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Pushing companies to strongly consider flexible schedules

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John Parry says executives should consider the benefits offered through a flexible work schedule.
John Parry says executives should consider the benefits offered through a flexible work schedule. - (NJBIZ file)

John Parry, chief executive of Parsippany-based Solix Inc. and a leading national advocate for workplace flexibility, said while Yahoo is making waves by banning telecommuting, flexible work arrangements have made his workers more engaged in their jobs while also boosting productivity.

Solix had revenue of nearly $100 million last year; the private company's 800 workers, nearly 500 of them in New Jersey, determine eligibility for subsidy programs offered by government agencies and private companies. The federal government contracts with Solix to determine eligibility of school systems nationwide for billions of dollars a year in subsidized phone and Internet services that are awarded based on the community's economic need.

Yahoo's new CEO, Marissa Mayer, ignited a debate on workplace flexibility last month when she announced that employees of the Sunnyvale, Calif., Internet giant could no longer work from home.

"I can't comment on why she just shut it down, but we have exactly the opposite feel," when it comes to telecommuting, Parry said. There needs to be a balance, however: Parry said it wouldn't work for his employees to telecommute full time, because they need and want interaction and help from colleagues.

And while many program eligibility screening tasks can be handled by individual employees, it takes a team to analyze multimillion-dollar applications for telecom and Internet service from huge school systems like New York City.

Parry said full-time employees work a 7.5-hour day and can vary their starting times — some chose to arrive at 6:30 a.m., others start work at 10 a.m.

"That enables people to miss the traffic, to get their kids on the bus if that's what they need to do," he said, adding that 70 percent work at home one or more days a week. The company's commuting policies last year earned Solix a New Jersey Smart Workplaces Award from the state Department of Transportation.

Parry said he knows that his workers are productive, because "most of our work is very measurable. We have people reviewing applications for grants and for subsidies from governments, they are reviewing applications for cell phone subsidies from commercial entities, and it's all done online. We can see how many applications are done per hour, and we can assess the quality of these individual reviews."

He said the company's productivity has improved each year since it was founded in 2004. "Part of that improvement is because we don't have any churn. People don't leave the company — they really enjoy the opportunity to work here. Flexibility is important to many people."

He said a flexible office removes some of the "noise" in the system, too. "You get rid of the things that bother people, that are on their minds and that take their attention away from what we are trying to do for our customers," he said. "That stuff kind of goes away when your employer is treating you like an adult."

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Beth Fitzgerald

Beth Fitzgerald

Beth Fitzgerald reports on health care, small business and higher education. She joined NJBIZ in 2008 after a 34-year career at the Star-Ledger and has been reporting on business in New Jersey since 1978. Her email is beth@njbiz.com and she is @bethfitzgerald8 on Twitter.

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