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I’m Worried They’re Doing the Laundry Instead of the Work

HR Policies & Procedures
by Stephen Bruce, PhD, PHR

Flexible scheduling and telework invariably raise the question in managers’ minds, How do I know they’re working? Consultant Dayna Fellows says, If they’re getting the job done, maybe you shouldn’t care about the laundry.

One of the advantages to telecommuting that many organizations find is that it forces managers to manage by results rather than by hours in the office, says Fellows, founder and president of WorkLife Performance, Inc. Fellows offered her flex/telecommuting tips at a recent webinar sponsored by BLR and HR Hero.

Flex Program Evolution

Flex started in early 80s as a nice-to-have reaction to the influx of women in the workplace, and the requests of parents of both sexes who wanted to parent differently. But now it’s a business imperative, says Fellows.

Business Drivers

It’s important for managers to support flex as a work methodology, not a “little HR deal,” says Fellows. Here she lists the typical business drivers that favor flex. Which will be important to your organization? She asks.

  • Enhances recruiting—applicants are looking for it
  • Gives employees a measure of flexibility and control
  • Sends a message of respect, trust, accountability
  • Addresses labor pool considerations (is attractive to women and millenials)
  • Gives global access to talent—employees don’t have to be in your city (or country)
  • Improves retention

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  • Sends a message about your culture regarding work/life balance
  • Increases morale–for example, people can use a compressed day off for children’s orthodontia or the dentist—they don’t have to take work time
  • Similarly, offers greater productivity with fewer distractions
  • Increases loyalty
  • Offers critical flexibility to retirees
  • Increases internal referrals
  • Simplifies ADA accommodation, hiring of Wounded Warriors
  • Reduces absenteeism
  • Improves traffic congestion/air quality–contributes to “green” and sustainability goals (and good community citizenship)
  • Reduces “Presenteeism,” that is, employees who come in sick. (They don’t get much done, and they share their germs, says Fellows.)
  • Reduces real estate expenses, parking, transportation subsidies (These are hard-dollar metrics, Fellows notes.)
  • Provides for business continuity in the event of harsh weather, hurricanes, etc. People are already set to work from alternate sites.
  • Provides incentive in light of congestion, commuting costs
  • Mitigates relocation costs

The 6 Challenges Managers Raise

The biggest challenge for flextime and telecommuting in particular is manager resistance. The reality is that managers are still accountable for what people do and they want answers.

  • “How will I know they’re working?” Offer training around performance management and measurement, says Fellows. Move toward a results-oriented approach.
  • “I need quality office coverage at all times.” Put in the policy that “business comes first.” This may limit flex options, but the manager has right to say, I need you in the office tomorrow.”
  • “If I let one person do it, everyone will want to.” Make it clear that not everyone is eligible. The manager is in control.

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  • “I’ll never be able to find anyone.” That is unacceptable, so off-site workers have to be available. You may need multiple ways to reach people.
  • “We’ll lose all our sense of being a team.” Limited the number of days people can be offsite. Establish one day that everyone’s in. Be forthright to all offsite workers—“I will expect great collaboration.” And to a seasoned employee you might say, “I expect that you will still be a mentor every day, wherever you are.”
  • “How do I keep them from doing laundry in the middle of the day?” You can’t, says Fellows. But if they are always doing what they need to do, and are always available when you need them, why worry?

In tomorrow’s Advisor, the three flavors of flex, plus an introduction to BLR’s popular checklist-based HR audit system.

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  1. Anonymous        
    October 10, 2012 7:33 am

    I tend to think most of the manager objections are based in one thing: resistance to change (augmented, perhaps, with a fear of loss of power). As you show in the article, there are usually solutions to the objections managers raise.

  2. Anonymous        
    October 30, 2012 11:07 pm

    Organizations that don’t allow teleworking, where the type of work an employee does is suited for it, seem to be stuck in the factory age. Given all the benefits of offering teleworking; if managers still have fears that the employee is doing the laundry, it reflects a serious trust deficit.
    As the points raised by Fellows in this article so clearly say, one need not rely on trust alone, given the ways by which technology can be used to ‘track’ teleworkers. Making them accountable for their work is the best monitoring tool. Come on, we are not dealing with school kids to worry about whether they are in school or in the cinema. Employees are grown up adults who know the seriousness and purpose of their job.
    Come to think of this: Offering teleworking (in the light of all the criteria Fellows mentions in the article) is actually a bait. It will be easy for management to say: “Look, we gave you what you wanted. Now, perform or else…”