The Flexible Workforce: A Trend You Can Build On

The head of human resources prefaces a workforce strategy presentation by saying her program idea will lead to more focused work performed by employees; raise employee job satisfaction and retention; boost company morale and loyalty; reduce employee stress and sick days; keep business going during major weather events – and save the organization money in the process. Is there really such a silver bullet?

In terms of company profitability and employee satisfaction, absolutely.

Flexible staffing, which gives employees more control over when, where and how long they work through options like flextime, compressed work weeks, telecommuting and job sharing, is all it’s cracked up to be. It is a crucial workforce strategy when it comes to retaining mid- to executive-level professionals.

As you have likely seen and heard, flexible work options are gaining traction and acceptance in many industries, at all levels and careers.

When we think of part-time work, which in the professional world can take on many meanings (job sharing, project-based or highly specialized work), we too often equate it with working a shift at a factory or fast-food restaurant. Because historically, that is what a part-time position was. But we have evolved past that – so very far past.

Today, non-traditional work arrangements make sense for professionals, as they are able to continue advancing in their career, while also having a family, dedicating time to passions, volunteering, or, for older professionals, entering an early retirement. Interestingly, professionals in these types of positions frequently are considered “specialists” or “consultants” as they move from organization to organization meeting the needs that match their specific skillset. A true win-win.

Our Industry, Our Move

The professional staffing industry is a progressive change agent for the shifting economy and an important resource for companies as they look to strategic growth both near- and long-term.  This industry can play in any economic sandbox because there will always be an American workforce; it’s just the specific requirements that change. Given the growing interest in a flexible workforce, turning this trend into a business line has merit.

Over the past few years, companies have been working harder and more creatively than ever to reduce costs while striving to improve productivity and retain their best employees.  Many studies by organizations such as the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) have pointed to workplace flexibility as a highly effective and vital business strategy in today’s economy:  “For thousands of organizations, work flex contributes millions of dollars in bottom-line gains.”

When selling workplace flexibility to clients, we talk about it as a way to rethink how, when and where people do their best work – while also increasing productivity and business continuity. Here are some of the ideas we share:

  • Reinforce business continuity. Inclement weather, technical outages, community business interruptions and other serious events can challenge productivity. Having remote capabilities generally keeps a business operating at full capacity.
  • Use flexibility as currency. The results of a 2012 survey by Harris Interactive (commissioned by Mom Corps) show that nearly one in two working adults (45%) are willing to give up some percentage of their salary for more flexibility at work.
  • Lower real estate costs.  With telecommuting options, creative scheduling, and flex hours, companies can reduce real estate costs through less occupancy rates/space requirements. This can even enable some business owners to sublet part of their space to other businesses.
  • Reduce health costs and reduce sick days. SHRM found that flexible workers sleep better, exercise more, have lower stress and are in better health. Fewer sick days = more productivity.

Strength in Franchising

In starting Mom Corps, I have found success by utilizing flexibility as a business model; we have made flexibility our business. Our niche within the industry is one that focuses on equipping organizations with high level, specialized professionals they normally wouldn’t have access to by offering alternative work options.

Even in a down economy, a franchise can mitigate the risks of starting a business by offering a proven formula and a ready-made business concept. In particular, professional service franchises are gaining popularity. Whereas the traditional franchise is product driven and typically very restricted by the necessity to adhere to a single operational approach, professional service franchises are more consultative and open to adaptation, largely due to regional business preferences and demands. This can be more appealing to some. Further, businesses and individuals alike are seeking more specialized, personalized services on a smaller scale. Franchises are well-suited to this preference because they provide clients the reliability of a known brand along with the specialization of a unique, typically localized business.

Both professional staffing and franchising are thriving business sectors, and they come together to create an excellent opportunity. Professional service franchises, particularly those in the staffing industry, have lower startup costs than other types of product-based franchises. Compare this to restaurant franchise opportunities which commonly start in the hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars. They also have lower operating costs since the start-ups are typically home-based businesses with no inventory needs. Because of this, franchise candidates can usually make the investment using their own funds or with minimal help from friends and family, thus eliminating the need for financing.

During one of the toughest years of the recession, we decided that national growth was necessary to build the company the way we wanted. Since 2009, Mom Corps has expanded via franchise to 17 major markets across the U.S.

When considering how to build out your practice or launch a new business line, consider the momentum behind flexible staffing. It is a critical human capital strategy that is still highly underutilized by organizations today, but will have a way of ferreting out the forward-thinking companies who use flexibility as a powerful recruiting tool.

Allison O’Kelly is the CEO and founder of Mom Corps, a national professional staffing firm that connects employers with a unique pool of 120,000 experienced professionals seeking flexible work. After receiving her MBA from Harvard Business School, she began a fast-track career in public accounting at KPMG Peat Marwick, eventually landing an executive role at Toys “R” Us. But, when Allison had children, she found that, like many of her peers were also discovering, the traditional workplace did not offer balance between career and family.

While she and other professional women felt pressure to leave successful corporate careers to focus on their families, the same corporations struggled to find and retain high-caliber employees. This discovery led Allison to a distinctive calling and she launched Mom Corps in 2005.

Allison is noted as an expert, advocate and consultant on the subject of workplace flexibility and alternative work options. Her ideas and experience have been recognized in the national press including features in The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Bloomberg Businessweek, NBC’s The TODAY Show, Working Mother and Washington Post to name a few. She has a blog on Huffington Post. Allison may be reached via email (click here), on Twitter @AllisonOKelly and @MomCorps, and on LinkedIn.

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