The number of American workers who work from home has gone up 41 percent since 2000, according to a September 2012 report by the U.S. Census Bureau. And while we often hear about the people who work from home, we don’t hear about companies offering these and other flexible jobs. Who are they? And why do they embrace flexible work and telecommuting when so many companies still shy away from it?
I recently interviewed three employers whose companies regularly, and in some cases exclusively, offer telecommuting and other flexible work options. Here are their thoughts.
Why did you start hiring flexible workers?
Optimize Worldwide’s reasons for employing flexible telecommuters are common for sales-focused companies. “[We] first started recruiting for flexible, remote sales reps in an effort to build a sales force. Our company has been fueled by referrals for many years and we needed a steady flow of new business,” says CEO Matt Morgan. To reach new regions and potential clients, Optimize Worldwide offered telecommuting sales positions to professionals already living in the markets in which they wished to expand.
For Chris Hytry Derrington, CEO of Rural America Onshore Outsourcing, being dedicated to flexible, telecommuting jobs for rural residents was a smart way to bring jobs back to the U.S. lost to outsourcing. Realizing the complications of outsourcing could often outweigh the benefits, Hytry Derrington created a company to help employers hire American-based workers who telecommute from their rural homes.
Says Hytry Derrington, “If companies can hire computer programmers halfway around the world to work on their IT projects, why not hire them in rural America and avoid those barriers? Why not offer telecommuting opportunities with flexible scheduling to talented hard working people right here in the U.S.?”
What sorts of flexible work options do you offer at your company?
The flexibility offered by a company -- telecommuting, part-time, flexible hours, freelance -- often depends on the specific job for which they’re hiring. “Some positions require the associate to work onsite at our company headquarters in Wisconsin. Those associates are allowed to work flexible hours. We also have telecommuting opportunities for most of our IT positions. As long as they have high-speed Internet they can work from a home office. They are eligible for the flexible hours as well,” says Hytry Derrington of Rural America.
And Charles Myers, Head of Support for HotelTonight, says, “Currently we offer flexible part-time and full-time support team options. We have been extremely flexible with our scheduling, offering at least three days off for our employees. The flexibility isn't standard, but it helps us retain higher quality employees who wouldn't want to work anywhere else.”
What qualities make a successful flexworker, in your experience?
One of the big fears employers have about hiring home-based workers is that they’ll be less productive than if they were in the office. But if recruiters look for these attributes, identified by our three companies, when hiring flexible workers, they’re likely to find outstanding applicants:
- Continuous education and personal advancement throughout their lives
- Self-direction and motivation
- Honesty and directness
- Problem solving skills
- Organizational skills
- Time management skills
Do you do anything differently when hiring flexible workers than you would if you were hiring a traditional employee?
All three employers say the way they interview candidates is the main difference between hiring traditional employees and flexible employees.
“When we plan to hire someone in a telecommuting position, if they are too far away to commute here for a [face-to-face] interview, we conduct an interview through Skype, using video & audio,” says Hytry Derrington of Rural America.
But, says Morgan of Optimize Worldwide, “I don't really do anything different. The interview process is the same,” which means employers don’t have to overhaul their recruiting practices to hire for flexible jobs.
What benefits do you see from your flexible work policies? Are there any downsides?
Obviously, if these employers continue to offer flexible job opportunities, there must be benefits for themselves and their employees, but there can also be downsides.
“Offering flexibility shows them we appreciate their time and understand they have other obligations in life. We believe offering these benefits decreases stress and burnout and leads to a healthier and more productive associate,” says Hytry Derrington, and recent studies by Stanford University and the University of Minnesota are proving just that.
As for the downsides, Morgan of Optimize Worldwide acknowledges that, “Accountability and work ethic is solely up to the employee. As the owner, I have tools to monitor activity, but only on a macro level.” Managing a remote workforce means adopting new management techniques and philosophies to make it work.
When comparing the benefits and downsides, Myers of HotelTonight says. “My employees are deeply passionate about their work because of the flexibility we offer. They very rarely call in sick, and in 18 months we have had zero 'no-shows.’ Downside - we have had a few of our flexible workers quit quickly. They just wanted to give the job a try and quit after a few weeks.”
These three companies have a realistic approach to telecommuting and flexible jobs, which is important for any company considering a flexible work program. Weighing the pros and cons of offering flexible jobs for your company and and determining which of your departments, jobs, and employees would benefit from flexibility are the first steps in creating a flexible jobs program.