How Do We Flex The Workplace?

Results of the ‘Flex The Workplace’ contest, aimed at generating discussion on flex jobs and productive workplaces that also cater for work-life balance.

By Aparna V. Singh

In most societies around the world, women are still the primary caregivers for children or the elderly. This is changing and men are slowly taking on what used to be called ‘women’s work’. Change is slow, though, and women still take on a much larger chunk of childcare as well as other household work.

At the same time, more women are entering the organised economy and discovering the pleasure of using their skills beyond the home, while cashing their own pay cheques. Giving it all up for motherhood is not an easy decision to many, nor does it benefit employers.

Flex jobs in India

Flexible workplaces are workplaces that focus on productivity while allowing employees to deal more easily with work and life commitments. In our first article on the subject, How to make flexi-working succeed, we spoke to women who used such arrangements as well as a few companies that offered them, to understand how India Inc. was taking to such initiatives.

In the course of our research on the subject, we realised that many companies had not looked into such ideas yet; for an idea fairly new to Indian industry, naturally, there were worries about ‘such arrangements being misused’.

For more firms to adopt such arrangements that would benefit employees and give companies access to an under-utilised talent pool, it is important to raise awareness on the subject, including on implementation. That’s how the Fleximoms and Women’s Web sponsored ‘Flex The Workplace’ contest came about.

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We asked readers to send in their suggestions on how Indian companies could implement flexibility and improve diversity at the workplace. Besides creating awareness through the web, these suggestions will also form part of future industry initiatives that Fleximoms or Women’s Web undertake.

Ideas for work life balance

16 readers wrote in with their suggestions – on the contest page, over at Facebook and via mail.  Besides, we received feedback from numerous readers who didn’t have suggestions to offer, but very simply very keen to know the outcomes. The topic, clearly, was dear to the hearts of our readers. While we received a host of useful suggestions, based on the clarity of thought and applicability of ideas, we picked two winners – Uma and Jyoti Bhargava. (They each get a complimentary career advisory session from Fleximoms. Congratulations, ladies!)

The main FLEX THE WORKPLACE suggestions included:

Infrastructure: Readers wanted companies, especially larger ones, to invest in better infrastructure that aids worker flexibility. This included daycare centres/ creches as well as other arrangements which enabled caregivers to be more easily mobile. R’s Mom, (also a blogger at Women’s Web) said, “Get a good daycare at work…trust me, that is the best thing that you can do for your employee…imagine the kind of peace of mind you offer your employee…she can rest assured that her baby is near her, safe, can go to feed her whenever na!”

Ramsu, another contestant (and perhaps one of the few men who participated), had some useful suggestions to offer too. His entry said, “Wherever possible, promoting flexible working hours, work-from-home options and telephonic meetings… However, there are jobs where this is less feasible. In such cases, I believe one of the things that bothers new moms is the difficulty of getting home in case of an emergency. Therefore, HR policies and benefits that make this simpler might be a good idea. For instance:

-Relocation benefits for women moving to homes closer to the workplace.

– A cab service for emergency home drops. Obviously, one needs to put in safeguards to ensure that this facility is not used all the time, but if used well, it might help.”

Technology: For an IT leader and outsourcing expert, Indian companies measure inadequately on the ‘investment in technology’ front. Technology can prove to be a great enhancer for productivity, connectivity and measurability at the workplace. Investment in smartphones, laptops, tablets, tele-conferencing and SOHO connectivity has potential to aid a flexible work environment. As one reader, Poonkodi says, “ … (we) need  Indian companies, esp. non IT related concerns to embrace technology more – simple stuff like accepting e-mail approvals instead of signed memo’s; more widespread use of blackberry , video-conferencing etc…. these would make any organisation family friendly.”

One of the contest winners, Jyoti Bhargava mailed us on how organizations could use technology to further flexibility, especially for tele-commuting arrangements. “Specify hardware requirements that individuals should arrange themselves to work from home and enable the company computer network and software to accept and track work submitted by teleworkers.” Considering that many companies fear that such arrangements will lead to lower productivity, she also suggested that output targets and quality specifications be fixed on a weekly/monthly basis. This way, companies can track work on an ongoing basis rather than dealing with low productivity at the annual appraisal. (This is a good practice in any case and not just for flexi-workers).

The other winner, Uma, also had something to say in this regard. “Most of the apprehension about ‘flexibility’ revolves around measuring productivity.’When the employee is not right in front of me, how can I be sure that I’m getting the best out of him/ her’? The only way to resolve this would be to define tasks and have a clear measure of quality and productivity.”

Management and team orientation: When the management sees the business case for flexibility, it percolates to line and project managers. Heightened awareness of flexibility as an organizational concept and focus on a culture of delivery were some of the key points mentioned by participants. As Sadhana Gopal pointed out (on Facebook), “…it is automatically assumed that the woman is opting for a slower path if she chooses to work from home. This perception should change and people who work from home should be treated on par with people working from office and should be rewarded on the basis of the quality of their work rather than balance choices.”

Par time jobs and other work models: Finally, almost all participants emphasized the creation and adoption of diverse work formats such as job sharing, flexi-day, flexi-week, flexi-month, project, contracts, part-time and telecommute to help in creating a ramp for a diverse workforce and enhance an organization’s flexibility quotient.

Clearly, there exists great interest among employees in flex jobs implemented in a manner fair to both employer and employee. The workforce in India today includes dual earners, unconventional caregivers, a large number of highly qualified women as well as single-parent families. In the light of these trends, workplace flexibility is an idea whose time has come.


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