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Location:near Houston, Gulf Coast, United States

Conservatively liberal, moderately well-educated, and highly opinionated...

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Thursday, January 26, 2006

Assailing the traditional. Again.

This is a problem that is near and dear to my heart:

The idea of flexible work arrangements isn't new — it was a hot concept a decade or more ago as companies were eager to encourage working mothers to stay at work by instituting work-life balance programs. But the mayor hopes to make it popular once again by selling it simultaneously as a productivity enhancer and a mobility solution.

I suspect there are MANY jobs – far more than the 200,000 described by the mayor - that fall under this category. Furthermore, I can tell you that as a single parent, the single hardest problem was dealing with school schedules, illnesses, and the general overall need for flexibility.

Unfortunately, there are companies that suffer from extreme paranoia. Shortly after coming to Houston in 2000, I went to work for a well-known Houston company that was widely touted as employee-focused. They talked a good talk, but when faced with delivering the promised flexibility, positions like mine (that traditionally allow for telecommuting) remained locked into offices. I don't think I met a single person with that company that was happy. Furthermore, companies that are frozen in the traditional mold like this are often run by micro-managers – a terribly wasteful way to run a business.

While it's true that not everyone possesses the personal discipline to work without supervision, those who cannot are quickly and easily identified. Companies daring enough to try flexible work options, however, usually see major increases in productivity and job satisfaction.

Productivity jumped by 12 percent, turnover is nil, and the employees who assign the codes critical for insurance reimbursement and medical research report that they're exercising more and suffer less stress.

The concept of flexible workplaces, telecommuting, and compressed work-weeks has been faltering in the trenches for years. It’s high time this issue landed front and center again – particularly here in the Houston area, which boasts some the world’s most extensive parking lots (elsewhere referred to as highways).

I'd be happier if Mayor White would put some "teeth" into his gentle suggestions, though. Talking the idea up "CEO to CEO" is all well and good, but some carrots and sticks would probably go further in the long run.