CEO of FlexJobs on why employers need to offer flexibility

Sara Sutton Fell, FlexJobs

When Sara Sutton Fell founded FlexJobs in 2007 -- a job-seeking service specializing in telecommuting, freelance, part-time or other alternatively scheduled positions -- it was long before companies had embraced the concept as a way to balance worker needs with their own demands. At the time she came up with the concept, she was pregnant and had been laid off, and was planning her next step.

"I knew I still needed to work but I wasn't looking for a full time onsite job. I realized there were probably thousands of others out there like me," she said.

Recently we spoke to her about this hot topic, and about the misconceptions associated with it.

CBS MoneyWatch: How has the concept of flex work changed since 2007?

Sara Sutton Fell: Employers now understand that there is workplace technology in place for employees to work on a sliding scale of hours and utilize mobile devices like tablets. It's becoming more common. I think there is some pressure building, particularly from younger generations coming into the workforce, who have grown up with mobility being part of their normal work habits. We need to look at different ways to measure productivity rather than relying on face time, which is antiquated.

MW: What do you see happening regarding flex schedules in the next few years?

SSF: I'd say more formal policies will be put into place at companies. The majority of companies currently work this out with individual arrangements, or telecommuting where people are checking in before or after the work day.

MW: What is the biggest misconception about flexible work environments?

SSF: I think people wonder if people are really working. Employees value being treated as adults and step up to the situation. It's also a competitive advantage for companies. If employees value that flexibility, it gives you an edge with retention.

MW: What percentage of your users are woman?

SSF: Our balance is about 60 to 40, women to men. People are often surprised by that -- there are more men who value flexibility than they expect. Freelance in particular is a fairly big audience well represented by men. People of both sexes are looking at freelance, part time, telecommuting or other opportunities. It could be somebody who is helping care for a parent or child, or military spouses who have to move frequently, or people living in depressed economies who are trying to find temporary opportunities elsewhere or by telecommuting. Our challenge is finding work for all of these different types of workers.

MW: Before you started FlexJobs, you started JobDirect, another job search tool, out of college. What lessons did you take from that?

SSF: We were so young and it was purely based on passion. Neither of us had tech or business experience. One of the things I took away from that was listening to our gut instincts. We brought in advisers to help us, but looking back we wished we had listened to our gut even more. As an entrepreneur that's a crucial lesson. Initially when we were talking about FlexJobs, some advisers said to gear it only towards moms and I fought our advisers and investors on that. I'm happy I stuck to my guns. Once the recession came about it became clear that a lot of people were looking at this type of work.

MW: Your company charges a small subscription fee but your competitors don't. Why?

SSF: Trial and error. Ninety-nine percent of job sites are structured that way. We did that for six months and it wasn't working. We charged employers and it was difficult for us to get in contact with them -- HR departments were tough to break into. We were also getting half-hearted job seekers, with weak profiles and a diluted experience. They were applying to every job. This wasn't what we wanted, so we made the switch. At first we were swimming upstream, but the quality spiked on both sides and it became clear that this was the right choice.

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