There has been a proliferation of adaptable work arrangements in United States (U.S.) organizations, which is driven by a convergence of information and communications technology (ICT) and workforce trends. Specifically, workforce trends indicate an increase in demographic diversity and a projected reduction in skilled workers. These trends have led many U.S. organizations to focus on retention strategies and subsequently to place emphasis on adaptable work arrangements as a workforce imperative. In this article, we describe the forces driving the utilization of adaptable work arrangements. Moreover, we will illuminate the ICT currently available to successfully design and execute adaptable work arrangements in support of increased productivity, and the realization of organizational sustainability and competitiveness.
Increasingly, human resources researchers and practitioners in the U.S. maintain that changing demographics, a projected reduction in the availability of skilled workers, and the increasing capacity of ICT are all converging to create a dramatic shift in the U.S. workforce. Together, these forces are changing the conventional way organizations approach work design, and they are creating a subsequent paradigm shift in the way U.S. organizations view the traditional workweek. In the context of the post-industrial workforce, the traditional paradigm has viewed workers as committed only when they are physically present in the office, and when they maintain, at the very least, a 40-hour work week (Huff, 2005). The conventions applied to the current and future U.S. workforce are evolving in order to ensure sustainable organizations that can compete in the global marketplace.
Rather than products or services, people are considered to be the differentiator in today’s global economy. The implications for an organization’s human resources strategies include the creation and sustainability of a responsive and adaptable workforce. This implication, in turn, re-frames the traditional paradigm or mind-set, and places greater emphasis on human resource practices that are flexible, and provide employees with more choices.
Gratton (2003) outlines dimensions of choice that are most important to workers; two of which include choice of location and choice of time. Working from home and/or having more control over when and how long they will work has enabled many workers to create a work/life balance. When provided with choices regarding location and time, studies have found that motivation, commitment, and productivity are positively impacted (Reeves & Doyle, 2002). The demand for increased choice is largely driven by the demographic changes in the U.S. workforce. U.S. organizations striving to remain competitive, are changing their workforce policies and practices in order to be more in line with what is most attractive to workers; the availability of adaptable work arrangements (Greenbaum, 2004).
Changing demographics in the U.S. workforce will increasingly have an impact on U.S. organizations’ ability to remain viable in the global economy. Specifically, the workforce trends indicate an increase in generational differences (e.g., retirees or baby-boomers, generation X and generation Y) and a greater gender balance. Consequently, lifestyle choices and needs of the workforce will have to be considered as companies compete for talent (Lobel, Googins, & Bankert, 1999).
According to Hankin (2005), a highly blended generational diversity in the workforce is accompanied by a desire for balance between family, lifestyle, and career choices. As the baby-boomer generation teeters on the cusp of eligibility for retirement, many are choosing not to retire. This generation is staying in the workforce longer; however, they are choosing to remain or return to the workforce within organizations that provide adaptable work arrangements (Mullich, 2003). Generation X and Y employees tend to place a higher priority on a balance of work and life, and seek out a flexible way to achieve career goals (Hankin, 2005). Generation Y employees, also dubbed “N-Gen,” in particular, will seek work on their own terms. They are self-reliant, are better able (compared to their older peers) to adapt to new technologies (Weinberg, 2004). More and more, individuals of all ages will have an influence on how organizations attempt to attract and retain workers.