Workforce Development Council wins Sloan award for business excellence in its programs

Workforce Development Council of Snohomish County has been named a winner of a Alfred P. Sloan award for Business Excellence in Workplace Flexibility.

Presented at an August luncheon hosted by the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, the Sloan awards are given to companies across the country as part of “When Work Works,” a nationwide initiative that focuses on workplace flexibility to meet business and employee goals.

The initiative, led by the Families and Work Institute, is sponsored by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Institute for a Competitive Workforce, and the Twiga Foundation.

“I strongly believe that having the ability to telework is a good workforce skill,” said Sue Ambler, CEO of Workforce Development Council of Snohomish County.

Ambler introduced workplace flexibility, which included teleworking, into her organization about two years ago when she was unable to give raises to her employees and employee health insurance costs were increasing.

To help offset this and make the employees happy, Ambler and her leadership team came up with the idea of giving employees the option to work from home. If employees worked one day at home, the money saved in gas would offset their increased health insurance costs.

The idea of working off-site was steeped in the principal that employees were held accountable for results, rather than someone looking over their shoulder. And, for most cases, performance was delivered by a team of employees rather single individuals.

What began as a six-month trial soon became the norm and is still very much a part of Workforce Development Council’s culture. Today employees have the option to work at home and they can compress their hours into four ten-hour days per week or nine eight-hour days in a two-week period.

Employees work together with their supervisors to establish their flexible schedules. Also, those who have children are encouraged to adjust their hours to meet parental obligations such school field trips and other family needs.

“It has worked tremendously,” said Ambler.

Winning the award was no easy feat. It was a rigorous two-step process. Employers were evaluated through a process that measured their workplace flexibility programs, policies and culture against national data from other U.S. employers. Winners had to score in the top 20 percent nationally and their employees had to validate their claims through a comprehensive anonymous survey about how their work schedule actually works for them.

Samantha Dyess, Americorps program coordinator, said the flexible work schedule is definitely comparable to a pay increase or bonus. She lives in Seattle and works from home one day per week.

Her life is centered in Seattle, so working from home allows her quicker access to nearby appointments after her workday. She also likes “working in sweatpants,” and the uninterrupted work time at home. “I’m very accessible, but I can do what I need to do,” she said.

Michael Choy, Director of Information Technology and interim Director of Finance agrees customized work schedules work well for many employees.

“I got this guy (his 10-month-old Chinook named Chaka that occasionally comes to work with him) when he was a puppy,” he said.

It’s another benefit of the organization’s flexible workplace. Employees can bring their pets to work with the caveat that people who have allergies or a fear of dogs must be considered first. “It’s basically people’s comfort first,” he said.

“We are the ones who facilitate the customized work environment,” Choy said.

His department sets up access to electronic files and instant messaging for employee home computers.

Home offices are essentially an extension of the work office. His department ensures that people have safe home working environments and all of the tools to get their work done.

Ambler says employees like having choices in their work schedule and the change has been positive in many ways.

“We actually find that people aren’t sick as much and don’t take as much time off,” she said. Referring to last year when the region got a lot of snow, “We didn’t miss a beat (in our work),” she said.

Ambler does not want to set hard and fast policies about their customized schedules. Instead, the organization has guidelines to follow. The flexibility strategies at the Workforce Development Council are addressed by a team of employees who make recommendations.

“We are not a cookie-cutter operation. It’s what works for the organization and the person,” Choy said.

“We have a culture of not just listening, but acting upon it,” Ambler said. “People are really happy to work here.”

Talk to us

More in Herald Business Journal

Striking Starbucks employees talk to a woman who wanted to use the drive-thru but was turned away due to the strike on Wednesday, June 15, 2022, on Broadway in Everett, Washington. Workers at the 37th and Broadway store spent their morning picketing because a fellow employee had been fired the previous day in what the workers believe is an act of union busting. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Everett Starbucks workers go on strike after employee fired

The employee and her fellow union members claim she was fired for supporting the union. Starbucks denies it.

Property values soar 32% in Snohomish County due to hot housing market

Assessed values are up all across the county since last year. The impact on tax bills won’t be known for a few months.

Port of Everett hosting annual open house after pandemic hiatus

Also, Rustic Cork Wine Bar plans to open a second shop at Fisherman’s Harbor — the latest addition to the port’s “wine walk.”

Holly Burkett-Pohland, the owner of Burkett’s Home & Gift, outside of her new store front on Friday, June 17, 2022 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
New Everett gift store debuts in former J. Matheson space

For years, Holly Burkett-Pohland wanted to expand a business founded by her mother in 1978.

A Kenmore Air Cessna 208 Caravan. (Kenmore Air) 20220613
Kenmore Air to start daily flights from Paine Field to San Juans

Service begins July 14. Flights to Friday Harbor and Orcas Island airports take about 25 minutes.

Seattle Space Needle sues coffee chain over use of logo

The logo for Local Coffee Spot features a mug of hot coffee whose rising steam bears striking resemblance to the iconic tower.

Logo for news use, for stories regarding Washington state government — Olympia, the Legislature and state agencies. No caption necessary. 20220331
Foes of state’s capital gains tax drop plans for initiative

I-1929 sponsors say they are confident a lawsuit challenging the legality of the tax will be successful.

Smoother sailing: Arlington airport gets grant to fix runway

A $2.3 million federal grant will pave the way for a project to resurface the airfield’s main runway.

Workers build the first all electric plane, the Eviation Alice, on Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021 in Arlington, Washington.  The plane is designed for regional travel and to carry nine passengers. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Eviation moves tests of electric passenger plane to Moses Lake

The Arlington company said a bigger runway and flatter terrain are better suited to early testing of the commuter aircraft.

An artist's rendering of the new Funko warehouse in Buckeye, Arizona. (Funko) 20220407
Funko warehouse layoffs begin this week in Everett, Puyallup

The layoffs, announced in April, are part of a plan to move distribution operations to Arizona.

Rendering of the front entrance of Spruce Elementary School in Lynnwood. (Edmonds School District)
Police: Edmonds schools sent $2.7 million check to fraudster

Police say the fraudster posed as a contractor for a new elementary school. A bank caught it at the last second.

Looking north, an aerial view of Paine Field in Everett. (Paine Field / Snohomish County) 20220605
Paine Field development plan envisions an expanded terminal

Once Sea-Tac Airport reaches capacity, the Everett airport is on the short list to absorb unmet demand by passengers.