HR Insight: Flexible Work

Flexible work arrangements have recently become a buzz topic in Canada. More and more people prefer to work from home or are looking at other options to reduce their time in the office in order to establish the work-life balance. Flexible work is something that affects both employees and employers and that can influence the work environment and even corporate culture significantly. We decided to discuss it with Jabeen Boga, a Human Resources professional and the instructor of Ashton College Diploma in Human Resources program, to learn what every HR specialist should consider before implementing flexible work arrangements.

1. Over recent years work culture has been changing significantly and more and more often we hear about the value of the work-life balance. Do you think the proper work-life balance is important and why?

Work-life balance significantly impacts the effectiveness of an employee due to such factors as morale and burnout. Employees who experience work-life balance are much more likely to stay in a job longer. There are numerous demands in life, and by promoting work-life balance and wellness initiatives the employer can decrease turnover, absenteeism and illness.

2. What solutions exist today that can improve the work-life balance?

Telecommuting or e-commuting is a great option which allows employees to work from home or stay outside the office one day a week and more depending on their role. Technology has come a long way providing employees with virtual access to one another and to shared servers and documents. According to 2018 CIRA research, 54% of Canadians at least occasionally work from home, with 20% saying they very often do so.

Another option is flexibility with start and end time of work. This is where employees still work their given hours but can choose their schedules within a range of hours. This helps with other obligations that employees may have such as care for children, elderly parents, etc. Some employers offer a shorter Friday with longer hours during the week to allow employees an early weekend.
Also, some employers offer concierge services where possible. For example, dry clean drop off and pick up at work, any assistance with errands, etc. This is a great benefit to have. When I worked at KPMG, we had this program and employees would use it for anything ranging from passport office lineups to assistance with cell phone plans research. It was a great perk to have!

3. What is flexible work? Why is it good for employees?

A flexible work arrangement is whereby an employer allows an employee to alter their work schedule. This could be flexibility in setting their hours (i.e. 9-5pm). I have had colleagues with childcare needs such as teacher-parent meetings, medical appointments that required the flexibility with their start or end times. In these cases, the employees would come in earlier or stay later as required to make the hours up.

Technology has improved significantly allowing employees to have the opportunity to remotely log in and access the intranet, network drives, as well as video conference as required. There have been studies that have demonstrated improved productivity due to the time efficiency of the telecommuting and the trust in the employees who were allowed to work from home.

4. Can you provide any examples of flexible work arrangements?

I mentored someone who had to leave early to attend religious ceremonies. In this particular case, this person will come in earlier on the day of the ceremony in order to be able to leave ahead of time. Other accommodation that I have seen was when someone had a service or a repair scheduled for the house, so that person was able to work from home on that day in order to be able to attend to it.

According to a 2018 survey by the Conference Board of Canada, more than 85% of Canadian organizations offer flexible working options to employees. The survey, which questioned more than 320 employers, found that among those that provide such arrangements, flexible hours (93%) is the most commonly offered option, followed by part-time remote work (55%), occasional remote days (52%), compressed workweeks (45%) and working remotely on a full-time basis (45%).

5. From the business perspective, what should the employer consider when offering the flexible work arrangements? What are the advantages of flexible work for employers?

Employers should consider whether they are able to accommodate these requests to the point of undue hardship. If it is not feasible, they should provide a valid and legitimate reason for this. Not every employee fits or prefers the option to work from home. This is highly dependent on the fit of job duties for telework, technology requirements, the employee’s personality, performance goals and work style.

The most popular reason for offering flexible working options, according to the survey by the Conference Board of Canada, was to improve employee engagement (62%), followed by employee demand (42%) and retention (35%). While slightly less popular, other reasons included the need to keep the total rewards package competitive (31%), boost employee morale (19%) and mitigate burnout (10%).

6. What aspects should HR professionals think about when developing flexible work policies?

I would suggest my HR colleagues should think whether it’s possible to introduce flexible work based on the nature of work performed, and more importantly if this is something that can be applied equitably. For some departments, it’s not possible to have a flexible schedule. For example, for receptionists who have requirements to open up the office, collect the mail, greet clientele and set up meetings. Similarly, in that case, working from home would not be possible either.

Also, there are technical requirements including server abilities that enable employees to access key documents and other essentials to work from home. Assessing whether this is feasible is a key piece.

There are others who find it challenging to work from home due to distractions, for example, young children, family members, etc., or do not have the space required for an office setup. Regarding the office equipment, another consideration would be whether the office is willing to provide equipment such as a printer, a scanner, a laptop, etc. or pay for high-speed internet connection.

7. What are Canadian (or BC) government regulations regarding the flexible work arrangements? What an HR professional should know before launching them in the organization?

HR department should ensure that a voluntary agreement is reached for working from home and make sure that space meets the health and safety requirements. If an employee requires or has access to confidential information, we should think how to reach confidentiality standards and protect this data. If an employee consents to work from home then we should give overtime the same consideration as if they were in the workplace. Also, we need to provide formal training to employees on managing flexible work and offer them support down the road. This will help both employees and employers benefit from flexible work arrangements.

Jabeen Boga is a Human Resources professional with over ten years of progressive experience across a wide variety of Human Resources functions that include Employee Relations, Performance Management, Change Management, HRIS, Health and Safety and Total Rewards. In addition to this, she is a Chartered Professional in Human Resources (CPHR) and Certified Human Resources Leader (CHRL) with responsibility for offices that span across Western Canada. Jabeen earned her undergraduate degree from Simon Fraser University obtaining Dean’s Honor Roll status. She also supports Human Resources in the community sitting on the Greater Advisory Council for CPHR BC & Yukon as well as leading the Career Advancement Network.

Jabeen has worked for a number of large organizations, including KPMG and TD Bank. She is passionate about the field of human resources and about sharing her knowledge through mentoring and teaching. Jabeen is part of the Ashton College faculty instructing the Diploma in Human Resources Management program. As a recipient of HRD Canada’s 2015 and 2017 HR Awards, she is excited to share her experience and passion for the field of human resources with you!

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