Flex Your Workforce

May 2, 2012

Maybe one of your employees has already approached you about adjusting his or her hours and working flexibly, or you’ve considered hiring someone part-time to get a project off the ground. If you are unsure how these types of arrangements can work in your business, two experts provide tips for incorporating flexible employees into your plans.

Benefits for Your Business
Why would you consider hiring employees who want to work flexible hours? It’s all about doing more with less, says Nadine Mockler, co-founder and principal of Flexible Resources, Inc., a corporate flexible staffing firm headquartered in Stamford, CT. “The main benefit is keeping overhead costs under control without minimizing your productivity,” she says. “The biggest advantage is doing more with fewer dollars.” Flexible workers can give you the expertise your company needs without the expense of a full-time employee, and can work best in terms of seasonal employment, such as tax season, holidays, or specific product launches. “A lot of our clients have some sort of seasonality in their businesses,” says Stephanie Harbour, president of Mom Corps NYC, the New York City branch of Mom Corps, a staffing firm that specializes in placing flexible workers. “Flexible workers can ramp that up and ramp it down.”

Flexible workers are also able to do more with less, themselves. “When you have a flexible worker, they’re just more focused because they don’t use any of your time on their personal issues,” says Mockler. “Flexible workers really help companies. Their focus is so tremendous that they’re really saving companies in the long run, and they’re not minimizing on their productivity at all.”

“By incorporating flexible workers or flexible policies into your workplace, it can have a meaningful impact on company culture,” says Harbour. Flexible workers often feel greater loyalty to a company because they’re able to better balance their work and home lives, and they’re thankful for it. They’re also thankful for the opportunity to maximize their efficiency depending on the hours they work. “All of that helps maintain a company culture where people are efficient, effective, and really focused on results,” Harbour says.

Where to Find Flexible Workers
If you’re convinced about the benefits of adding flexible workers to your employees, it’s crucial that you work out their schedule, depending on the needs of the business, before you even start the interview process, says Mockler. Clearly define your expectations for the candidate, including the number of hours you’ll need them to work, the type of work that needs to be done, and when, if at all, they’ll need to be in the office. If, for instance, the candidate needs to be in the office every Monday for the company meeting, make sure you make that clear up front. If someone other than you will be managing the flexible worker, make sure the candidate’s schedule works with the manager’s, as well.

To find flexible employees, in addition to using staffing services, you can use your networks to help put the word out that you’re looking for flexible staff. Once you’ve found some candidates, Harbour says, “The same best practices for interviewing in general apply to flexible workers, but you need to take them a step further. Take a lot of time to understand their past work environments, what they liked and what they didn’t like,” she says. This will help you decide whether the needs of your business match the needs and expectations of the candidate.

Impact on Culture
In order for an employee on a flexible schedule to be successfully integrated into your full-time staff, make sure they are part of the team. “They’re not a contractor. They need to be introduced as part of the team,” says Harbour. She recommends being as clear as possible, both with the flexible worker about his or her schedule, and with the rest of your team about the flexible worker’s role and availability. “Flexibility works best when it’s clearly defined,” she says. Make sure you tell your other employees about the flexible worker’s job, when they’re available, and how they can be reached. If the flexible worker is being managed by someone other than you, provide training for the manager, as well.

“There’s always a sense that if you give flexibility to someone, other team members are going to be jealous of it,” says Harbour. “There’s a fear around that.” However, it’s important to remember that not everybody wants flexibility—some people work better in a structured, scheduled environment. And if one flexible worker leads to more, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. “If other people want it, it’s a great thing. It can be really helpful,” says Harbour. “Being open about it and introducing it is a really effective way that can increase the efficiency and productivity of your team.”

Michelle Court is the associate editor at The New York Enterprise Report. She can be reached at mcourt@nyreport.com.

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