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The Flexible Workplace Comes of Age... Almost

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There's a certain silent assumption that employees who participate in flexible work arrangements are, well, not serious. That assumption is alive and well as shown in studies published last week in the Journal of Social Issues and edited by law professor Joan C. Williams, founding director of the Center for Work-Life Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law.

The focus on flexible working in the past has been, in large part, on women achieving work-life balance. But we need to take gender out of the flexible work equation. Nowadays, given the priorities and desires of millennials, we're seeing the number of men involved in flexible arrangements on the rise.

My daughter's friend is a programmer, and he works two days a week from home. He isn't caring for a child or a sick relative. He and his generation simply think: Why endure the hassle and expense of a long commute when you don't have to? This mindset, for men and women alike, and the flexible work arrangements it can lead to has been shown to increase productivity and result in greater worker engagement.

The challenge facing today's leaders is how to create a flexible workplace that suits the needs of their particular company - and their employees, both men and women. Because, to paraphrase Joan Williams, if nothing changes for men, nothing will change for women.

A few suggestions to consider:

Ask individual managers to determine which flexible arrangements work best for their respective businesses. Telecommuting, video-conferencing, Skype, social media, webinars, part-time arrangements, organized transitions from full-time to part-time and back again, staggered work days, family leave: these are only some of the tools available in the current environment. Careful thought must be given to which tools and arrangements work, and for which roles. Not every arrangement is suited to every job. Done right, a group can become more efficient.

Lead by example. Showcase employees and top executives alike who take advantage of flexible arrangements. Nothing persuades like a successful, flexible role model. It helps to underscore the belief that work is not a place - it's what we produce not where we are that matters.

Rely on metrics to measure the success of your company's flexible work options. Measuring a mix of factors - such as productivity, performance, engagement and career growth and development - can reveal whether your flex plans are meeting both company and employee goals. Once you can point to metrics, you can make the case that it doesn't matter whether the work was done at 11 p.m. or 7 a.m., onsite or offsite, via videoconference or in the meeting room down the hall. There are also compelling measures around reduced commuting time and the environment as well as business continuity benefits.

Leverage infrastructure to change culture. Change doesn't happen overnight, and it doesn't arrive out of thin air. It's critical to create guidelines for the flexible arrangements that your organization offers and to introduce training for managers and workshops for employees. Solicit feedback from staffers themselves - what do they think would work and why?

Flexible arrangements - in all their variety - are making real inroads in corporate culture, and the stigma attached to them, while certainly still present, is beginning to fade. We're starting to see that flexible arrangements can allow for so much more than child care - everything from tending to that sick parent to greatly reduced commute times and accommodating global time zones. And it's becoming increasingly evident that the men and women who take advantage of flextime are serious - about both their careers and their lives.