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How to reward staff with alternative work schedules, telecommuting, and more time off

January 1, 2009

When I had the pleasure of meeting some of you during the AE Institute in Colorado, there was a consistent concern: What type of “reward” can I offer my staff during tough economic times, especially when bonuses and salaries are frozen this year and maybe next year as well.

Flexible work arrangements can be a viable alternative to rewarding your employees with money. According to a 2009 study by Citrix Systems Inc., “Worldwide Workplace: The Web Commuting Imperative,” one in five workers is willing to relinquish 5 percent of his salary for the opportunity to work offsite one to two days a week. The study also found that nearly 75 percent of all workers want the freedom to work remotely from home or elsewhere, yet most workers don’t have the option.

Work from Home

The popularity of telecommuting is on the rise. According to Gartner Dataquest research, 27.5 percent of employees will telecommute at least occasionally this year. Still, telecommuting is not right for everyone. Although research shows that telecommuting increases productivity from 10 percent to 40 percent—due in part to the absence of typical office interruptions—some employees find it distracting to be home with ready access to television, personal phone calls, or chores.

So to ensure that telecommuting works for all involved, offer it on a trial basis at first. Experiment with the concept for occasional work-from-home projects. For example, if your employee is working on a project that requires undivided attention, allow him or her time to work on the project at home. Detail the scope of the project, the outcome you expect, and a completion date. You may find that projects get done faster.

Moving some employees to part- or full-time work-from-home status can save the association money on office space, bandwidth, phone calls, coffee, and utilities, to name a few in-office expenses.

The 32-hour workweek

Closing the association office for one day per week is a money-saving and staff-saving option—if your members can do without services for one day.

Although your staff’s salaries would be reduced, this may be an acceptable compromise to employees potentially facing job loss. Members, too, may not mind going without services one day a week if they believe the trade-off is that there will be no increase in dues or other fees.

Compressed workweek

Another option that calls for the closure of the office for one day per week—though not a reduction in staff salary—is the compressed workweek. When employees work four ten-hour days (8 a.m. to 6 p.m.) instead of five eight-hour days, they do not lose pay (and would even save on commuting costs).

Alternatively, the association could remain open five days a week, but employees would each work four 10-hour days, leaving one employee absent per day. Make sure you have enough employees to cover essential services every day. Typically, ensuring that 50 percent of your workforce is available at all times for member inquiries is a good standard. This will also provide coverage for when an employee is out of the office due to illness or for other unplanned reasons.

Flexible schedules

You may find you have employees who would jump at the chance to be in the office at 7 a.m. every day if they could go home by 3 p.m. Others may relish arriving by 10 a.m. and staying until 6 p.m. Such flexible scheduling may require you to extend the association’s operating hours, which could cost a bit on utilities, but the increased service to members, along with the happier employees, tips the scales.

More days off

In lieu of a salary increase, offer employees more time off. You can increase the number of paid vacation days, offer a few optional nonpaid days, or offer half-days on alternate Fridays (even a little goes a long way).

Establish flex policy

As with any new program that you implement, meet with staff and outline the work parameters of your flex policy in writing. Consider whether alternate schedules will be offered all year or just during certain periods of time, such as the summer. Are all employees eligible? Are there times when telecommuters are required to work in the office or when flex schedules must change? For example, you may require staff in the office during dues billing time or in preparation for an annual meeting. Whatever you decide, create a flexible work arrangement policy and put it in your employee manual.

When flexible doesn’t work

Once you implement an alternate work arrangement, as with any benefit, it’s often difficult to take it away. If an employee appears to be abusing the arrangement (e.g., a person tends to call in sick on their half day or is not available at home via phone throughout the day per your agreement), be sure to address the issues with the employee, rather than scrapping the benefit for everyone. If you see the quality and quantity of work from telecommuting employees drop, bring them back in the office a few days a week, or otherwise adjust the arrangement.

How to gain leadership approval

For most associations, office management is the purview of the AE. However, keep your board of directors informed of any new office policy. If, for example, flexible arrangements would affect member services, your board may want to weigh in.

If you’d like to reduce office hours, sell the idea to your leadership by outlining the potential savings and the statistics regarding increased staff productivity and morale. Explain that you have a detailed, written policy outlining the provisions of the flexible arrangements, including oversight and disciplinary measures to be taken in the event of abuse.

Flexible work arrangements can be a great alternative to salary increases in tight economic times if they are administered properly. Your staff will be grateful you’ve considered such options as a way to reward them for their loyalty and hard work.

Employment Law and Flexible Schedules

When implementing new work schedules, be sure to track the overtime worked by your nonexempt staff. Federal law requires that non-exempt employees be paid 1.5 times their pay for any hours worked over 40 in one week. Some states require overtime pay to nonexempt staff who work more than eight hours in a day. Be sure to check your state’s law.