As with many small business owners, I belong to a number of online social networks including Twitter and Facebook. I frequently review postings from other members to identify interesting information that I believe will be of value to my target customer, small business owners.
In reviewing some recent Twitter postings, I came across one from Amy Nichols the CEO of the franchise organization, Dogtopia. Her posting regarding the ‘Flexible Fridays’ program at her company struck me as a concept that other business owners might have interest in using in these days of high gas prices, long commutes and 60-hour work weeks. Therefore, I asked Amy if she would write an article to share her program with our readers. The resulting article is below. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. (By the way, as a former D.C. area resident myself, I can absolutely attest to the traffic difficulties Amy discusses in her article; I assure you, I would have been thrilled to have an employer who believed in ‘Flexible Friday’s’ when I lived there!)
Washington, D.C. is known as our nation’s capital, but it also has another national moniker, that of one of the worst cities for traffic in the country. Forbes ranked us in the Top 3 Worst Traffic Cities with the likes of Los Angeles and San Francisco. http://bit.ly/ForbesWorstCitiesForTraffic
Commuting in our area is grueling, and after leaving the “rat race” seven years ago to start my own business, I thought I had found a way to truly control the time I spend in my car. I opened a doggie daycare, Dogtopia, just seven miles from my house. Our business hours had me commuting outside of the most congested periods of the day, and I felt that I had solved the problem. No longer would I be subjected to hours of wasted time in my car. Until I decided to expand the business, that is.
A few years later we decided it was time to grow Dogtopia. We had great success with the first dog daycare franchise in Tysons Corner, VA and felt it was time to add a “sister store” in North Bethesda, MD. The new Maryland store would be only 14 miles from the Tysons Corner location – an easy commute between the two. Or so we thought. Apparently, the Wilson Bridge that takes you over the Potomac River and from Virginia into Maryland, had other ideas.
Skip forward a few more years and we are now a growing franchise company with 20 locations across the country. We also have over 30 employees, six of which are in franchise management and report daily to our North Bethesda location. The North Bethesda location now houses our national headquarters and training center. Since we began the business in Virginia, that also happens to be where the majority of our corporate staff lives, thus the daily undertaking of the Wilson Bridge. The result, I was back to where I started eight years before and dealing daily with the horrors of DC traffic!
It occurred to me last summer that it would be quite easy to work from home on Fridays, and I felt that I deserved a day free from commuting. My second thought was that my employees would really enjoy working from home on Fridays. And if I could do it, why couldn’t everyone on our management team? They would each save two hours or more in daily commuting time, and could therefore have an earlier start to their weekend and more time with their family. I even came up with a clever name, “Flexible Fridays.”
The way the program works, you can work wherever you want, but there are a few rules:
- Must be available by phone
- Must be online and available in email
- Must be on Instant Messenger
The first two are quite obvious; the third requirement is because even when in the office, I often use IM to communicate with my team. I might have a quick question while on the phone with a vendor or franchisee and it prevents me from having to yell and/or put the person on hold.
Our initial ‘Flexible Fridays’ program last Summer worked great! Knowing they had at least one day per week where they could avoid traffic really improved the outlook of the staff, and I know they appreciated my gesture. There have been a few frustrations, but the slight inconveniences are more than outweighed by the increased satisfaction felt by my staff.
This year I decided to once again offer ‘Flexible Fridays’ and so far, so good. Other times of the year it would not be possible due to franchisee training and other commitments, but it has become a nice Summertime perk, and one that I plan to continue indefinitely.