What’s Best For You? The Pros and Cons of Flexible Workplace Situations

Is telecommuting right for you and your agency?

When Marissa Mayer took the reins of Yahoo! and announced that the cutting-edge tech giant was pulling back on its policy of employee telecommuting, shock waves reverberated throughout the American workplace.

The discussion that followed had people taking sides based on an all-or-nothing view of telecommuting (or at least a most-or-nothing view) with neither side holding a tenable position. A Forbes writer labeled it “the amazing hubris of a rich, glamorous CEO,” while a Time article reviewing her decision a year later cited statistics that showed some support for her position.

GovLoop blogger Ryan Arba recently made the case that telecommuting might work better for skilled workers than lower-level clerical employees.

Depending on how we use the word “flexible” to describe a work situation, employers and employees can use telecommuting to address everything from a temporary emergency (e.g., snow storm or power outage) to a longer situation such as maternity or an injury to a full-time employee.

Assessing the pros and cons of telecommuting and flexible work situations can help you determine whether they are right for your agency or department, or help you make the strongest case to your employer about how to handle your situation.

Less Can Equal More

Citing a Gallup poll, the Time article on Mayer made the case that flex schedules might work better if employees spend only part of their time working remotely. FlexJobs CEO Sara Sutton Fell used a LinkedIn post to outline 20 unexpected reasons that can make temporary telecommuting a necessity, not a want. When considering how to structure a flexible workplace, remember that you don’t have to create a permanent schedule and stick to it for the long-term.

Have a plan for addressing a weather-related emergency or temporary illness that includes off-site communications access so employees can work from home. Consider a summer policy that allows employees to work more hours Monday through Thursday so they can get an early start on the weekend by leaving Friday at noon. Let an employee re-charge after a long business trip that included getting home late at night after hours of flight time and airport layovers by letting him work the next day from home.

Review the Pros and Cons

Don’t get married to one main reason for embracing or nixing workplace flexibility. There are many reasons flexible schedules work and fail, and reviewing them can help you avoid the pitfalls and maximize the benefits.


Access to higher quality of talent you might not otherwise get

Lower labor costs using contractors and part-time workers

No relocation costs

Trial periods to audition workers

More hours worked because home workers tend to work evenings and weekends

Continuity after or during an emergency that shuts an office down

Less spending on computers, software, office equipment and space


Lack of face-to-face collaboration

Less sense team

Inability to monitor workers

Potentially fewer work hours from unmonitored employees

Maximize Technology

To get the most out of employees with flexible work situations, use tools that help maximize productivity and teamwork. These can include Google Docs, Skype, computer cams, instant messaging, cloud-based storage of and access to project documents, a company intranet and conference calls by phone or videoconferencing software.

Set Benchmarks

The whole point of creating flexible work situations for employees or yourself is to maximize productivity. To make the sale that telecommuting is a benefit to your department or employer, you’ll not only have to show how it work, but be able to prove it will pay dividends. This means setting benchmarks in advance that an employer can review to see if she’s getting the bang for the buck you promised.

If possible, work with HR to determine the costs of an on-site employee vs. a telecommuter so you can show the savings of a flexible schedule. Do the same with part-time vs. full-time workers. Provide productivity and efficiency data so you can show what a telecommuter will deliver in comparison to a full-time employee. Show how you’ll address each pro of telework and each con to maximize the benefits and eliminate or reduce any negatives.

For example, an on-site employee wastes anywhere from 250 to 500 hours per year in traffic. A work-from-home employee not only doesn’t deal with this stress and expense, but also has access to her computer and work documents. This often leads to after-dinner work sessions or weekend work when things are slow around the house.

Plan Ahead for Maximum Effectiveness

As with any other project plan, a strategy of integrating flexible working situations into an agency or department should include a careful analysis of the pros and cons, a plan for benchmarking the benefits, reducing the downsides and monitoring employee performance. At the very least, preparing for short-term flexibility options will help you be prepared to maintain workplace continuity using pre-determined communications tools.

Do you have examples of truly flexible workplace situations (those that aren’t permanent or full-time) you can share?

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