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A Water Main Break, a Creek, and Other Work-From-Home Distractions

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn June 15, 2012In: Telecommuting

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I'm working from home today but not by choice. Our office is quasi-closed today as a result a water main break just a few blocks away from our building in Wilmington, as shown in the video below by 6abc.

Of course, just because I can't go to the office to work doesn't mean I get to take the day off--the work still must be done. In the era of mobile computing and the paperless office, this does not present much of a technological challenge. I have ready access to everything I would have access to if I were sitting at my desk. Well, everything but my multiple-monitor computer set-up, I suppose.

But I digress. Which brings me back to my original point.

Working at home is hard. For me, anyway. I am too easily distracted. By the cat, who is as cute as can be and who just loves it when he's got a lap to sit in, pesky laptop be damned. By the bonsai tree that could use a meticulous pruning. By my car, which is calling to me at this very moment, asking that I give her a nice wash, followed by a leisurely drive with the top down.

Blue Heron


By the view from my deck of the Brandywine Creek, which is as beautiful and serene as one might imagine a lazy creek to be on a clear day in June. Or the Great Blue Heron who, and I am not making this up, is perched on a rock, looking for lunch, at this very moment.


Or the rose garden at the end of my street, which is in full bloom and beautiful beyond belief.


I live in a park, people! It's not my fault that I'm surrounded by all of these incredible distractions! Blame Mother Nature!


Josephine Rose Garden


But, again, I digress. The point that I am trying to get around to making is that, as a general rule, working from home really doesn't work for me. At my desk, I'm a disciplined, focused, work-generating fool of a task-master. But at home, I find that I mostly just walk in circles.


Maybe I'll read some news articles to help me find the working-from-home sweet spot. For example, the Top 10 Mistakes Everyone Makes When Working From Home on Forbes.com. Or How to Work From Home Without Losing Your Mind (or Your Job) by Ask a Manager's Alison Green at US News' On Careers blog. According to Attorney Marketing blog, 2% of lawyers work from home all of the time. And good for them--there are plenty of benefits of telecommuting for those who have the self-control to stay on task.

Or maybe I'll just get back to work. Wish me luck and have a great Friday, wherever you may be today!

Resources for Research on Work-Life Balance & Flexible-Work Arrangements

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn August 4, 2009In: Family Responsibilities (FRD), Flextime, Telecommuting, Women In (and Out of) the Workplace, Women, Wellness, & Work-Life Balance

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Thanks to everyone who attended the audio conference on Caregiver Discrimination, presented by Adria B. Martinelli and Margaret M. DiBianca.  As promised during the conference, we're posting some of the many resources that are available online where employers can locate specific information and research to use in pitching the idea of Flexible Workplace Arrangements.

 

Two of the Leading Work-Life Centers

Workplace Flexibility 2010, at the Georgetown University Law Center, has a virtual tremendous amount of helpful resources,including A Fact Sheet on Flexible Work Arrangements and Flexible Work Arrangements: The Overview Memo.

Another leader in the field of work-life balance is the Sloan Work and Family Institute.  Here, you'll find a treasure trove of detailed information about flexible work arrangements, including an extensive compilation of Workplace Flexibility Case Studies.

 

U.S. DOL

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), has a good webpage on the topic of flexible workplace initiatives, where it links to several other great resources, including:

Article: "Incidence of Flexible Work Schedules Increases"
A Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Monthly Labor Review article stating that from 1991 to 1997, the percentage of full-time wage and salary workers with flexible work schedules on their principal job increased from 15.1 percent to 27.6 percent. baby wearing headset

Article: "Flexible Schedules and Shift Work: Replacing the '9-To-5' Workday?"
Article from BLS' Monthly Labor Review Online.

Article: "Over One Quarter of Full-time Workers Have Flexible Schedules"
More information on flexible schedules.

Article: "Flexible Work Schedules: What Are We Trading Off to Get Them?"
More information on flexible schedules.

Article: "Executives most likely to have flexible work hours"
More information on flexible schedules.

Article: "Workers with Longer Workweeks Often Earn More Per Hour"
Article published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics stating that the weekly earnings of workers who work an extended workweek (between 45 and 99 hours) earn at least 32% more money than those who work a standard workweek (between 35 and 44 hours).

Index of BLS Reports on Workers on Flexible and Shift Schedules
A report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics on the trend towards flexible work schedules.

 

10 More (Great) Resources

The Center for Companies that Care is a national, not-for-profit organization "dedicated to enhancing the well-being of employees and communities."

Center for Women's Business Research "is the go-to source on the trends, characteristics, achievements, and challenges of women business owners and their enterprises."

Center for Work-Life Policy (CWLP), "undertakes research and works with employers to design, promote, and implement workplace policies that increase productivity and enhance personal/family well-being. CWLP is committed to promoting policies that enable individuals to realize their full potential across the divides of gender, race and class."

Corporate Voices for Working Families is a "non-profit corporate membership organization created to bring the private sector voice into the public dialogue on issues affecting working families."

The MIT Workplace Center is part of the MIT Sloan School of Management

Parenting in the Workplace Institute's  mission is "to promote, educate, and provide resources for successful implementation of parenting in the workplace structures nationally and worldwide."

Rutgers Center for Women and Work, is part of the School of Management and Labor Relations, and addresses "women's advancement in the workplace and conducts cutting-edge research on successful public and workplace policies."

WFC Resources formerly Work & Family Connection) has been working since 1984 "to help employers create a workplace that's both supportive and effective."

When Work Works "is a nationwide initiative to highlight the importance of workforce effectiveness and workplace flexibility as strategies to enhance businesses' competitive advantage in the global economy and yield positive business results."

Winning Workplaces is a not-for-profit providing consulting, training and information to "help small and midsize organizations create great workplaces."

 

And, of course, Delaware Employment Law Blog has bunches of resources, too.

See Previous posts on Alternative-Work Schedules, Flextime Initiatives, Telecommuting, and other Work-Life Balance issues.

Why Telecommuting Could Be the Answer to My Cookie Prayers

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn December 26, 2008In: Alternative Work Schedules, Telecommuting

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In Delaware, courts take a holiday on December 26.  Accordingly, most law firms are closed for the day, including ours.  And, not surprisingly, many Delaware lawyers will work anyway.  Duty calls. 

Is there a way to accomplish those important work tasks without having to sacrifice family time?  Enter telecommuting. image

Technically speaking, telecommuting is one of many flexible work initiatives.  A telecommuter works from home full-time or several days out of the work week.  Telework or telecommuting involves work that normally would have been performed from a central office setting but can now be performed at home or remote location.  Telework requires the use a computer, an internet connection, telephone, scanner, and, perhaps, a fax machine. 

Telecommuting is an employment arrangement that involves moving work to the workers instead of workers to work.

Proponents of telecommuting claim (with good support), that efficiently run programs can offer employers the following benefits:

  • Cost Savings through the reduction of overhead and fixed costs, such as rent.

  • Increased Productivity of 10-40%, due in part to the absence of typical office interruptions.

  • Improved Motivation of employees who see the program as a sign of trust and confidence.

  • Skills Retention when an employee who would otherwise leave the workplace is able to stay. Includes employees on maternity leave, whose families move out of the area, whose disability prevents them from working in the standard office set-up, or who are nearing retirement but who the employer wants to retain as long as possible.

  • Organization Flexibility is substantially improved. Teams can be created without consideration for geography or the need for travel. 

  • Flexible Staffing by reducing the number of hours worked to those with the highest demand.

  • External disruptions, such as natural disasters, inclement weather, traffic problems, and even security issues, have a lesser impact on the organization's ability to operate at a fully functional level.

  • Enhanced Customer Service, which can be extended beyond the working day or the working week without the costs of overtime payments or the need for staff to work non-traditional business hours.

Each of these claimed benefits have at least some legitimacy.  Although telework may not be appropriate for every type of job or every type of workplace, it certainly seems to be attractive on a day like today when there's no need to be in the office and when my mother-in-law's cookies are guaranteed to be gone before lunch!

For more information on telecommuting or other flexible work schedules, be sure to see the Working TIme category, under Telecommuting.

Telecommuting Is a Way to Work More--Not to Drive Less

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn September 24, 2008In: Alternative Work Schedules, Telecommuting

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Alternative schedules, such as "4/10s" (a/k/a four-day workweeks), have been hot topics for the past several months.  I know I've put more than my two cents worth of commentary out there recently.  So why is it that only a tiny percentage of the country's employees report having access to such flex-time initiatives?  j0400948

In a recent Gallup Poll, only 12% of workers say that their employers encouraged its employees to work from home one or more workdays per week.  And only 16% say that the idea of the 4-day workweek has been supported by management.  Yes, these are increases from alternative schedules reported in the past but they can hardly be considered to be representative of the general population. 

What hasn't increased, though, is telecommuting.  There has been 0% increase in the number of respondents who say they telecommute at all.  Well, no, that's inaccurate--that number has actually fallen 2%, down to 30% today as compared to 32% in 2006. 

What I found most important was the finding that employees who reported that they have telecommuted say that they do so as a way to put in extra hours on nights or on weekends.  Telecommuting, it seems, has no correlation to a reduced cost of driving. 

Alternatives to the Four Day Work Week

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn August 4, 2008In: Alternative Work Schedules, Flextime, Telecommuting

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The popularity of a compressed workweek has skyrocketed. Workplace flexibility has long been heralded as a way to bolster employee retention. Alternative work schedules have even been lauded as a key to keeping women in the workplace and off the off-ramp.

And now, with towns and cities across the country adopting a four-day work week, the trend towards workplace flexibility isn't going anywhere anytime soon. But the four-day work week isn't the only option. Here are some other options provided by When Work Works, a project of the Families & Work Institute:

Flex-Time.

Traditional flextime allows employees to chose their starting and quitting times within a range of hours surrounding core-operating hours. Daily flextime involves the same concept but allows employees to select their start and end times on a daily basis.

A compressed work week enables employees to work their full schedules over fewer number of working days. Usually this means 10 hours per day for 4 days, or 80 hours over 9 days. "Summer-hour" schedules add an hour to workdays Monday through Thursday, and end work at 1 pm on Fridays.

Flex-Leaves.

Time off during the workday to address personal and family issues includes time off for anticipated issues, such as parent-teacher conferences, or unanticipated issues, such as waiting at home for a repairman or delivery.

Paid time off to care for children permits employees to take off for a few days to care for a sick child without losing paid time.

Flex-Careers include multiple points for on- and off-ramping over the course of one career or working life. This can include formal leaves of absences and sabbaticals, as well as taking time out of the workforce.

Flex-Place is defined as working some or most of the employee's working time at a location other than the employer's main place of business. Telecommuting is included in this category.



Is Telecommuting a Reasonable Accommodation Under the ADA?

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn July 25, 2008In: Alternative Work Schedules, Disabilities (ADA), Telecommuting

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With all the buzz about alternative work schedules, four-day work weeks, flextime, and the like, the following Q & A on telecommuting as a reasonable accommodation under the Americans With Disabilities Act ("ADA") might be relevant as these types of requests increase.

Is telecommuting a reasonable accommodation under the ADA?

Q: One of our employees has asked that we allow him to work from home as an accommodation for a medical condition. He does suffer from a medical condition covered by the ADA but are we required to allow him to work from home as a possible accommodation?kirk-telephone-lg

 
Your question involves certain "assumptions" that are relevant to our response. For example, you said the employee does in fact have a medical condition that qualifies as a "disability" under the ADA. Our response is based on that assumption being true.

Can telework be an accommodation under the ADA?  Telework — that is, allowing employees to work from home — may qualify as a reasonable accommodation under the ADA.  Although the law doesn't require you to offer telework to your employees, you may provide it as an accommodation if it's appropriate for this employee, regardless of whether other employees without disabilities have the opportunity to work from home.
Is telework appropriate in this case?  You and your employee should discuss the appropriateness of telecommuting as an accommodation.  Generally, that interactive process begins when the employee communicates that he has a condition requiring a change in the way he performs his job. It's important to note that he doesn't have to use words like "accommodation" or even "disability" for the ADA to come into play. He merely needs to provide information that gives you a reasonable basis for making further inquiries about necessary accommodations.

After the employee provides you with notice of his need for accommodation and telecommuting becomes an option, he needs to explain why telework is an accommodation that makes sense in his situation. During that discussion, you may request information about his medical condition, including documentation that substantiates his need for an accommodation.
Is it reasonable to allow telecommuting? The possibility of telecommuting is really no different from other accommodations. You should evaluate the employee's job and review all of its essential functions. If some of those functions can be performed from home, it may be reasonable to permit telecommuting as an accommodation. If none of the job functions can be successfully completed from home, then you are not obligated to allow the employee to telecommute.

Factors you might look at when making your decision include whether:

  • face-to-face interaction and coordination of work with other employees is essential;

  • in-person interaction with outside colleagues, clients, or customers is necessary; and

  • the job requires the employee to have immediate access to documents or other information that's located only at the workplace.

If the legitimate answer to these questions is "yes," telecommuting may not be appropriate as an accommodation.  But if elements of the job can be performed at home and don't require the type of interaction that occurs only in the workplace,  you should consider telework as a form of reasonable accommodation under the ADA.

Recent posts that may be similarly helpful include:

Calling All Students, School Is Now In Session! ADA 101

ADA 102: What Does the ADA Require

New Employer & Workplace Study on Flexible Schedules

Alternative Work Arrangement May Soon Become Mandatory

Utah's Mandatory 4-Day Work Week Will Save the World. Sort of.

I Hate To Say "I Told You So"--The 4-Day Workweek Is a Hot Topic

Alternative Work Arrangement May Soon Become Mandatory

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn July 10, 2008In: Alternative Work Schedules, Flextime, Telecommuting

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The four-day workweek is gaining momentum. The rising price of fuel has caused many workers to pursue alternative working schedules.  A shortened week has seen a rapid increase in popularity. Even schools have considered the idea of reducing operation costs by closing their doors on Fridays.  Another employee alternative is telecommuting.  A new bill, passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, proposes to mandate this "alternative."telecommuter

 

If passed, the bill would authorize all federal employees to work from home (i.e., telecommute), for at least 20% of their work hours every two weeks.  Federal agencies would be charged with creating programs that include this requirement. 

 

The bill doesn't seem to take into account that telecommuting doesn't always work.  Just ask the employees of the State of Ohio.  As reported by the New York Times back in April (see Ohio State Workers Are Coping: It’s Now 8 to 5), Ohio officials had tried unsuccessfully to implement a 4-day work week.  After several months on the 4 10-hour workdays, state officials planned to eliminate the alternative schedule in order to provide the basic level of customer service.  On the four-day-week program, departments were closed, phones unanswered, and the needs of citizens not met on Fridays.  Ohio officials did not prohibit telecommuting or flexible work hours--but compressed schedules (4-days workweeks) were off-limits.

Also see:

I Hate To Say "I Told You So"–The 4-Day Workweek Is a Hot Topic

How the Current Economy Could Affect the Future of Flextime

New Employer & Workplace Study on Flexible Schedules