One out of every five employees does it. Nearly two-thirds of employers allow it. Over half of your job applicants want it. Best Buy and Yahoo have banned it.
There are a few different kinds of flexible working, or flexwork, options:
Employees choose when to work their full-time hours. Instead of working 9-5, they might work from 8-4, 10-6, or any other 8-hour block. Or, in some cases, they might break up their work differently, like working two 4-hour shifts with a longer break in the middle.
Employees work from home or some other off-site location.
Employees still work full-time hours, but they do so in fewer than five days. Typically, they work either four 10-hour days, taking a day off every week, or five 9-hour days, getting one day off every other week.
There are two other common types of flexwork, though neither has become common in the US (yet). The first is a Result Oriented Work Environment, or ROWE. The emphasis is placed upon results, productivity and goals, not hours worked. Results are pretty mixed on the effectiveness of ROWE. Best Buy famously adopted (and created) this program, but their current CEO has now decided to make this a privilege, not a right, for certain employees.
There’s also job-sharing, where two part-time employees share the responsibilities of one full-time job. They usually work alternating schedules with a day of overlap to discuss their plans and objectives. Job-sharing has been successful in Germany, and some businesses in the US also offer this option; however, most employers in the US require full-time hours for benefits, so more employees here want to work full-time hours. And, of course, part-time hours means part-time pay.
Flexwork is touted as a miracle cure for three big issues: absenteeism, engagement and productivity. The idea behind flexwork is that employees can take control over their schedules, making work feel less like something you do at a certain time and in a certain place and more like something you can do when and where you feel most motivated.
Time and schedules can be better managed. No more long coffee breaks because employees feel sluggish. No more lateness because they had to take the kids to school. No need to leave early or take a half-day when there are home repairs. This schedule shifting may alleviate stress for some employee and boost productivity.
Studies last year from Stanford University have shown that telecommuters in China worked 11% more hours and took 15% more calls than their in-office counterparts. A 2009 report commissioned by the UK’s Department for Work and Pensions stated about 75% of employers found their employees to be at least as, if not more, productive using some sort of flexwork scheduling – About 70% also reported some or significant positivity in employee relations.
Flexwork has secondary benefits to employers as well. Citrix Global Workshifting Index released a report in 2012 that showed those who participate in flexwork scheduling reduce a company’s HR-related costs by around 45%.
Real estate costs were also cut by around 38%, and businesses said they were 26% better in terms of environmental sustainability. Of course, if your employees are working either earlier or later, you can offer your customers extended hours of operation, meaning more time for sales and income.
Best Buy and Yahoo ushered in new CEOs last year due to flagging sales and performance, so both companies are undergoing major revamps. Best Buy is changing its ROWE policies because ROWE can create stagnancy. In an results-focused environment, if you’re producing decent results, why would you ever change and seek out better results? Employees do the bare minimum instead of coming up with new solutions, which might take more time and produce worse results. Some employees thrive under ROWE, but some require a different kind of management. Best Buy’s ROWE program is now being offered on a case-by-case basis only.
Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, sent the media into a frenzy after a memo leaked that she was now banning telework at Yahoo. Some anonymous sources said this was due to employees not logging onto the VPN for enough hours of the day, but Mayer cited another reason once she finally responded to the criticisms. She explained her reasoning at a conference two months after the leak, saying what the company really needed now were new ideas, and new ideas don’t come from working alone. They come from talking with coworkers. Mayer acknowledged that people are more productive at home, but they’re more collaborative and innovative when they’re together.
Yahoo isn’t alone in this thinking. In-house perks at Google are renowned, and the headquarters of Zappos has all but one door locked from the outside, just to force employees to bump into each other in the lobby every morning. These high-tech companies give us the means to work from home, yet try to keep their own employees away from home.
If you’re planning on offering flexwork options to your employees, you need to offer it across the board and fairly. Flexwork can boost the morale of those who use it. But how do your in-house employees feel when they walk into a half-empty office? It’s important to make sure everyone knows that flexwork opportunities of some sort are available to them now or will be in time, or some employees might become resentful.
Not all kinds of flexwork can be available for all positions, and that’s okay. Managers and supervisors probably have to be present in the office every day, so they can’t take advantage of flexplace or compressed work weeks on a regular basis. Can you let them take part in flexscheduling? Customer service representatives can’t have a day off every week, but if they’re mainly handling calls or e-mails, they could probably do that from their homes once or twice a week. Work with your employees, their jobs, and their schedules to find the right fit.
It’s a good idea to create a policy for flexwork scheduling, such as only offering flexwork as an option after an employee has been with the company or in their current position for at least six months or a year. You should also maintain a policy that any option can be reevaluated if things just aren’t working out. This is especially important with employees who are telecommuting since it can be the trickiest one to make work.
Is it okay for telecommuters to split up their work days, or should they work their eight hours in one shift? Do they have to have a home office setup? What’s the minimum internet speed required? Can any kids be in the same room or should they be under someone else’s supervision? These are just a few things to consider when drafting up some flexwork policies.
Employees who work outside the office should be given work laptops that include all necessary programs and performance tracking software. Flexwork failed at Best Buy and Yahoo partially due to a lack of oversight. It’s important to regularly monitor the activity on these work laptops to ensure real work is being done. It’s also a good idea to establish some core hours or even core days when most employees should be present in the office. To avoid any scheduling headaches, try to limit days off or out of the office to Mondays and Fridays. That leaves Tuesdays through Thursdays as the best days for meetings and reviews.
With the right setup and supervision, flexwork has the potential to increase your profits, retain and motivate your employees, and bring in great new talent. But without guidelines and proper management, you might find your numbers on the decline.
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