BY JENNIFER CHEN
Capital News Service
LANSING – Even without a rigid 8-to-5 working schedule, employees in the state could be more productive – with higher job satisfaction, according to a new report from a group that encourages telecommuting.
“Teleworking, enabled by broadband, allows employees the flexibility to work from home when needed, save their budgets on gas and increase productivity by reducing many interruptions to workflow as often experienced in the offices,” said Eric Frederick, program manager at Connect Michigan. “It also entices younger generations to continue living in the state after graduation.”
Connect Michigan is a nonprofit organization leading the effort to increase high-speed Internet access to ensure the state’s competitiveness in a global economy. It is a partner of the Public Service Commission.
A number of employers such as Bronson Healthcare Group in Kalamazoo have been offering flexible work hours to some employees for several years.
“We offer flexibility and telecommuting to help our employees achieve a work-life balance so they can stay healthy and engaged,” said Jamie Kirkendall, a human resource manager at Bronson.
About 35 percent Bronson employees could request teleworking through the company’s Active Staffer system, a technology-based virtual way to adjust their current schedules and flex their time.
Chrysler Group in Auburn Hills has been frequently named one of the best working places for parents by Working Mother magazine in part because teleworking makes company operations more efficient.
“The company provides programs and resources that help employees balance the demands of work and family,” said Michael Palese, a communications director at Chrysler. “Flexible work arrangements provide eligible salaried employees with the option to participate in work arrangements other than the traditional 40-hour work schedule.”
Chrysler offers various job positions where employees can telework, such as sales representative and bookkeeper.
“We have consistently provided a work-life program with the knowledge that our workers can be more motivated when their home life is at peace,” he said.
Both companies offer flextime, job-sharing, compressed work weeks and telecommuting, according to the broadband group.
David Reynolds, a labor studies professor at Wayne State University, researches flexible work arrangements.
“When management and workers equally work out such arrangements companies can save money, productivity can increase and workers can experience greater job satisfaction and less work-family conflicts,” he said.
Statistics from Connect Michigan show that non-traditional work schedules are gaining acceptance with employers. Five percent more businesses in the state allowed teleworking last year, compared to 2010.
Teleworkers in the state save a total of $336.5 million annually in fuel consumption and car maintenance costs, according to the study.
“Teleworking helps people save money and provides them options to participate in work arrangements other than the traditional forty-hour work schedule, which gives people more flexibility,” said Michael Rogers, vice president of communications at the Small Business Association of Michigan.
On average, the state’s flexitimers work about 83 days from home each year and save close to 2,560 driving miles, according to the report.
Telecommuting has a positive environmental impact by reducing carbon dioxide emissions by about 885 tons per year, advocates say.
That’s more emissions than greenhouse gases produced annually in Muskegon, according to the report.
But home-based work also carries some costs.
“This type of scheduling has the potential for great harm,” said Reynolds of Wayne State. “When done unilaterally by management, home-based arrangements can be very exploitative — lower pay, reduced safety and vastly increased work hours.
“Imagine a graphic designer working 60 hours on a magazine, or a family, including children, struggling to assemble manufacturing parts for a few cents a piece,” Reynolds said.
“Union collective bargaining and effective governmental regulation are the two best mechanisms for guaranteeing high-quality flexible jobs rather than new forms of 21st century exploitation,” he said.
© 2012, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Nonmembers cannot reproduce CNS articles without written permission.
BY JENNIFER CHEN