Stretching out the clock.

Position:New work arrangements - Includes related articles
 
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The times they are a-changing. New work arrangements - everything from four-day weeks to job sharing - are transforming the face (and the pace) of American business life. Read how the flexible workforce is shaking out in finance.

Nine-to-five, Monday to Friday. For decades, the work week has remained tried and true, the familiar marker with which millions of American workers parcel out their business lives. But it's not going to be that way for much longer. Nine-to-five is still alive and well, especially since some managers have reservations about flexible schedules, but many employers and employees are starting to deconstruct the traditional work week. However, that doesn't mean Corporate America has thrown out the baby - productivity - with the bathwater. Here, four financial executives reveal how their employees get their jobs done and still have time for their kids' baseball games. (Now we'd just like to see those executives work some flex hours, too!)

Gordon Busenbark Vice president-finance Hyland division of Baxter Healthcare Hayward, Calif. (818) 507-5536 or (510) 786-9744

Number of employees in department: 25 Number of employees using flexible work options: 9

A few years ago, I faced a typical work-family dilemma: I wanted to spend as much time as possible with my young children, but I have a three-hour roundtrip commute and also travel a great deal. My solution was to begin working at home one day a week. I sent out my schedule, including my home phone and fax numbers, to everyone I worked with, and made it clear I could be reached at home - just as if I were in the office.

This arrangement was very successful for me, and it didn't impede my performance. In fact, it even helped me organize my work better. I began viewing certain projects or tasks, such as reading mail or writing performance reviews, as good Friday "quiet-time" projects.

Therefore, when Baxter decided to help employees balance their work and family lives by offering some flexible work options, I think I'd already sent a strong message to my 25-person department that senior management was committed to this endeavor and that it wasn't a program only for women or non-management employees. Of course, some people, whether they're managers or not, still believe that employees who aren't there during traditional hours will do less work because they're not being supervised as closely. But most of us assume we have mature employees who will get the job done regardless of which hours they work.

Still, you do have to lay out some "rules of the road." Our division president told managers to talk to their employees and develop written proposals, based on their areas' business needs and work flows. Right off the bat, I emphasized to my employees that we had to keep our customers' needs uppermost in our minds, and that includes internal customers - all the operating units and other people who rely on finance for accurate data and information.

To keep things flowing smoothly, everyone in my department (and the division in general) had to commit to a schedule of some kind. My employees can choose to work either a compressed work week - four 10-hour days - or what we call a nine-80 schedule, which means that in a two-week, 80-hour period, employees work eight nine-hour days and one eight-hour day, with the 10th day off. At the beginning of the month, we post a calendar showing everyone's schedule. That helps us plan meetings, and we can quickly see if we have any coverage gaps.

Some of my functional areas have very few employees, and they found it a little trickier than most to work out a feasible flexible schedule. We needed to ensure we always have enough people there to keep the work moving and answer any questions or address any situations that come up. You can't just have everyone out on the same day!

For example, our accounts payable group has only eight people, so two people take their day off on one Friday, another two get the following Monday off, the third pair get the next Friday and, of course, the final pair take the second Monday. The group keeps rotating the schedule, so everyone eventually gets a chance to take Friday off as well as Monday.

With all of these checks and balances in place, at least half of our employees are in the office on any given day. The nine-80 schedule in particular has helped reduce the amount of time employees take off for personal reasons, such as doctor appointments. Since people know they'll have a day off every two weeks, they schedule their personal errands for that day instead of using their regular work time.

Baxter regards flexible schedules as a privilege, not a right. Therefore, we officially suspend flex time at certain times of the year, such as when we're doing budget forecasts, because we need everyone to be here at the same time. But most of the time, employees decide for themselves when they need to put in extra time. I don't have to tell them when those times are.

Employees don't get a chance to make up any scheduled days off; flex time doesn't accrue like vacation time. On the other hand, we try to accommodate people when they have emergencies that prevent them from working their regular schedules. So it's a give-and-take situation; both the company and employees must be flexible about work arrangements.

Although nearly everyone in our department has a...

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