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Ease into a telecommuting program with a flexible work schedule

In San Francisco, access to a work telecommuting program is about to become law.

With the Family Friendly Workplace Ordinance approved last week, San Francisco becomes the first city in the United States to pass this legislation.

According to the Huffington Post, the law gives parents and caretakers the right to request special arrangements, such as a change in start times, part-time and part-year schedules, telecommuting and schedule predictability. Each one allows workers with dependents to make caregiving arrangements with enough advance notice.

The law only applies to workplaces with 20 or more employees and employers are given a stringent set of guidelines for handling the request.

City supervisor David Chiu told the HuffPost the ordinance was introduced as part of efforts to keep families from leaving the city.

“We need to do more to help families stay in San Francisco and to accommodate the dramatic changes to the workplace in recent decades,” he said. “This proposal will make it less likely that San Franciscans will be in the difficult situation of having to choose between their jobs and the well-being of the children and loved ones.”

Can this law catch on?

Enacting law for flexible work arrangements can only be considered progressive. But I wouldn’t expect to see similar legislation sweep across the United States or the world.

Too many employers are still nervous about it, whether it’s a lack of trust in their employers or a perceived inability to manage a virtual team. Some, however, are taking small steps.

In the annual CIPD/Simplyhealth Absence Management report, the number of United Kingdom employers introducing small changes has increased by 20 per cent in the last year. More than 70 per cent of the organizations report a positive impact on employee motivation and employee engagement.

Dr. Jill Miller, CIPD research adviser and co-author of the report, said flexible work options, such as part-time telecommuting or later work hours, are beneficial for both employers and employees.

“It’s not just about benefits for employers in terms of being able to attract and retain talented people — over 50 per cent of employees report that flexible working helps them achieve a better work-life balance generally, also citing that it makes them healthier, more productive and reduces the amount of time that they take off sick.”

The workforce is aging and more employees have increased caring responsibilities, whether for children or parents. That means, Miller said, they want to work untraditional hours.

“Offering more flexible working opportunities also helps to respond to the needs of the UK’s aging workforce, in which older employees will increasingly need and want to work in different ways and with different hours as they move toward retirement.”

Flexible work options are a great way to retain and attract more experienced workers, especially ones who aren’t necessarily retiring at 65.

In fact, says Helen Dickinson, spokesperson for Simplyhealth UK, says flexible work schedules — with telecommuting enabled by communcations technology such as conference calling and web conferencing — help employers get more out of their employees.

“Flexible working works well when line managers and employers are aware of the different lifestyle demands employees may have,” she said. “By helping employees to manage those demands better and perhaps adapting how, when or where the employee works can help to achieve greater commitment and motivation.”

Your turn

Do you have access to a flexible work schedule at your office? If you’re a manager, could you introduce small changes to build toward a flexible work schedule?

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