheduling are normally offered earlier or later work hours within a defined time frame, Smith says, as long as the chosen hours are within times set by management and the “core hours”—usually between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.—are fully staffed.

Another option that many companies, particularly production industries, are moving toward is the compressed work week. Employees work four 10-hour days per week, three 12-hour shifts, or what Smith says is a popular combination of nine-hour days that equals 80 hours over two weeks.

Flexible worksite

Becoming more common, Smith notes, is “flexplace,” or telecommuting. Employees work off-site and communicate with their offices by computer or by telephone. Eventually, she says, whole floors or buildings may be used for other functions, while one office may remain open and be shared by several employees, each of whom makes appointments to come in and use the office and clerical services—a concept known as the virtual workplace.

Flexible staffing

Other ways companies offer flexibility include hiring some personnel on a part-time basis, having two part-time people share the same job, staffing the workplace by using temporary staff or independent contractors, and by granting leaves and sabbaticals.

In conclusion, Smith noted that flexible scheduling does not work for everyone, and that it is not something that staff or supervisors should consider an entitlement. It is, however, one way to accommodate those for whom a traditional schedule creates an extra burden, and a way to make the workplace more productive and less restrictive.