Work-life balance is a hot topic of conversation in corporate circles these days. If nothing else, the surveys and studies I've shared in my last few columns should confirm that.
However, I think we all need a break from numbers now and then. I know I do. (And if you don't believe me, just ask my children how helpful their writer father is when they're trying to complete their math homework.)
So, this week I've decided to try something different. Instead of numbers, I'm offering up letters — the ABCs of work-life balance, telecommuting and flexible schedules.
These are some of the nuggets of wisdom I've gleaned from all of those surveys I mentioned earlier, along with my own personal experience. I hope you'll find something helpful here, whether you're a manager or a front-line worker.
A is for absence. While a telecommuter may be absent from the office, that doesn't mean she is absent from work. Make sure you build the infrastructure to communicate with remote workers.
B is for balance. It's hard to build in these busy days, but it's something many of us seek. And studies and surveys show that employees who have better work-life balance tend to be happier and more productive than those who don't.
C is for communication. Make sure people who have flexible work arrangements are kept in the loop about developments in Cubeville.
D is for dedication. Once you commit to helping your workers build better work-life balance, be sure to follow through. While offering such opportunities can be a great morale (and productivity) builder, taking them away can have the opposite effect.
E is for evaluation. Provide specific, meaningful feedback about your workers' performance. This holds true whether they are in the office or working from home.
F is for flexibility. Offer it, whether that means building a plan that lets someone work from home several days a week, or letting an employee leave early occasionally to attend a recital or baseball game. Either way, your efforts will be appreciated.
G is for gain. When you help your workers build better balance, you gain an employee who is happier, more productive and probably more loyal.
H is for home office. If you're a telecommuter, make sure your work space at home fosters productivity. Limit distractions and temptations to goof off.
I is for isolation. Some people who work from home feel like they are cut off from their co-workers. Invite them to spend time in the office often so they can build connections and rapport.
J is for justice. When you're building a telecommuting program, make sure it's fair to all of your workers. If it's not, your efforts could backfire.
K is for knowledge. It's important to do your research before setting up a flexible work plan for your team or your company. Fortunately, it's not hard to find resources that can help. Seek them out, and learn all you can.
L is for labor. If you're a telecommuter, make sure you work as hard at home as you do at the office — if not harder. Flexibility is a privilege, and the best way to protect it is through productivity.
M is for model. Find out how other companies handle their employees' requests for flexible hours, and use the ideas that are most likely to work for you, too.
N is for new. Don't fear flexible work programs just because they don't represent how you've always done things. Sometimes new ideas are better.
O is for opportunity. Take advantage of telecommuting opportunities that could prove to be of great benefit to both you and your workers.
P is for pay. Surveys show that many people would be willing to take a pay cut in exchange for being allowed to work from home. If that's what it would take for your company to consider increasing flexibility, don't be afraid to ask your employees how they would feel about that bargain.
Q is for quiet. Many people say that, while they like the camaraderie of the office environment, they also appreciate the silence of their home work space. When someone needs to put her head down and really plow through a project, allowing her to telecommute may be the answer.
R is for risk. If your company and your workers haven't experimented with flexible work schedules or building better work-life balance, doing so may seem risky. New things always do, but that doesn't mean they're not worth trying.
S is for safe. Make sure workers know they won't be penalized for working from home. If an employee's productivity is high, it shouldn't matter where she's doing her work.
T is for technology. Many apps and IT products are designed to help people work from remote sites without sacrificing the technological benefits they enjoy at the office. If you're going to offer telecommuting as an option for your workers, be sure to give them the tools they need to succeed.
U is for understanding. As a boss, build enough awareness of your workers' personal lives to understand when they need some flexibility. Then follow through in a meaningful way.
V is for vacancy. As you start to allow more telecommuting, you may find you don't need as much office space. If improving flexibility makes your employees happy and saves you money on your lease, so much the better.
W is for worthiness. Prove that you're capable of handling a more flexible schedule by staying on top of tasks, even when you're away from the office.
X is for exciting. (I know that's cheating, but how many words start with X?) Flexibility can be thrilling for someone who hasn't had it before. Enjoy it!
Y is for Yahoo. It and some other high-profile companies have announced that they are rolling back their telecommuting programs. But just because they're big companies doesn't mean they're right. Do what you think will be of the most benefit to your company and workers.
Z is for zero. If you don't try to help your employees build better balance, your chance of succeeding is zero. Make the effort. I believe you'll be glad you did.
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