Flex-Time: Want a Four-Day Workweek? IT is Key

As oil prices continue to fluctuate, the economy flounders and the pressure is on to slow global warming, both public- and private-sector organizations are turning to alternative work schedules such as telecommuting, flex time and four-day workweeks to ease the pain to their bottom lines, their employees' wallets and the environment.

For example, the state of Utah recently announced a one-year trial of a four-day workweek where most non-essential services are shut down on Fridays to save more than US$3 million in utility costs. Across the country, other organizations, such as the Hawaiian state government, have disclosed similar plans as well as telecommuting initiatives and flex-time to reduce carbon emissions, give employees a break from crushing gas prices and possibly cut down on expenses.

But as beneficial as these plans promise to be, without early involvement by IT, they may be doomed to failure. Experts say it's critical for IT to assess the infrastructure's ability to support increased remote access to services by employees and customers.

"If you're going to shut buildings down and change work schedules, you have to know how you're going to keep business going and what IT support you'll need to make that happen," says Utah CIO Stephen Fletcher.

Well before Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman revealed his four-day workweek plan to the public this summer, he gathered his cabinet members, including Fletcher, to determine if such a move was even feasible. "The governor was very clear in those early meetings that we still had to make services available even if our buildings weren't physically open for business," Fletcher says.

Keeping 850 online services operating Fletcher met with every department to figure out which applications their customers would need access to during the off day. He focused on completing the 850 online services the state now offers and building up the external-facing Web infrastructure needed to support increased traffic from citizens looking to pay taxes, renew driver's licenses and carry out other common e-government tasks.

Fletcher's team earned top ranking in this year's Center for Digital Government's Digital States Survey of e-government services. He says the governor's inclusion of his team in the early planning helped him guarantee that there would be enough servers, bandwidth and other resources to make the plan a success.

The governor's strategy also gave Fletcher time to assess how best to reallocate his consolidated IT resources, which would normally be targeted at supporting in-house employees on Fridays, to other strategic projects.

While Hawaii is taking its cue from Utah and piloting a four-day workweek, that state has also thrown in the challenge of adding greater support for remote access for employees.

Hawaii's government, the state's largest employer, says telecommuting is a necessary element of its project to help reduce traffic congestion in Honolulu's downtown area during peak hours, provide employees with a better work/life balance, and serve as a recruitment and retention tool, according to Marie Laderta, director of Hawaii's Department of Human Resources Development.

State officials are working closely with IT to make sure that employees who have been approved for telework can securely access file systems as well as do remote transaction processing. However, the state has already hit a snag because some transaction processing requires the use of paper files. Laderta says removal of paper documents from the office raises privacy concerns and must be closely examined before the pilot is expanded. "For now, we are limiting the remote transaction processing to systems administration and monitoring, small-scale systems development, and processing that does not require access to paper files," Laderta says.

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