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Bye-bye 9-to-5: a flex schedule is the new norm


Whether you are looking to bring in the absolute best talent or to find ways to maximize the productivity of employees already in your workforce, the flexible work schedule, or flex schedule, is quickly becoming a cornerstone of many successful organizations.

Like any evolutionary process, it has taken some time and adjustment for companies once wedded to the expectations of a 9-to-5 workday because “that’s the way we’ve always done it.”

However, as technology has simplified the ability of an employee to do their job from anywhere with a power outlet and a Wi-Fi connection, businesses are recognizing that untethering people from their desks yields a myriad of benefits.

What is a flex schedule?

A flex schedule allows employees to move working hours around that are different from typical business working hours of 8:00 a.m. to 6 p.m. As long as the hours worked totals 40 per week, flexible hours allow employees time to do things during the day they otherwise wouldn’t be able to do.

There is a distinct difference between flex time and working remotely. An employee who chooses to take advantage of flex time is still expected to log hours at the office and to be available for in-person meetings and face-to-face collaboration.

However, if they need to tend to life circumstances — a doctor’s appointment in the middle of the day or picking your child up from daycare — they have the flexibility to do so. When they get home, they finish out their day by working a little later into the evening.

Is your business flexible enough for flexible schedules?

So, if you’re looking to bring in a new addition to your team, or if you’re seeking a way to ensure your current team is reaching its full potential, ask yourself a few questions:

  1. Do you believe your best employees are the ones who show up early and work late?
  2. Are you convinced that the best way to communicate with your team is when they are all gathered in the same room?
  3. When employees in your organization are traveling on business, do they often work from the airport or at their hotels?
  4. When an unexpected work issue occurs over the weekend, do you go to the office to handle it when you could easily take care of it from home?

Truths of today’s business world

At the heart of each of these questions is a truth, which has helped companies first become comfortable with and eventually excited about the potential upside of flexible work schedules. Thinking back to those questions, consider:

1. Living in the office doesn’t equate to high productivity.

Just because an employee is the first one in the building or the last one to leave doesn’t necessarily equate with productivity. And if you do have an outstanding employee who fits this “first in, last out” mold, they may be at risk of burnout.

Would employees have more long-term success if they had the option of applying that same work ethic from home or on-the-go, allowing them to establish a healthier work-life balance?

2. Electronic communication is the new normal.

There are advantages to speaking with co-workers face-to-face. However, while looking each other in the eye is helpful for clear communication, it’s not necessary.

We live in an era where people routinely communicate via text, email and instant messenger. You can and should learn to communicate effectively with employees who telecommute or work on a flexible schedule.

3. Business travel is as old as business itself.

Once faxes, laptops and modems became ubiquitous, road warriors learned they could easily continue working on projects and maintain momentum even while away from the office.

Today, many workers are accustomed to working from home. If productive employees need to adjust their schedules to work more often from home, accommodating that request is truly no different than an employee working in an airport or at a hotel.

4. Only certain circumstances require you to be in the office.

When it comes to working on a weekend, only rarely do issues arise that require your physical presence at the office. If you can do it from home, then that’s what you do. You resolve the issue more quickly and continue to make adjustments as necessary from your mobile devices. Just don’t mention you’re wearing bunny slippers.

Armed with these answers, you can begin to see why more and more companies are coming to the same conclusion: Flex schedules are the future, and the future is bright indeed.

Implementing flexible schedules is a balancing act

There are certain employees, especially front-line workers, who need to be on site at a certain time every day to ensure the customer receives the best possible service.

Making flex schedules available to these employees is more of a balancing act. Some companies, for instance, offer employees the opportunity to work four 10-hour shifts in exchange for a third day off every week. This can be a strong incentive to attract motivated front-line staff.

Similarly, hourly workers and traditional desk jobs require creativity and attention to detail when introducing flexible schedules.

You should:

  • Tailor your policy to the needs of your business and your team
  • Have an official, well-communicated policy detailing the program’s parameters and expectations
  • Ensure employees or direct reports are properly tracking their time and are compliant with the policies and laws

Skepticism about offering flex time often stems from a concern that people who are not physically at work won’t work a full eight hours. Ask yourself if this shows that you don’t trust your employees without direct supervision. If that’s the case, then you should ask yourself  if you’re even hiring the right people.

Indeed, a positive employee culture and effective hiring practices will ensure your workforce is productive no matter where they are logging in every morning.

Three Rs: Recruiting, retention and reputation

When implemented well, you can use your flexible schedule benefits as a means to attract and retain employees.

Highlight flexible work schedules in job ads to incentivize people to apply and to implicitly identify your company as progressive and capable of embracing new trends.

You can also enhance your ability to retain employees who, in the past, might have had to reluctantly resign when an unexpected event alters the work-life balance.

Consider a worker whose spouse gets a new job that alters their childcare schedule. Or think of an employee with a parent facing health issues that require extra doctor visits. These used to be issues that made changing jobs a necessity.

Not anymore.

You can offer that employee the chance a flex time schedule so they can achieve a healthy work-life balance, while doing some of their work outside of the typical 9-to-5 work schedule. Not only do you retain a valued member of the team, but you inspire loyalty to the company that helped them avoid a difficult decision.

That loyalty will only strengthen your reputation as a desirable employer. Your team will take notice of how you accommodated their work-life balance. That can lead to a ripple effect of positive morale and an overall increase in productivity.

You will also likely notice a specific increase in productivity from your employees who take advantage of the option of flex time. If you have hired a quality employee, research indicates they will strive to increase their productivity after moving to flex time in order to

  • Prove they are still a valuable, contributing member of the team
  • Show gratitude to an employer who offered them a path to a healthy work-life balance

The takeaway

The big picture is this: Giving employees choices ends up benefiting both the employees and the company they work for. Provide them the flexibility to perform some of their duties away from the office and you can see a long-term upside, less turnover, a more satisfied and driven workforce, and a stronger, healthier culture within your organization.

This is just one of many strategies that could keep employees productive, engaged and loyal to your company. For more ideas like this, download and read our complimentary magazine: The Insperity guide to employee retention.