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Telecommuting is just one type of flexible work arrangement. It's an option for employees who can work at a remote location while completing their required job tasks.

Flex your time

Flexible work arrangements can help provide work-life balance

By Norma Juarbe Franceschini

Brief, August 9, 2006

If there were a tool to increase your job satisfaction and improve your work-life balance, would you want to know more about it?

Call the tool "flexible work arrangements," and put it in your job toolkit.

Flexible work arrangements provide alternatives to the traditional 8-to-4:30 work schedule, letting you vary your work hours and location. Whether you're attending evening classes, caring for a relative, or tired of a long commute to work, flexible work arrangements may be a perfect option to improve your overall efficiency. They can help reduce stress and let you use your time more effectively to get a better balance in your work and personal lives.

For Wendy Volkman, that means time to care for her two young daughters and still accomplish her work as a Web designer in the Office of Human Resources (OHR). Volkman works a reduced-time schedule, reporting to the office in the morning and working at home for an hour or two in the afternoon.

"It allows me to keep the kids in daycare part-time and then work when they are napping in the afternoon," says Volkman, whose children are 2 years and 6 months. "Right now, my time with them is so important. They need me. They are just so little."

At the University of Minnesota, the most common flexible work arrangements are flextime, compressed workweek, job sharing, telecommuting, and reduced-time/part-time. Each comes with advantages and disadvantages, so be prepared to do your research before you seek to make it part of your life. You will want to make sure that you request an option that makes sense for your work requirements and also fits the demands of your lifestyle.

Five flexible work arrangements defined

Flextime refers to arrangements where starting, ending, and break times including lunch hour are negotiated to not follow standard pre-set schedules. Because flextime does not alter the total number of hours worked, it does not have a negative impact on your benefits package and won't affect your take-home pay. For example, this can be an ideal match for an employee who needs their child care and workday schedule to have the same start and end times. For some workers, flextime can provide a valuable solution.

Compressed workweek is another way to maintain your full-time status and yet gain a level of flexibility. With this option, an employee can choose, for example, to work four ten-hour days, Monday through Thursday, and enjoy Friday off; or to work four nine-hour days, Monday through Thursday, and a half-day on Friday. Although you may run the risk of feeling overworked on the longer days, the benefit of longer weekends may help you achieve both professional and personal goals.

More information

Flexible Work Arrangements
(including the self-test)

What's the impact on my benefits?

Manager's Toolkit

Job-sharing is a popular option because it allows the employer to secure a full-time appointment while the employees benefit from a part-time job. Two individuals share a position by working either half-days or half-weeks. This option requires excellent planning and communication skills because the employees need to negotiate how best to deliver services and achieve the required responsibilities and outcomes of the job. If you enjoy collaborative work and also would like to have more time for volunteering, gardening, or taking classes, this may be an excellent option to consider.

Telecommuting is an option for employees who can work at a remote location while completing their required job tasks. You may need to rely on technology (a computer, Internet, phone, or fax) to get the work done from home. With telecommuting, an employee may work part of the time or the entire workweek outside of their originally designated work space without compromising the quality, type, or amount of work. Employees who otherwise travel long distances to work benefit not only by saving the commute time but the significant costs of gas and vehicle maintenance.

"With rising gas prices, telecommuting one day a week offers me significant savings," says Deb Stull Erickson, whose commute is 48 miles each way to her job in OHR communications. "As a writer, it also gives me the time I need to be in a quiet space and write--I can accomplish tremendous amounts of work on my Fridays at home."

Reduced-time/part-time schedules increase your personal time available by decreasing the total number of hours you work. Employees looking at this option need to consider the financial implications because salary and benefits may be affected by your new total of hours worked per week. This may be an excellent choice for new parents like Volkman or an attractive transitional option for those considering retirement.

Do your research

Always consult with your Human Resources representative, labor contracts, and supervisors because many jobs simply do not adapt to any of these flexible options. If the requirements of your job do not allow you to "flex" your time, the Office of Human Resources offers an array of other work-life support tools--resources and information to help you achieve a sense of balance in your life. For more information, see WorkLife Effectiveness Program and click on Career/Life Alliance Services (CLAS).

If any of these options interest you, find out more about whether it might be the right option for you. An employee self-test (see "More information" box, above) is available online and can help you determine whether any of them could work for your job. It's important to remember that all flexible work arrangements need to be authorized through proper channels, including approval by your supervisor and department head.

If you decide to propose a flexible work arrangement, consider doing it in writing. It may be more effective if you not only include in your proposal your request, but also offer to complete a trial-and-review period to see how is it works for both you and your department. Also consider including in your proposal concrete solutions to potential challenges posed by your arrangement to the unit, coworkers, and clients.

Everyone benefits from working in a flexible work environment. Employers gain through higher employee morale and staff retention while recognizing significant savings in the areas of hiring and training. Employees get an opportunity to experience that work can have a positive impact on their personal lives.

Norma Juarbe Franceschini is the coordinator of the University's WorkLife Effectiveness Program.