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  Give Your Employees More Hours In The Day
By Janet Kraus
Time. It's a precious commodity, and one that most of us do not have enough of. In today's hyper-paced society, it seems that there just aren't enough hours in the day. Between work and personal and family responsibilities, it's a wonder everyone isn't ordering pizza for dinner every night at 11:00.

According to a 1997 workforce study conducted by the Families and Work Institute, a non-profit research group in New York City, mid- to upper-level managers report that they work an average of 48 hours per week, and part-time employees say they put in more than 35 hours per week. There are unconfirmed claims that a significant subgroup works nearly 55 hours per week. What's more, some 78 percent of married employees have spouses who are also employed, leaving no one else to handle the responsibilities of everyday life.

Now add to these time constraints an average of 10 commuting hours per week, transporting kids 15 hours a week, cooking meals, doing laundry, mowing the lawn, repairing that rough spot in the den molding, paying bills, balancing checkbooks, grocery shopping... and stressing 150 hours a week. No wonder we say we need more than 24 hours in a day.

How Employers Can Help "Make" Time

Employers are realizing that the stress of today's time-crunch takes its toll on employees both on the job and off. They are also recognizing that well-designed work/life programs--including family care, flexible work arrangements, personal convenience services, and financial, wellness, and career counseling--are highly valued by employees and relatively low in cost. Work/life programs in the workplace have become extremely important tools for two primary reasons:

  • They attract workers and cultivate loyalty in an economy where good employees are hard to find. The best and brightest employees are going to be attracted to employers that show a strong and distinctive commitment to work/life issues.

  • A less stressed worker is a better worker. Providing time-saving services to employees is essential to helping them leverage their time in the office more efficiently and effectively.

Work/Life Programming: Convenience Services

Concierge and convenience services hit the mainstream as work/life balance surfaced as a critical employee need in the early '90s, and they are on the rise. Of the 742 organizations polled in the 1999 Society for Human Resource Management Survey, 4 percent offer concierge services. Companies with more than 5,000 employees appear to be more likely to do so than firms with fewer than 100 employees (15 percent versus 1 percent). Note those last numbers--with a full 15 percent of larger companies offering these types of services, can yours afford not to? And, if only 1 percent of smaller companies are offering convenience services, couldn't you separate yours from the pack by doing so?

Evidence suggests that the trend toward concierge services is on the upswing, particularly for high-tech personnel, says Frank Gallo, New England practice leader for strategic rewards for human resources consultancy Watson Wyatt Worldwide in Wellesley, Massachusetts. Gallo estimates that while fewer than 1% of all U.S. corporations use an outsourced concierge service, at least 25% offer at least some convenience benefits.

Concierge Evolution: Virtual Personal Assistance

To be most effective, today's time-saving services must evolve beyond the traditional on-site concierge offerings. Dry cleaning, car washing and detailing, food services, financial services, and other services are certainly important and valued, but they may not be enough--or, more importantly, they may not be as relevant in today's workplace. With the influx of flexible hours, telecommuting, job sharing, and other innovative working arrangements, a rapidly growing number of employees is no longer typical 9 to 5, in-the-office employees. Add to this figure the number of employees working in remote and off-site offices, and it's no wonder that on-site concierges simply cannot meet the myriad needs of today's workers.

To benefit all employees, all the time--not just those working at the locations with on-site concierges--leaders in the concierge and convenience industry are now providing virtual personal assistance. Imagine coming to work, logging on to your company's virtual personal assistance website, inputting your personal to-do list, and having someone else take care of everything for you. Through the use of the internet and other exponentially growing technologies, companies can now offer the same concierge services they always have--and many more, in some cases--on-line, to all employees, whether they work on-site or not.

How It Works

Employees can use a customized web site or a toll-free call to gain anytime/anywhere access to a host of convenience services, in order get their personal chores done. From individual errands to household services, from vacation planning to helping with meals and groceries, employees can get valued relief from and practical solutions to their everyday needs.

Corporations which have implemented these types of virtual assistance services have discovered that employees tap into this network quite regularly. Utilization--the percentage of employees within the organization that use the services-- averages roughly 30 percent. Says one relieved McKinsey & Company employee (a Boston-based management consultancy of approximately 170 employees), "The [virtual personal assistance] offered by my employer has made life much easier. My work schedule is such that there is little time for information gathering and bill resolving matters. Coordinators work tirelessly so I do not have to. I am able to spend my free time with my family--not on the phone trying to make sure my reservations are confirmed."

An employee from Mercer Management Consulting in Lexington, Massachusetts, mirrors these sentiments. "Being able to tap into my employer's virtual personal assistance network allows me to concentrate on work when I'm at work, and at the same time get my personal "to-do" list done without hassle. Without this service, I would have to do these errands during the workday, making my day even more stressful."

The Future of Virtual Concierge Benefits

Progressive employers are realizing that they must work to alleviate off-the-job concerns, in order to maintain on-the-job focus and company loyalty. And, more and more of them are recognizing concierge and convenience services as a valuable work/life benefit. "Five years ago [concierge benefits] were unheard of, and now we are hearing about them more and more," says Robin Hardman of the Families and Work Institute in New York. "It is the next step in the growing trend of attempting to better balance work and personal responsibilities."

In today's high technology and increasingly diverse working environment, we cannot rely simply on on-site concierges to provide employee benefits. As companies are transforming themselves into e-firms by embracing new technologies, so, too, must the concierge industry. The wave of the future is virtual personal assistance--it's the only way to benefit all the employees all the time.

Janet Kraus is the CEO and Co-founder of Circles, based in Boston, Massachusetts. Circles (www.circles.com) is a national provider of web-based virtual personal assistance. For more information, contact Janet at (888) 786-7786.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

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