Project Management

Flexible Work Arrangement

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1. Definition and Classifications of Flexible Work Arrangements

Flexible Work Arrangements can be defined as flexibility in the place of work, hours of work, or schedule of work (GULC, 2006). More specifically, they are special company provided benefits that allow the employee to have some autonomy over when and where they work (Lambert et al., 2008, p.107, cited in McNall et al., 2010, p.62). An early model of organizational flexibility was categorized as internal or external. External flexibility refers to the organization using external suppliers to provide labor, such as contractors, or agency work. Internal flexibility refers to the organization's ability to create various options for work time, such as number of hours and schedule of hours, while still based inside the organisation (Cañibano, 2011, p.4-5). Finally, distributed work arrangements (Belanger and Collins, 1998, cited in Kelliher and Anderson, 2008, p.5) is a term to describe working options in other locations (ie. home). Four common categories of FWA are as follows: FlexiTime, compressed work week, part-time work, and telecommuting (Masuda et al., 2012, p.3). Telecommuting involves working remotely either on the road, or from a client's location, a virtual office, and more increasingly from home. It takes advantage of computer technology and advanced communications to make this a reality. The term FlexiPlace has now become synonymous with telecommuting (Schermerhorn et al., 2002, p.227). FlexiTime on the other hand takes the traditional set working hours of an employee, and gives them some degree of freedom over when they decide to start and finish those hours of work. Indeed, these two FWA options are provided by more than 50% of US companies surveyed in 2013 (Ivanauskaite, 2015, p.19). Another popular FWA is the compressed work week or "4/40" schedule, which is a 10-hour working day over a 4-day working week (Schermerhorn et al., 2002, p.225). There are other forms of flexible working arrangements (ie. Job Share), but for the purposes of this paper, the researcher will be focusing on the FWA associated with working from home. Whatever the classification and term used to describe the kind of flexibility options offered by the organization, the underlying theme is employee choice of work time and location (Kelliher and Anderson, 2008, p.4).

2. Factors that led to Flexible Work Arrangements

In the past few decades, there has been a shift from work that was basically made up of a fixed schedule of full-time employees, such as the 40-hour, 9-5pm shift, to less permanent work with varying degrees of flexibility in where and when that work was performed (Possenriede and Plantenga, 2011, p.3; Schermerhorn et al., 2002, p.225). There is a wealth of research literature, backed up by labor market statistics on this changing dynamic of working life (Arnold, 1997). In a 2011 CBI survey, 50% of the labor force in Europe consisted of part-time, contingent and contract workers (KPMG, 2013). This was also corroborated in the US through a 2011 Intuit report which stated that by 2020, 40% of the US workforce will consist of these workers (Morgan, 2014, p.69). While part-time and contract work is fairly well known, contingent workers (sometimes called freelancers) are considered non-permanent, and may or may not work under a contract. Regardless of the type of flexible work, organizations can use these diverse resources to fit varying situations and not have to be burdened by employer-employee legislative or employment law restrictions (Phillips, 2005). There are a number of key factors that have contributed to this transformation of working life, and a few of them will be discussed here.

Globalization Globalization is defined as the "increased interdependence (economic, social, political) between nations" (Northouse, 2013, p.383). Organizations are increasingly immersed in global complexities, competing for resources and information, with dissipating national boundaries (Schermerhorn et al., 2002, p.207). They now can compete globally with decreasing barriers to transportation, currency, communication and cultural factors (Morgan, 2014, p.16), and tap into a pool of globally diverse, quality candidates (Lee, 2014, p.95). Indeed, the enhanced communication, collaboration and connectivity that supports FWA's will attract and retain top-level employees according to 47.6% of C-suite leaders in a recent survey (Deloitte, 2016, p.7). Globalization is transforming employment practices (ie. flexible work arrangements) and the way organizations are managing these new and diverse resources (Bertone and Leahy, 2002, p.1). All of these factors make globalization one of the most pervasive influences on the changing nature of business, society and individuals (Kanter, 1995, cited in Spector, 2016, p.193).

Demographics Traditionally, the working environment was characterized by an employee at the place of work (ie. office, factory), spouse and children at home, the job lasted in many cases several years or even decades, and the distance between work and home was relatively short (Trusko, 2002, p.12). However, dual-career couples and single parent families have also increased dramatically (Allen, 2001; Malara, 1997; Irfan and Azmi, 2015). In the UK alone, dual-career couples made up 60% of households in the mid 1990's, compared to 40% in the early 1970's (Arnold, 1997). Also with people living longer, and the baby boomers generation aging, the average age of workers is higher than in the past (Possenriede and Plantenga, 2011; FWI, 2012), which in turn raises the age of retirement. The average retirement age for men between 2004 and 2010 rose from 63.8 to 64.6, and from 61.2 to 62.3 for women (ONS, 2012). Lastly, but by no means an exhaustive list, the cultural dynamics in the workforce will become more racially and ethnically diverse (AJOA, 2012, p.2) with increased immigration (Karoly and Panis, 2004). The value of work and family life as perceived by the employee may vary from culture to culture. This can bring challenges for organizations adapting to cultural diversity, and lead to programs such as flexible work arrangements to cater for employees from cultures that value family equally or above working life. Organizations must recognize that "cross-cultural communication skills and respecting cultural diversity are paramount to succeeding in the global workplace" (Rosen et al., 2000, cited in SHRM, 2008).

Women in the workforce Over the past 70 years, women as a percentage of the total workforce rose from 28.6% in 1948, to 46.8% in 2015, while men dropped from 71.4% to 53.2% over the same time period (USDOL, 2016). With increasing female participation in the work-force, and women bearing most of the responsibility for raising children, they may feel more committed to their job when they perceive the organization is supportive of family-friendly work initiatives such as FWA's (Scandura and Lankau, 1997, p.381). Given these factors, flexible working arrangements can be very appealing to women wanting to care for their children while working (Noonan et al., 2012, cited in Sarbu, 2014, p.1). Therefore it follows that organizations are more likely to provide FWA's in a female dominated workplace (Holt and Thaulow, 1996, cited in Lewis and Roper, 2008, p.424).

Technology The US economy over most of the past century has moved from production based to information based (Karoly and Panis, 2004), which has been popularized by the term "knowledge economy" from the pioneering work by Fritz Machlup in the early 1960's (Godin, 2008, p.4). Technology has grown out of this need for information on demand. Computers, internet and social media are just some examples of technologies that enable people and organizations to share information. Further, these technologies along with others such as video-conferencing, instant messaging and collaboration platforms are enablers of flexible working initiatives (Morgan, 2014, p.63; Trusko, 2002, p.68), that could not have been realized just a few decades ago.

3. Issues with Flexible Work Arrangements

While numerous authors have listed the many benefits of FWA's, both from the organization and employee's perspective (Ashoush et al., 2015, p.38), there are still a number of issues associated with the implementation of FWA's.

Social Implications Schermerhorn et al. (2002, p.227) explains that remote workers sometimes express feelings of isolation from colleagues. Falicov (2001, cited in Masuda et al., 2011, p.4) asserts that collectivist countries prefer close social ties than individualistic countries, and the Philippines with a score of only 32 for Individualism, is considered a collectivist country (Hofstede, 2017). In an experiment with a Chinese call center that adopted a work-from-home FWA, Bloom et al. (2014, p.184) discovered that 50% wanted to work back in the office. The main reasons given were feelings of isolation and loneliness at home. Lowry et al. (2006, cited in Fonner and Roloff, 2010, p.337) found that workers with less frequent exposure to the office may have less "appropriate" communication and richness of discussions.

Technology Technology through fast internet, communications advancements and online collaboration platforms enable employees to work remotely (FWI, 2012, p.5; Kelliher, 2008, p.5). However, if the technology is inappropriate, faulty or unfamiliar to the user, the effectiveness of FWA's maybe be severely limited. Beauregard et al. (2013, p.47) found that employees of a UK government organization working from home had frequent technology and communications issues. Although most issues were relatively minor, some were significantly disruptive. The researcher also has personal experience of the high frequency of brownouts in the Philippines, unreliable and slow internet connections, and low quality computer hardware and peripherals (ie. headsets).

Females in FWA's Since many sectors of the Philippines' BPO industry have predominately female employees (PSA, 2012), birth rates in the country are one child more per woman than many Western countries (World Bank, 2015), and women bear the majority of the burden in child rearing, family-friendly programs such as FWA's and in particular working from home "may be more salient to women who must balance work and family demands, and consequently face more work-family conflicts than men" (Greenhaus et al., 1989, cited in Scandura and Lankau 1997, p.381). Lewis and Roper (2008, p.414) are far more cautious when making such assertions. They suggest that women who invariably take on more family responsibilities may receive special treatment, and this will undoubtedly "perpetuate gender inequities".

Disturbance Masuda et al. (2011) performed a study of FWA's and its effects on work-family conflict, job satisfaction, and turnover intentions. They discovered issues in countries where families were larger, homes smaller, and people preferred close social connections (ie. Brazil). This situation is more conducive to disturbances from family members while employees are performing their duties from home. Conversely, Mann et al. (2000, cited in Fonner and Roloff, 2010, p.340) asserted that remote workers have less distractions compared to their office environments. This may be due to the fact that Anglo countries have larger homes with less occupants, compared to poorer countries with smaller homes and larger families, as previously mentioned

False Productivity Productivity improvements associated with FWA programs such as working from home have been demonstrated in previous research (Bloom et al., 2014, p.170; Fletcher and Rapaport, 1996; Shia and Monroe, 2006, cited in Fonner and Roloff, 2010, p.339). However, it can be a double-edged sword, with some employees using the extra time they save in travel to work more hours than a regular shift. This can lead to a false perception of increased productivity actually disguised as extra hours. In fact, in a recent UK survey, home-based workers worked as much as 24 extra days per year (Sutherland, 2014, p.3).

Security and Stability Research from Cambridge University revealed that some flexible working arrangements such as part-time and zero-hour contracts can adversely effect employee well-being by making them feel anxious about the uncertainty of stable hours of work (Churchard, 2014, cited in Tyson, 2015, p.345).

Mixed Messages There can sometimes be written policies promoting work-life balance through programs such as FWA's on the one hand, and then hindering the progress through pressure to work longer hours or not really supporting the FWA program on the other hand. Therefore, it is possible to have the two paradigms co-existing within the same organization (Timms et al., 2014, p.14). Resistance from managers, a culture of "going against the grain", and employee fears that accepting FWA's may adversely effect their career prospects are very real phenomena (Kelliher, 2008, p.5). Daniel Cable, a professor of organizational behavior stated that a manager's "lack of trust has been found to be the greatest barrier to achieving successful homeworking" (Sutherland, 2014, p.4). Further, some employers are reluctant to release control of the employee's work environment, and resist FWA's, believing it may lead to reduced productivity (FWI, 2012, p.6).

Lack of Representation Worker unions are not prevalent in many third-world or collectivist countries. This does not bode well for worker representation and the adoption of family-friendly programs such as FWA's (Errighi et al., 2016, p.2)


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