HR: Flex Work Environments Can Benefit All — and Nominate Your HR Pro of 2014

Jill Lehman, the vice president of administration and chief people officer for Muncie-based Ontario Systems, was the 2013 Ogletree Deakins Human Resources Professional of the Year. She penned a web exclusive column for BizVoice about the benefits of a flex work environment.

(NOTE: Nominations for the 2014 award are being accepted through March 3. The award will be presented April 30 at the Indiana Chamber’s 50th Annual Human Resources Conference. Additional details and nomination form are available here.)

Lehman writes:

We all make New Year resolutions, usually to lose weight, clean out the attic or something else of the same ilk. But this year, I propose we consider a business resolution geared toward increased engagement, retention and productivity among employees.

All three can be achieved at once with a more flexible work environment; that is, giving your staff more control over their work time and schedules. That might be a scary thought, but I assure you the advantages of the practice outweigh the drawbacks for many businesses.

Workplace flexibility makes the most sense for executives who believe in three principles:
1)    Creativity, innovative spirit and quality are more important than location
2)    Associates need to be energized, engaged and successful both at work and at home
3)    Energy leads to improved morale, increased productivity, better service and reduced turnover

Traditionally, flex has meant variable hours or part-time work. But today, we’ve evolved to discussing an effective workplace where realistic work patterns are agreed upon by employers and employees in an effort to meet the needs of both. Three approaches are typically considered:

Formal Flex.  Formal work arrangements (paid time off, leave of absence, transitional schedules and full-time telework, for example) tracked and managed by supervisors and human resources, create a framework for employees to arrange their own schedule.

Informal Flex.  Ensuring efficiency without formal arrangements between associates and supervisors might include slight modifications to work hours or location.

Occasional Flex.  Occasional, brief flex time as life happens, starting with an associate’s timely request to their supervisor to remain at home with good cause. Each approach has a similar set of risks and obstacles: Will individuals abuse the system and make life harder for others in the organization? Will business be disrupted? Will there be a perception of favoritism attributed to supervisors? Admittedly, some operations simply may not be suited to broad approach flex work arrangements. Weighing the risk and reward is an important exercise.

But when you consider that most workers spend more time at their job than with their family, it’s a risk worth exploring. Workplace flexibility should be designed to create an environment recognizing that commitment, while supporting associates as they balance their work and personal lives.

For more information on workplace flexibility, organizations such as World at Work, the Society of Human Resources and The Families and Work Institute have additional information including surveys and guidance on crafting programs.

Why Consolidation is Right for Muncie/Delaware County

James Gooden, a Muncie native and consultant for GEA Architects, penned a thoughtful column for the The Star Press contending the time has come for Muncie and Delaware County to merge into a single unit of local government. The Indiana Chamber has been working to reduce government duplication statewide for years now, and we’re happy to see this getting more press.

Why should we merge Muncie and Delaware County into a single unit of local government?

It should be done because the current form is archaic and it is not in sync with present or future lifestyles and employment trends. Along with having high value for education, quality health and wellness facilities, and lifestyle opportunities, communities with effective and creative government are attractive as places to work and live: All are appealing traits to potential investors.

It bears recognizing that effort to bring new investment to ECI in no way diminishes the importance of the significant roll that current manufacturing, agriculture, retail and service sectors play in our economy. All are poised for growth. While, now, only about 1 percent of the county’s workforce is engaged in farming the land, the diverse business of agriculture stands out because it has been a mainstay since the pioneer days of the 19th century, but the industry has changed with the times — local government has not.

Town and country are today a homogenized community. Yet, we still operate local government in a horse-and-buggy fashion and that prompts a couple of pertinent examples. Recently, the rebuilt West Jackson Street bridge, opened to traffic after a long closure. In a related Star Press article, County commissioner Todd Donati pointed out that all bridges (except those carrying state highways) are constructed and maintained by the county. Conversely, the streets (except those carrying state highways) leading to and away from the bridges in Muncie are constructed and maintained by the city. How absurd is that (?)

Reusing Buildings a Practical Step in Economic Development

Former Indianapolis Mayor Bill Hudnut recently sat down with Gerry Dick of Inside INdiana Business to discuss the effort underway to reuse the GM Stamping Plant downtown.

Reusing facilities is an ongoing challenge — and opportunity — that many Indiana communities are facing. For more on this, see my story in the November/December 2010 edition of BizVoice magazine, highlighting efforts in Connersville, Elkhart, Muncie and Tipton.

Beam Me Out: Ball State Students Working on Life-Saving Technology

First responders — and more importantly, car accident victims — may soon be benefiting dramatically from a device designed by Ball State students that will help cut down on the time it takes for emergency crews to remove drivers from impacted vehicles. Check out this enlightening article from Emergency Management:

Two students at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., are working on commercializing a battery-operated laser cutter that could help first responders shave minutes off the time it takes to free someone trapped in a crashed vehicle. The students, Adam Odgaard and John Benjamin, say the device is quieter and generates fewer sparks than hydraulic cutters currently used by rescue workers.

The tool, dubbed the Beam of Life Device (BOLD), can cut 300 feet of half-inch-thick steel in six minutes on a single battery charge. Odgaard said he and Benjamin found that an average extrication takes nine to 15 minutes. Odgaard said the BOLD could be at least three minutes faster than that. A proposed backpack design could help rescuers get into tighter spaces than hydraulic tools.

The current prototype, a desktop model, was developed by Tim Bradley, an engineer at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, Ind. The next step is for Odgaard and Benjamin to secure funding to develop a smaller prototype in which the power supply fits in a 50-pound backpack connected to a wand that a firefighter could operate single handedly. The target weight for the device is comparable to the weight of similar tools on the market, such as the Hurst Jaws of Life line of tools, to which the BOLD is being positioned as an alternative. 

“You have to be able to get the shears in there, and then when the shears are going it will work against you and tire out most of the rescue responders trying to cut through steel,” Benjamin said. With the BOLD, “you don’t have to create an entry for your cutters to be placed inside the vehicle.”

The BOLD also does away with carbon dioxide emissions so rescue workers won’t have exhaust from the device blowing back at them. 

Odgaard and Benjamin, who both study entrepreneurship, expect development of a smaller prototype to take about six months. That will be followed by a year of testing and evaluation with fire departments. The BOLD could be available for purchase by the end of 2012.

Former U.S. Chamber Official to Lead Purdue Global Business Effort

Purdue is here to help Indiana communities that are interested in economic development with China. On Friday, more than 60 Indiana government and economic officials, including 13 mayors, as well as business and education representatives, attended the Indiana Mayoral Roundtable on China to learn more about Purdue resources.

We also announced Purdue’s new Global Business Engagement Initiative that charts a course for Purdue to be the state’s one-stop shop for learning about and conducting business with China, and other countries that we are identifying. Purdue expertise can help prepare interested Indiana firms and communities with big picture guidance, such as on market assessments, to the smaller details, like how to distribute and receive business cards. Mark Van Fleet, a former senior official from the United States Chamber of Commerce, will lead the initiative.

We had a waiting list for Friday’s roundtable, and unfortunately an early morning winter storm kept some people from attending, but the enthusiasm for this event is a great sign that officials throughout Indiana are interested in what Purdue can offer. The roundtable also prompted some thoughtful dialogue, and participants had the chance to direct their questions to Chinese investors from Wanxiang America and Nanshan America, as well as Guoqiang Yang, consul general of the Consulate General of the People’s Republic of China in Chicago.

If you have specific questions about working with Purdue, please contact me,
Michael Brzezinski, interim dean of International Programs, at  [email protected].

More information is available:

Purdue is here for you, and we look forward to helping your business and our state become a more active player in today’s global economy.


Michael Brzezinski is interim dean of international programs at Purdue University.

PHOTO CAPTION: Muncie Mayor Sharon McShurley speaks Friday (Feb. 25) during the Indiana Mayoral Roundtable on China at Purdue. Participating in the panel discussion, from left, were Monticello Mayor Jason A. Thompson, Larry Ingraham of the Sagamore Institute and Logansport Mayor Michael Fincher. During the event, Purdue announced it is launching the Global Business Engagement Initiative, which will leverage the university’s various Chinese and business resources to promote Indiana’s economic development on a global scale by generating trade and investment opportunities for Indiana firms and communities while simultaneously advancing Purdue’s learning and discovery missions. (Purdue University photo/Andrew Hancock) 

In the Cards: Ball State Thrives with Smartphone Technology

Indiana is truly blessed to have the many esteemed public institutions of higher learning that it does. Thanks to efforts from Indiana schools, men have walked on the moon, more people now survive cancer (ask Lance Armstrong) and our food is grown incredibly efficiently. But lest we not forget, the fine folks in Muncie are considered a national leader in the world of technology. Here is just one example:

Under the direction of computer science professor Paul Gestwicki students spent an entire semester developing several dozens applications for Google Android. The new smart phone operating system was launched in 2009 and quickly is proving popular with consumers as potential rival to the BlackBerry and the iPhone.

When they were done in fall 2009, 18 students with no computer programming experience had created a bird-watching program, several games, an English-to-Spanish tutoring system, math flashcards, and a Dungeons and Dragons character generator with Web-based database storage capability.

"This was an incredible experience because it opened new doors and new ways of thinking for all of us," says Travis Cawthorn, ’12, of Frankton, Indiana, majoring in accounting. "I created a game that should be fun to play with for hours. Let’s be honest, many students my age use smart phones for entertainment."

The class was part of an experimental partnership between Google and several technology-centered universities including Ball State, Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), University of Colorado, and University of Michigan.

Google provided the class with 20 G1 developer phones loaded with Google’s Android operating system and gave them access to the new App Inventor for Android, which makes it possible for users with no programming experience to create mobile applications.

And stay tuned for our September/October edition of BizVoice for my article on Ball State’s WiMAX test bed. The school’s work is helping America’s top companies perfect their wireless broadband technologies and rendering Ball State an archetype in the field.

Ball State Students Not Enthused About Mobile Marketing

A release from contends that Ball State University students who received ads on their mobile phones were not very enthusiastic about it. (I say if you want people to get jazzed about marketing again — especially on their personal communication devices — then it’s time to bring back The Noid.)

A Ball State University study of a primarily female group of college students found that a majority of them had seen ads on their phones, including 51.2% of smartphone or touchscreen phone users and 61.3% of feature-phone users. Text ads were most prevalent.

Their reactions to ads were highly negative. More than 40% were annoyed to get an ad, compared with just 1.2% who were pleased and 17.6% who were neutral. Even more dramatic, nearly three in 10 said they were less likely to purchase a product after seeing a mobile ad for it. Slightly fewer reported their purchase intent was unchanged, but only a small number said mobile ads encouraged them to purchase.

A substantial minority of respondents (44.3%) would not be induced to receive mobile ads under any circumstances, but 37% were willing to accept them for something free in return. Free ringtones and music were the most popular exchange. In addition, almost two-thirds of all respondents said ads would be OK if they got paid to see them, and the largest segment of that group wanted at least $1 in return for each ad viewed.

Lunch With Brinegar: Coming to a Town Near You

Don’t miss your chance to listen, learn and communicate with the president of the state’s leading broad-based business association. At our Lunch with Brinegar stops around the state, Indiana Chamber President Kevin Brinegar updates area business leaders on issues impacting your region, introduces Chamber programs and services that benefit your bottom line and answers your questions. Registration is FREE for Indiana Chamber members; $19 per person for non-members, and the events take place from 11:30- a.m.-1:00 p.m. local time.

RSVP: One of three ways
1. Our web site
2. E-mail [email protected]
3. Call Tom James, (317) 264-3793

Here are the locations currently on the schedule. Hope to see you there!

  • June 9 – Indianapolis (Conseco Fieldhouse)
  • June 30 – South Bend (1st Source Corporation)
  • July 7 – Terre Haute (Hulman Memorial Student Union)
  • August 4 – Muncie (Minnetrista Cultural Center)  
  • August 9 – Bloomington (Fountain Square Ballroom)
  • August 18 – Fort Wayne (Sycamore Hills Golf Club) 
  • September 8 – Merrillville (Centier Centre)

Kharbanda: Manufacturing Opportunities Lie at Intersection of Economy and Environment

Jesse Kharbanda is the Executive Director of the Hoosier Environmental Council, Indiana’s leading environmental educator and advocate.

In this world of intense global competition, where does Indiana’s industrial future lie? Logistics, biosciences, and clean car technologies have been some of the areas that we’ve seen Indiana industry focus on. Indiana, in our view, has yet to tap into another sector – clean electricity component manufacturing, which produces the goods that make wind turbines briskly spin, solar panels soak in the sun, and air conditioning systems be energy hogs no longer. Indiana is surprisingly well positioned to lead in this sector: According to the Renewable Energy Policy Project, a DC-based think tank, Indiana has the second highest potential in the country to produce such goods.There’s no doubt some such companies, like Brevini Wind near Muncie, are locating to Indiana due to our business-friendly environment as it is.

But how might Indiana fully realize this potential, and actually become the second highest job generator of clean electricity jobs? Ask venture capitalists and commercial clean electricity developers, and they’ll tell you pointedly that Indiana needs a dedicated renewable energy policy: a Renewable Electricity Standard (RES), and a robust net metering program. Unfortunately, we’re the only state in the Midwest without the former, and we have the weakest net metering policy in our region. Policies like an RES and strong net metering have a triple dividend: they make Indiana a more hospitable climate for clean electricity manufacturing jobs, they move our electricity sector towards energy sources that are better for our health and environment, and they hedge against regulatory or economic-induced fossil fuel price shocks.

An organization like HEC and a trade group like the Indiana Chamber may not be in complete alignment on the right policy solution, but for the sake of jobs and improved environmental quality, let’s a find a way to work together to make sure that Indiana is a leader in this sector, a sector that will mushroom in the decades to come. HEC’s hand is extended.

Gora: Immersive Learning Spurs Innovation, Collaboration

In her second guest post, Ball State University President Jo Ann Gora offers her insights on the following topic:

  • Tell us something that not enough people know about your college or university that makes it such a special place.

While many Indiana citizens and others around the country know that Ball State is redefining education through immersive learning, they often are unaware of the breadth and intensity of those experiences.

Immersive learning is a more focused and intense form of experiential learning, as interdisciplinary teams of students work with a faculty mentor to provide real-world solutions for real-world problems faced by businesses, nonprofit organizations, and communities across Indiana and literally around the world. These projects hone our students’ skills in innovation and collaboration and help them to turn knowledge into judgment and judgment into action.

In the last two years, more than 5,300 Ball State students from 38 academic departments and all seven of our colleges completed 285 immersive learning projects in 69 Indiana counties. Those students have helped to open an arts industry incubator in Brown County, conducted the annual perch count on Lake Michigan, and developed the I-69 Culinary Trail for nine counties stretching from Indianapolis to the Michigan state line. They have written an 18-week nutrition and wellness curriculum with our partners at Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at St. Vincent and Marsh Supermarkets that is now being used by nearly 250 elementary schools in 60 counties. And they have written a crisis communication protocol for the Indiana Department of Homeland Security that affects every county in our state.

The reach of our immersive learning experiences is tremendous. Two of the students involved in the Culinary Trail project are from China, learning about Hoosier culture (and cuisine) as well as marketing and communication.  And a group of Ball State students, mostly from Indiana, spent 10 weeks in China, just outside Hong Kong, working with one of the leading toy manufacturers in the world on a Six Sigma initiative.  This spring, 40 students from our College of Architecture and Planning are visiting 56 cities in 23 countries and applying these new cultural and architectural perspectives to design projects in their own hometowns.

Bringing bright students together with talented faculty in immersive learning projects creates a unique educational experience, one that defines Ball State.

Tomorrow: Ivy Tech’s Tom Snyder