Catalyst - Summer 2009 - Flex Work: A Competitive Advantage for a Start-up Biotech?

Catalyst Summer 2009

The next time an employee requests to change their work schedule, think about showing some flexibility. Flexible work programs have been viewed as a nice perk, but new research shows they can be crucial to enhancing employee productivity and retention. To compete with large companies' greater resources and benefits, small businesses can offer flexible work arrangements to attract key new hires and increase employee job satisfaction. Allowing employees to influence their work environment can be the small business "ace in the hole."

Balancing employees' work and family responsibilities has become more important in today's corporate culture. In 2007, Americans spent 20 percent more time commuting to work than on vacation, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. New Jersey residents have the second highest "extreme commute" in the nation, often traveling 90 minutes or more to get to work. Arrangements that can minimize this wasted time could directly increase your employees' job satisfaction and overall quality of life.

Traditionally, it was thought that if you took employees out of the office, they would be less productive. But current research indicates that a balanced, empowered employee is much more valuable than one who's become burned out and dissatisfied with their office job.

Job flexibility can take various forms:

  • Permitting employees to work a 40-hour week in fewer days
  • Letting workers put in fewer hours each day, but work more days
  • Staggering work schedules and shifts
  • Telecommuting either on a full-time or part-time basis

Flex work programs can vary from self-monitored to more rigid programs that offer a choice of predefined work schedules. A clear understanding of the expectations of flex working should be communicated before the program's implementation. Such an agreement should spell out both the employer and employee's responsibilities and how the flex work arrangement will operate.

Lack of clear understanding between parties on objectives and results is the most common mistake that companies experience when instituting a flex work program. To avoid this pitfall, make the flex work agreement an employee "Business Plan," with mutually agreed upon goals, tasks and results.

Business owners must decide the optimal program for their company based on their employees' ability to self-manage and the company's corporate culture. For many owners or executives, loss of control is the main inhibitor to allowing more employees to work from home and has been shown to be an even greater concern than security or confidentiality. Some positions are better suited for flex work arrangements, where the independence and relative solitude can enhance job performance.

The State of New Jersey, through its "Smart Moves for Business" program, offers assistance in identifying and establishing flex work positions. Additionally, New Jersey provides tax exemptions and credits to employers who provide workers with telecommuting options and other alternatives to commuting alone in cars.

When planning for telecommuting, New Jersey employers should contact their local Transportation Management Association (TMA) by calling 1-800-245-7665 for assistance.

Telecommuting, flex-time and flexible work arrangements have matured from seldom-used perks to attract and retain specific employees, to a fundamental way of doing business in a demanding economy. Smaller companies implementing these innovative practices have found a powerful tool to help compete for the talent required for their continued success.


  Dan Sheridan is the senior vice president and chief marketing officer of Extensis Group. Extensis is a professional employer organization. For more information on setting up a flexible working program for your business, go to, or call 888-473-6398.  


EisnerAmper's Catalyst: Summer 2009

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