Thursday, May 24, 2007

Working at Home...with Kids

One of the many reasons parents request a telecommuting arrangement with their employer is to allow more time spent at home with their children. Telecommuting involves working outside the office one or more days a week and can increase the hours you are available to your children by eliminating a long commute, allowing you to prepare dinner on your lunch break, and making you more available for emergencies during the day, among other advantages. However, working from home should not be a substitute for childcare, especially for young children.

Summertime poses a particular problem for full-time work at home parents of school-aged children faced with up to three months of sharing the home office. In order to maintain productivity while working at home, children need to be self-sufficient or well entertained. Try these tips below to find the appropriate situation for you, your children, and your business.
  • Consider scaling back on your work load for the summer by working only part-time on a temporary basis.
  • Hire full-time day care or a part-time babysitter.
  • Swapping playdates with another stay-at-home parent is a free option that only requires your reciprocation. You can offer to watch the kids in the evenings for a date night or in the morning before you start work for the day.
  • When it's just you and your kids, entertain them well. Set up developmentally appropriate activities they can do on their own that will not require too much assistance or clean up. Consider Wendy Piersall's list of 94 Ways to Keep Kids Busy.
Armed with lots of ideas to keep your kids entertained and your work hours productive, you can enjoy the summer months instead of dreading them.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Creating a Culture of Flexibility in the Workplace

Advice for employees interested in working to foster a culture of flexibility in your own workplace is published on Work It, Mom!

Several organizations exist whose solution to the rigidity of workplace productivity standards is legislation that would include employers to provide paid maternity, paternity and adoption leave, paid sick leave, increased vacation leave, and limits placed on overtime hours. Such requirements could be harmful to some employers who are already able to offer great flexibility. Additionally, these requirements are increasingly difficult for employers to offer part-time employees.

The solution we advocate is in itself one of flexibility. The goal is to find the right schedule, the right balance, and the right fit for each individual. Not every employee functions well as a teleworker. Not every position lends itself well to flex hours. But a flexible workplace culture works for everyone.

We advocate this culture of flexibility – an environment where the needs of an employee and the employer can be mutually met. The process is simple, resulting in a changed workplace culture, happier, more productive employees, and a greater sense of balance for all involved.

First, initiate open and meaningful communication with all levels of employees. Start with an assessment of the needs and priorities of the workforce including issues of work and life, health, family, and satisfaction with current scheduling options. This can be done as one-on-one meetings, a lunch and learn discussion group, or using a company-wide questionnaire. Maintain this level of communication to monitor progress and evaluate success.

Next, evaluate the information received and outline changes to be made. Remember, the information received represents the diversity of needs of many employees. Determine what changes align with your own values and the mission of the business. Further, consider what changes are worthwhile to make in order to please a maximum number of employees. Create a menu of flexible options and benefits your business will be able to implement.

Then, with upper management, align your business strategy to reflect the newly adopted culture. This includes marketing the changes made and building a structure that will sustain these changes. Start by rewriting the company mission statement to reflect the value placed on flexibility. Rework the employee handbook to include procedures for employees wishing to take advantage of newly instated benefits and the assessment and review processes eliminating antiquated measures of productivity. Update job postings to include information about flexible scheduling options and benefits. A reputation as a flexible and family friendly employer is a powerful marketing tool.

Finally, maintain the standards set forth by your new vision. The changes made will need to be dynamic, as each employee and each position has differing needs. Establish a mentor program that will serve to maintain the open lines of communication and allow for constant reappraisal of needs.

Remember, a culture of flexibility in itself necessitates flexibility. Remain open to new suggestions and you will find the balance that works best for employees and the company.

For additional information or assistance instituting a process for change at your company, please contact us at

Monday, May 21, 2007

Balancing Health: Workplace Health Care Initiatives

To maintain a healthy lifestyle, one should exercise thirty minutes a day, stick to an appropriate calorie intake, limit consumption of salt and red meat, etc. We all know these things and yet how many of us abide by the rules?

Health Care Initiatives offered by employers are designed to make it easier for employees to manage their health while working. Additionally, employers reap the benefit of a workforce that is more productive, has fewer sickness related absences, and require less expensive health care. Benefits may be as extensive as on-site fitness facilities or as simple as a comprehensive medical health insurance plan. The four most common workplace health initiatives are:
  1. Health care tools: including internet access to online articles and tools. For example, the Weight Watchers corporate program offers access to online tools and workplace meetings to aid employee's weight loss efforts.
  2. Physical activity programs: may include casual runners clubs and yoga classes, company organized fitness break times and exercise workshops. Workplaces may also sponsor fitness campaigns such as a "Take the Stairs Campaign" or participate in team events such as a charity walk.
  3. Disease management programs: generally address conditions that affect a large portion of the population, such as diabetes or asthma, or affect employees on a personal level, such as ovarian cancer once a coworkers is diagnosed. Programs may center around education about the disease and encourage employees to take a proactive approach to prevention.
  4. Wellness initiatives: promote complete wellness and productivity among employees. A common element of wellness initiatives is an Employee Assistance Program employing the services of counselors to advise employees on financial, emotional, and wellness issues.
By providing access to even simple health care initiatives, a company can create for its employees a healthful workplace and provide the resources to maintain a healthy lifestyle outside of work, thereby reducing costs and boosting morale. Healthy employees are happier, more productive, and those health benefits can be a good way.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Ditching the Commute

The Washington/Baltimore area has for years been ranked among the worst commutes in the nation with increasingly congested highways, drivers traveling farther to their jobs each day, and a steady increase in road rage incidents. Additionally, commuting is increasingly expensive in light of rising oil prices and Mayor O'Malley's threat to gas taxes by 15%.

If you are ready to once and for all ditch a horrendous commute, consider a flexible work schedule:
  • Telecommuting: working at a home office or a telework center closer to home, you can eliminate or shorten your commute. Telework centers are sprinkled over the Washington and Baltimore area and provide teleworkers with access to the office space, equipment, and technical support they need to keep working throughout the day. Click here for a list of local centers.
  • Flexible hours: by working non-traditional hours, you can avoid the highways during peak traffic times, 6:00 - 8:00 am and 4:30 - 6:30 pm.
Commuter Connections additionally suggests walking or riding your bike to work, carpooling, or taking public transportation. The results of staying out of rush hour traffic will reduce your frustration level and save you money. Additionally, fewer drivers on the road during rush hour will result in lessened carbon emissions and reduced highway costs.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Interviewing for a New Flexible Job

In the search for a new flexible job, how exactly do you know if you will find the schedule you need to balance work and life? Just as negotiating salary is considered unsuitable negotiation for the first interview, asking about flexible scheduling right off the bat could leave you at a disadvantage with potential employers. Remember, other candidates for the same job may be more willing and more available to work a traditional schedule. In her "Back to Work Toolkit", Nancy Collamer provides some questions appropriate for most any point of the interview process.

5 Questions to Ask When Searching For a Family-Friendly Company

1. In what ways is a career with your company better than one with your competitors? Listen for an answer that includes references to work/life balance or a friendly corporate culture. If an employer has a real commitment to work/life initiatives, this question should help prompt the interviewer to bring up specific examples of their policies in practice.

2. What do you enjoy most about working here?
This is always a good question because people love to talk about themselves! It’s also a wonderful way to learn more about the corporate culture without seeming overly eager to hear about options for flexibility. Listen for a response that includes quality of life indicators such as, “The company was incredibly supportive when I needed to take time off to pick up my adopted baby from Russia” or “This is the first place I’ve worked where the emphasis is placed on getting work done instead of on face-time.”

3. What is the largest single problem facing your staff (department) now? In general, requests for flexible schedules don’t fare well in chaotic situations that require everybody to be in constant crisis management mode. Analyze this response carefully to determine if somebody working a flexible schedule can reasonably accommodate the challenges facing the business.

4. What types of benefits does the company offer? Not all work/life benefits are created equal. Flexible scheduling, assistance with daycare and onsite parenting workshops are all welcome initiatives that demonstrate a company understands that you have a life outside of work. But other so-called “benefits,” like onsite catered lunches and dry-cleaning drop-off services may be thinly veiled attempts to compensate for a very demanding work environment.

5. What qualities are you looking for in the candidate who fills this position? Try to determine if there is more emphasis placed on results than on face time. Is your manager willing to allow you the freedom to determine how and where to get a job done, even if that means you will sometimes need to work at home?

Tips excerpted from “The Back-to-Work Toolkit: A Guide for Comeback Moms,” available for purchase at

Read the entire article at the Jobs and Moms Blog.

Friday, May 11, 2007

The Perfect Resume

A polished resume can be the ideal self-marketing tool that gets you an interview or the document that leaves you lost among thousands of other unimpressive resumes. With the rise of electronic recruitment tools, large companies often experience an influx of unqualified resumes. Make your resume the best they have seen, and get an interview faster.

The format of your resume alone can make it worth review or worthy of the "No" pile. Make your name and contact information prominent at the top of each page of your correspondence with a potential employer. Further, use bold headings to delineate information within your resume.

Use common job titles and keywords that will help a recruiter understand your employment history quickly. Also, fill your resume with keywords that will be easily picked up by recruiting software commonly used to organize numerous resumes.

Communicate your past experiences in a way that draws attention to strengths while downplaying weaknesses. Use a functional format, as opposed to a chronological format, to highlight skills as opposed to time spent at any given job. This format is useful when time spent at multiple jobs has been short or if you have spent an extended amount of time outside the workforce.

Eliminate all typos and grammatical errors by proofreading you resume thoroughly. If proofreading is not your strong suit, ask a friend to look at your resume. Still unsure about the quality of your resume? Consider enlisting the help of a professional resume writer.

Flexible Workforce offers resume tips, updates, and writing services. Simply email your resume to for 5-10 personalized tips to improve your resume absolutely free.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Flexible Work Schedules - Not Just for Moms

There are essentially three types of people within the workforce that utilize flexible work schedules with some regularity. Each grouping of workers tends to differ from each other demographically and in the initial motivation to secure a flexible work schedule.
  1. Part-time Jugglers: these workers tend to be teenagers or young adults who have only ever held a part-time job while holding other more primary roles, notably, being a full-time student. Finding employment is not difficult as their motivation for working a part-time position is rarely compensation and benefits, but the prestige and experience of holding a job.
  2. Working Parents: these workers are parents in their 20's to 40's and work because they need to financially or want to in efforts to keep skills and contacts with the adult world current. Flexible scheduling is attractive in order to devote time and energies to family and home roles. Job sharing, telecommuting, or contract assignments are particularly attractive. Reliable employment with flexible scheduling and family-friendly benefits can be difficult to attain in a business environment that does not place much value on flexibility and family.
  3. Phase Two Employees: these workers tend to be more financially stable in their 40's or later with the feeling that they have paid their dues to the corporate world. Flexible scheduling allows employees greater balance of responsibilities and time to enjoy life with a renewed sense of freedom from children or financial challenges. Good compensation and benefits may still be necessary, especially for those caring for an elder dependent with long term health challenges. The attainability of sound employment depends on one's financial standing and long term savings. However, the corporate world provides even less support for those caring for elder dependents than those caring for children.
Regardless of your motivations or station in life, flexible scheduling allows for the balance of multiple roles and every employee is entitled to some balance in life.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Addressing Employer Concerns about Flexible Work Schedules

Many requests for a more flexible schedule at work are met with skepticism and negativity by managers accustomed to traditional 8 to 5 employees. Effectively addressing employer concerns may help you quickly attain your ideal schedule. Employer concerns may include:

Decreased Productivity: The idea that flex employees are not as productive is a false perception by managers who feel you cannot manage what you cannot see. However, productivity is rarely an issue for flex employees who can take advantage of their own most productive times of the day to get work done. Some of us work best late at night or early in the morning. Working parents can get a lot accomplished during school hours and after bedtimes. Conversely, traditional employees are known to experience regular non-productive periods on Monday mornings and between 3 and 5 each day.
To allay employer fears of unproductive times, set measurable goals that will serve to quantify work completed. These goals should mirror your job description and should not change from goals while working a traditional schedule. Further, schedule a performance review four weeks into your new flex schedule to gauge productivity.

Inaccessibility of Support: Working a flexible schedule may mean working more hours without the support of coworkers and supervision of management. This however, does not necessarily preclude a team work environment. With modern technology, an employee working out of the office or non-traditional hours can be constantly connected to coworkers. Make an effort to be heard each workday either by email or phone even if just to check in on a project or with a client. Make yourself available for regular, in-person staff meetings that can serve as team-building and goal-setting sessions.

Fairness to all Employees: The sentiment, "If I let you work flexible hours, everyone will want special accommodations" may pass through your boss' lips. Truth-be-told, employee have diverse needs - not all employees work well in a flexible situation. However, by allowing the flexibility of scheduling that works well for each employee, companies send a message of acceptance and trust. Also, establishment of flexible scheduling provides a great opportunity for company or department-wide assessment of responsibilities, ensuring that each employee is responsible for the duties they are most comfortable and competent at completing.

Lack of Accountability: A manager concerned about the productivity of employees may also be concerned about the perceived lack of accountability of flex employees who can work away from the office or arrive to work and leave with no one else around. Proving yourself trustworthy may seem tedious and juvenile, but can go a long way in gaining managerial support of a flex schedule. Offer to check in and out by email for a week or two. Handwrite time sheets for your manager to sign each week. Again, communication and specific goal setting can go a long way in proving your trustworthiness on an alternate schedule.

For managers considering flexible scheduling for employees, the fear of the unknown may appear an insurmountable obstacle. To ease fears, propose a pilot program to last a few weeks. Schedule a meeting at the conclusion of the pilot period to discuss its success or failure, any modifications to the plan, and your future schedule. The proof will be in your success. Your manager may just find your productivity and morale greatly improved with a flexible schedule and reclaimed balance in life.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Monthly Tip: Return to Work Schedule

When planning your return to work following a leave of absence for personal or medical reasons including the birth or adoption of a child, try to schedule light on your first week back to work. Two to four weeks before your return to work, touch base with your boss about when and how you will return to work. Start your first week back on a Wednesday, if at all possible. This will make your first week shorter and lighter on responsibilities. If you have kids returning to daycare, or a new baby starting day care, a Wednesday start leaves Monday and Tuesday as adjustment days. Let your coworkers know that your first day back will be a catch up day for reading emails, contacting clients, and reestablishing your work calendar. Schedule meetings with coworkers for the Monday after your return, giving yourself time to catch up on the state of projects and accounts.

Returning to work after a period away can be a huge emotional adjustment. Make your return easier by scheduling light.

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Flexible Workforce Solutions
State College, PA