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Getting Work Accomplished: 21st Century Flexibility Models

A note for our readers: the views reflected by the authors do not reflect the views of ASPA.

By Horace Blake

The past several decades has moved us toward a variety of work assignments from telecommuting, flextime options to compressed arrangements. The general working public has accepted the many varieties of work assignment options that thrive on the ability to get work done in the 21st century. According to NPR.org, the City of Des Moines, Iowa has had a stream of corporate offices locating to that city which is known for attracting very talented young professionals due to their culture of embracing telecommuting and alternative work arrangements. Specifically, this is to attract those who want to embrace their professional aspirations while raising a young family. The private sector has led the way in this type of work model. On the other hand, the public sector has lagged behind, as several government agencies require having control over information and documentation. In general, a secure public agency environment may warrant on the job presence as a necessary requirement as to how work gets accomplished. There are however, very specialized professional civil service employees who have to cover such a wide area of responsibility that telecommuting remains the best option to embrace. The work model of telecommuting and alternative work assignments is not without its critics or its pros and cons. Recently, the high profile account of Marissa Mayer the new CEO at Yahoo.com, received a lot of press which cast a bright light on the subject of telecommuting , where work is done outside the organizations  rather than on-site.

Refuting the Myths of Telecommuting

blake aprilThere is an unmentioned stigma on working from home, where this conjures up a variety of myths. According to Sheelah Kolhatkar’s article, “The Excessive Uproar over Marissa Mayer’s Telecommuting Ban,” where the first distressing assumption that emerged after Mayer made the change to Yahoo’s telecommuting policy is the idea that “working from home” is a code for taking care of your children at home while trying to work at the same time. This is unfounded, as many who are allowed to work at home may not have the flexibility to be a caregiver while accomplishing the unprecedented demands of a responsible work assignment. Research has found that there are more men who telecommute for work than women, so here again it’s very biased to entertain the notion that women who telecommute save on child care. In many instances, the employee hires a nanny to assist in taking care of the children during work time. Dinah Wiesenberger Brin notes in her article, “Telecommuting Likely to Grow, Despite High Profile Defections,” that another large company, Best Buy, followed suit to Yahoo by announcing the decision to limit its work from home option, this may have created the uninformed impression that ultimately telecommuting is losing favor among American employers. The truth is several forecasts have targeted telecommuting to continue at a vigorous pace well into future decades, citing  the advantages, including greater flexibility and work life balance, saving on commuting time and cost as well as environmental and energy conservation.

Better Time Managers or More Productive Organizers?

Telecommuting and alternative workforce options have been around for quite some time where many such employees are available to come together when the team warrants. However, these employees might be more productive when less exposed to other employees that may be seen as an impediment to get on with the business of accomplishing work. As Mary C. Noonan and Jennifer L. Glass stated in the article, “The Hard Truth about Telecommuting,” is that it is popular with policy makers and activists, with proponents embracing the multiple ways in which telecommuting can cut commuting time and costs, reduce traffic congestion and contribute to work life balance for those with caregiving responsibilities. In addition, prevailing evidence has revealed that an increasing number of American jobs could be performed at home; this is the best work option for those with excellent managerial and organizational skills. In their 2011 book, The 21st Century Workforce: Handbook for Managing Teleworkers, Sandra Gurvis and Do Philpot pointed out this work model yields multiple benefits to the federal government. For this reason Public Law 106-346 & 359 requires federal government to establish a policy for which eligible employees of the agency may participate in telecommuting to the maximum extent possible without diminished employee performance.

Job Design and Work Schedules

The traditional work schedule where employees subscribe to arriving on-site, for eight hours per day and have a very specific schedule  continues to be in transition and has morphed to include flextime, compressed workweek and the technology inspired telecommuting. Flextime is the scheduling arrangement in which employees are allowed to work a set number of hours per week but could vary in terms of start and stop time. Many organizations are finding a compressed week as the way to harness and control increasing overhead costs while contributing to employee’s quality of life. With computer technology continuing to make inroads in how work is accomplished areas such as virtual teams, virtual office and hoteling  means employees work anytime from anywhere and are judged on output rather than time put in. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than a quarter of the fulltime workforce varies their work hours. This same data from government statistics for the past three decades has assessed that upward of 45 million U.S. workers worked at home for some or all the time. Specifically, recruiting, sales, customer service, medical billing, the hospitality and travel industry continues to experience unprecedented growth in alternative work options. One of the greatest benefits of telecommuting or alternative work options is that it mirrors the effort of employers to be mindful of work/family relationships that contributes to positive employee relations in terms of job satisfaction and retention. As workloads continue to experience added pressure from organizations flexibility will play a vital role in how work is accomplished.

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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