Work from home isn’t the only option for flexibility

Julie DormandIn this guest posting, Julie Dormand ponders the wisdom of the decision made by Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer to scrap its work from home policy.

Wow. Hasn’t Marissa Mayer set the “f” word debate on fire?

Is it good for companies or bad? Good for employees or not? The cost of doing business in the technological age or a perk that has run its course?

It seems that anything Ms Mayer does ends up under the spotlight and trending on Twitter, but the flexibility issue definitely deserves attention. Not least of all because at the same time, our own federal government is using flexibility as a policy platform for reelection later this year.

I am an advocate for flexibility in the workplace, in many forms and wherever it is possible.

It’s easy to think that we have a difficult industry to allow for flexibility and in a way that’s true, especially when it comes to client service and the need to leap out of your chair and into a client meeting at the drop of a hat. Yahoo! has also made a valid point about the value of incidental meetings and conversations between colleagues that fuel innovation and creativity.

But it’s also true that the star performers of our industry are very hard to keep, and by trying to be as flexible as possible we are able to save a small fortune on recruitment, training and development costs, as well as maintain continuity for our clients’ business, which is hard to put a dollar value on.

We recognise our star performers are not just mums and dads, and our broader flexibility policies reflect that.

For parents and carers, often the best approach is to shift “office hours” to start earlier or finish later to allow for time with the children or daycare pickup, for example. We allow staff to take time off outside the traditional “lunch hour” to attend the gym or the dentist. At the moment, our receptionist is bringing her new puppy to work to ensure he has consistent training.

We also have a Time Out policy which extends the spirit of flexibility to the entire staff. Time Out acknowledges that a person might need to leave full time work to do something else for a fixed period of time – so far, we have staffers who have taken Time Out to work on a horse ranch, take an extended honeymoon, and undertake a course of study. Once the time is up, the person can return to their job, their colleagues and their clients.

All of these are great people who would have quit had it not been for the Time Out option.

Meanwhile, while Mayer and Yahoo! have stated in response to the leaked memo cancelling their work-from-home policy, their decision is not “a broad industry view on working from home,” clearly the actions of such a high-profile organisation are going to influence the way other organisations and industries approach flexibility.

What is also clear from our experience and the leaked memos is that all employees within a company need to be involved with, and buy into, flexible working practices so that it works for everyone while ensuring that company objectives are still achieved.

Julie Dormand is the managing director of MercerBell


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