By MATTHEW BRODSKY, senior editor/Web editor of Risk & Insurance®
It's not difficult to imagine a world where people are just as effective working from home, or their neighborhood coffee shop, as they are from their offices, if you try. A world where companies benefit from flexible work arrangements as much as their workers do. Where they enjoy the ability to recruit the best talent and retain such employees, where they get to save on real estate by needing less office space, where they have built-in business continuity should disaster strike and their brick-and-mortar offices close.
You don't even have to try to imagine such a world. It exists now. From 2003 to 2008, according to the Disability Management Employer Coalition, the number of employees allowed to work remotely at least once a month increased to 33.7 million, up 43 percent. Now, more than half of all employers in the United States offer telework arrangements on a regular basis.
In the insurance world, one of the industry's oldest companies is a surprisingly major proponent of flexible work arrangements: The Hartford.
"It really is a competitive advantage," said Lisa Crosby Bonner, assistant vice president of contemporary work practices at the venerable Hartford, Conn.-based insurance company.
The "talent war" is coming, she warned, and remote work arrangements are "table stakes."
As far as the potential real estate savings, she claimed to have already booked real estate savings in the millions of dollars for The Hartford.
And as far as "corporate agility" and business continuity ... forget about it.
"From a business resiliency standpoint, it's critical," she told us.
Bonner also shared how The Hartford uses flexible work arrangements to facilitate disability management and return-to-work. She gave three real-world recent examples.
In the first, a 24-year-old financial analyst was disabled after an accident. He was in the hospital for months, after which his doctor said he could work part-time, but would need to change positions frequently. The Hartford had an ergonomic assessment done and got him a special desk chair that allowed him to change position. Eight months later, he was able to go back to work full time. He was offered the chance to continue with remote work as an accommodation, but the worker wanted to go back to the office for the most part.
"Being in the office too was important to him," Bonner said.
In another example, a 45-year-old employee suffered from chronic pain, so bad that the employee's doctor didn't think he could return to work at all. The doctor eventually said the employee could work part time from a home office, which The Hartford facilitated by setting up a wireless router and complete computing system there. Now years later, the employee still works from home part time. In the next few months, however, he might be returning to full-time duty, Bonner said.
Bonner cited a third example of how The Hartford applies its flexible work arrangement policy toward disability management: a 51-year-old senior loss-control consultant who suffered multiple fractures in an accident. Afterward, this person could not bear weight or travel distances. Mind you, his position had required him to walk and travel before. The accommodation here? Within his team, management assigned duties so this person could work from home part time and gradually increase his hours. He's now back full time from home on an ad hoc basis, more for convenience than anything else.
As made plain by these examples, telework allowed disabled employees to continue to be productive players, all the while getting them back to work. It's safe to say that in many cases when flexible work arrangements are used--in disability management cases or otherwise--employees tend to come to work happier.
The most engaged employees work from home on an ad hoc basis, perhaps no more than a few days a week, according to Bonner, who cited an internal survey she produced at The Hartford.
August 1, 2011
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