Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Exceptions and exception handling from the HR perspective 5: flex time, telecommuting and other workplace alternatives

Posted in HR and personnel by Timothy Platt on April 10, 2014

This is my fifth installment in a series on recognizing, understanding and thinking about exceptions, and about exception handing in a Human Resources context (see HR and Personnel, postings 197 and following for Parts 1-4.)

I have been discussing outside-sourced consultants and contract workers in this series, as a first area of employment where exception handling considerations can and frequently do become important (see Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.)

• I switch directions in this installment to consider employees who do come in-house but through terms that are more non-standard for the hiring organization: flex time, telecommuting and other workplace alternatives of employment.

And to put this discussion into an explicit organizational perspective and framework I explicitly assume that this is a hiring business that follows what would be considered a more common terms of employment approach, at least as of this writing, for most of its staff with most in-house employees working strictly in-house and for the most part on location in business owned or rented space, and according to set and mutually agreed to fixed work schedules.

Businesses that follow these approaches can have sales staff and customer support personnel who have to go out to their clients in order to perform their work, and they can have hands-on specialists who have to go out to their employer business’ own satellite and other facilities to maintain critical infrastructure and for other in-house support needs. I cite by way of example, computer hardware and network technicians who work out of the home office as their professional home base but who travel as needed off-site from there and even out of state when required, when for example new offices locations are set up and have to be connected into sensitive, proprietary IT systems or when significant and complex repair or maintenance support is called for. I have worked closely with professionals of this type when working in and managing Information Technology services.

These employees often and even usually work according to more flexible schedules, and they all work off-site from their home base, remotely connecting into their employer’s in-house computer networks and any business-controlled and owned cloud-based information sharing systems. I take that approach a next step but only a next step when I add in flex-time and telecommuting options for employees who perform tasks and manage areas of responsibility that could in principle, be as easily carried out from a single set in-house business location.

Why would a business want to support flex-time or telecommuting? There are probably as many reasons and variations on that as there are flex-time and telecommuting workers but some basic and even standard themes come immediately to mind as common sorts of reasons for reaching these types of terms of employment accommodations.

• Flex time and telecommuting options can be very attractive draws for securing and retaining highly competitively sought employees with rare but crucial skills sets and experience.
• They can be valuable options for retaining valuable employees already in place and particularly where commuting distance traveled, weather and other conditions can make going into work at least situationally very challenging. I have also seen these types of workplace accommodations offered and accepted when employees would otherwise be torn between workplace and childcare or other personal scheduling challenges, but where with allowed for flexibility they can fully perform their duties and complete their task assignments on schedule. Then this can become a matter of scheduling in when these employees need to come in to work at their business’ offices with their being allowed and supported for working off-site at other times. Or alternatively I have seen situations where workers are allowed and expected to work off-site on specific days of the week with that firmly established, or at specific special hours on specific days. There are a lot of ways to organize this, to mutual agreement and satisfaction.
• And as a general principle, businesses that flexibly accommodate the needs of their employees can quickly gain reputations as great places to work, increasing their impact in the jobs market when they seek to hire, and particularly for bringing in employees with special skills. But this can significant improve their across the board employee retention rates too. Offering options like flex time and telecommuting can be great marketing for a business too, proving that they are people-friendly and good corporate citizens.

And this all leads me to what is probably the single most important point that I would make in this posting:

• When a business, through its Human Resources department, the departments and services these employees hands-on work for, and through its overall strategic and operational oversight allow for and support alternative terms of employment they are effectively writing a new form of employment contract with those employees – and with every other employee there who now knows that these options and opportunities are realistic possibilities that others have already been granted.

This means thinking through what is being allowed for and supported in practice. And it means standardizing and formalizing any such special employment arrangements with new terms of employment formally signed off on – and whenever new terms of employment are agreed to. This should be formally done and in writing, exactly as is done with new hires as they come onboard and sign on as new employees.

This means moving as quickly and effectively as possible away from ad hoc agreements that can and will come back to haunt any business that allows them to accumulate as partly considered ad hoc exceptions. “But you let X do that – why not me too?” can undercut any general, standard employment contract, however drafted by demonstrating that the hiring and employing company does not itself take its employment contract restrictions and requirements seriously in practice. This particularly applies as a very specific risk management concern when you as a hiring manager or you as a HR manager, or you as a business owner do not fully, consistently, clearly know what is being offered and allowed throughout your workforce – as arises when ad hoc employment agreements are entered into and simply left as such.

• So it is crucial that terms of employment differences be set up and formally agreed to and documented to limit the possibility that they could be argued to reflect discrimination or favoritism.
• It is crucial that terms of employment as actually practiced and allowed be documented and formalized to protect the integrity of employment contracts and agreements in general at that organization.

I am going to more formally and systematically discuss this approach to exception handling that I have been delving into in this series, in a next series installment where I will discuss prototyping processes for testing out and validating new terms of employment as a formally documented alternative to ad hoc exception making per se. New and novel terms of employment and needs for them do and will arise and a more effective business knows how to identify and capture value from this, and even as an industry leader for its Human Resources and Personnel policies and practices. I will at least begin to discuss how that can be done in my next installment to this series. Meanwhile, you can find this posting and series at HR and Personnel – 2, and earlier installments to this series as well as other related material at HR and Personnel.

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