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The value of working from home questioned: Whether to implement flexible work arrangements or not?

The recent decision by Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer to ban working from home for “Yahoos” has been both widely criticised and applauded. The decision has been criticised for undermining the growing trend toward telecommuting and other flexible work arrangements which enable employees to better balance work/life challenges, especially important to women with children and employees with aging parents. Those who applaud the move, however, believe that Mayer has, in effect, declared that “the emperor has no clothes” in her dismissal of the alleged benefits of such work practices in favour of the “soft” benefits which come from an interactive work environment, such as informal problem solving, dissemination of information, and collaborative inspiration, to name a few.

Remember that even though working from home has been the flexible work option most under discussion and scrutiny as a result of Yahoo’s recent decision, there are other flexible work options which could be considered in the context of the particular workplace, including flex-time and compressed work weeks.

For human resources professionals, the consideration is not solely whether to implement flexible work arrangements or not, but rather a complex assessment of whether the workplace in general and/or specific jobs within the workplace may be productive and effectively managed under such flexibility.

Key considerations for flexible work arrangements, include:

The workplace – Employers must assess the workplace itself in terms of what the nature of the business is (customer service, outside sales, creative development, etc.), the culture of the workplace (collaborative, isolated, strictly scheduled), the physical plant issues (adequate office, desk and parking space) and technological infrastructure (remote log-in, security, mobile technology).

The job – Some jobs may be ideally suited for flexible arrangements or working from home, while others (even for the same employer) may not. For example, an employer’s sales force may work outside of the office for 90 percent of the time in any case, its customer service or order taking staff may easily work remotely, but its production staff must be present when the line runs. Where flexible work arrangements are feasible for a job, the employer must be able to measure productivity in a concrete way, such as sales numbers, orders taken or calls placed or answered.

The employee – Even where a flexible work arrangement may in theory be feasible for a particular job, an individual employee’s personal characteristics must also be considered. Some employees may find their home environment too distracting to be productive, other employees may find the workplace atmosphere too distracting. Employers should also assess the performance history of employees before considering a flexible work arrangement for any employee.

The law – Employers must ensure that any flexible work arrangement adheres to the laws regarding hours of work, overtime, days of rest, and health and safety.

Flexibility for the employer – Any flexible work arrangement policy must retain the right for the employer to change its mind or terminate any such arrangement if it believes it is not working.

Fairness – Even though employers will wish to maintain absolute discretion with respect to such programs, the use of such discretion must adhere to principles of fairness, non-discrimination and accommodation.

As you can see, even for workplaces which may benefit from flexible work arrangements, employers may face significant challenges in the planning, implementation and management of such schemes.

A more detailed discussion and sample policy of Flexible Work Arrangements is available in the Human Resources PolicyPro, Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba & Saskatchewan, Ontario, Atlantic Editions.

Michele Glassford
Editor of Human Resources PolicyPro
published by First Reference Inc.

Michele Glassford

President and Managing Editor at DRH and Lawyer at MacKinnon Law Associates
Michele Glassford, is a lawyer, researcher and policy analyst with a background in employment and labour law.In addition to a part-time law practice in Stoney Creek, Ontario, Michele has worked in the field of labour adjustment for the Health Sector Training and Adjustment Program and has been a Researcher for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Michele also holds the position of President and Managing Editor at D.R. Hancocks & Associates Inc., author of the Human Resources PolicyPros. Read more
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