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work-life balance

Julie Cole, co-founder and vice-president of Mabel’s Labels in Hamilton, says her company is ‘goal-focused,’ with employees being graded on the work they do rather than how often they’re at their desk.Glenn Lowson/The Globe and Mail

Working 9 to 5 is not the only way to make a living.

While work-at-home options or modified hours are traditionally the norm in sales, IT support, home repairs, and medical and health-related occupations, FlexJobs, a United States-based online service for professionals, discovered a wide range of opportunities in a review of more than 100,000 flexible-work postings.

They included national director of social events for a national charity, carbon-trading policy analyst, senior marine scientist, chocolatier, "indoctrination specialist" for a craft brewer, traffic-safety modeller at a major university, air-to-ground operations executive and senior trial lawyer for an insurance company.

"The truth is there are fantastic jobs in all industries and for almost any career path," said Sara Sutton Fell, founder and chief executive officer of FlexJobs. "It's just about searching for the one position that's just the right fit."

Mabel's Labels Inc., a Hamilton-based company of 40 full-time employees, is among a growing number of Canadian businesses offering its employees flexible work. The company was started in 2003 by four moms who saw an opportunity to create personalized, waterproof labels and tags for clothing, lunch bags, backpacks and other family possessions. The company now sells worldwide through its website, and supplies its products to Wal-Mart Canada and in the United States.

As the company grew, the co-founders decided they didn't want to measure success by keeping track of the time their employees spent at a desk in an office. They wanted to focus on results, while offering increased flexibility.

To that end, in March, 2013, they decided to adopt the Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE), a management system created by Minneapolis-based consultants Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson that attempts to find the sweet spot between autonomy and accountability.

"We are goal-focused, and don't care if someone is in the office or not," says Julie Cole, Mabel's Labels co-founder and vice-president.

Implementing such a system can create an attractive work environment and provide more freedom for people to maintain greater work-life balance. Ms. Cole believes employees shouldn't feel they are being graded for attendance, but for the work that they are doing. Mabel's Labels wants employees to get their jobs done without feeling they must hide or make excuses for attending personal appointments or tending to family commitments, she said. Results take priority, no matter where and when the work is done.

Regus PLC, a global company that provides office spaces and meeting rooms for mobile workers and small businesses, sees growing interest in flexible working options, according to its recent report.

"More and more forward-thinking companies are embracing remote work and telecommuting," said Wayne Berger, vice-president of Regus Canada. "Smart leaders know that measuring success does not mean time spent in the office; instead it's about the results a team member is bringing to the company."

Nearly half of professionals said they would prefer to work closer to home to reduce commute times, the survey found. At least one-third of Canadian respondents identified shorter commutes as a priority.

A survey cited by the Regus report found that 91 per cent of respondents said flexibility helps them take better care of themselves, and 90 per cent felt that it would reduce their stress.

Several studies have found increases in productivity are generated within a flexible work environment. Not everyone is wired to produce results within typical work hours. Three-quarters of workers surveyed globally said they work more productively when able to work flexibly, the Regus report said.

"I work in a creative environment," said Michica Medina-Provato, a senior user-interaction designer who specializes in risk analytics. "Sometimes I am at my strongest in the evening after the kids are in bed and I can get a few hours of uninterrupted work done."

Flexibility offers employees the chance to figure out when they are most productive and can focus on the tasks that need to be done.

Technology is a big contributor to the flexible work options available today, as it makes it easier to connect employees, no matter whether they are in an office, in another city or in another part of the world.

With a mobile device, and Internet tools such as Skype and GoToMeeting, a meeting can be staged in a virtual boardroom. Technology gives employees the ability to have an office anywhere, while using all the systems and tools of their employer.

Flexibility and working remotely come with both freedom and responsibility, but as Ms. Cole of Mabel's Labels puts it: "Treat adults like adults and they will act like adults."

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