- Flexibility in how employees work has become a key issue during the COVID-19 pandemic
- Employees can gain a competitive edge by offering more flexibility in where employees are allowed to work and how they structure their workday and work weeks
- Hybrid schedules, flex time, unlimited paid time off, and more
Summary by Dirk Langeveld
The idea of flexibility as a competitive disadvantage was beginning to emerge before the COVID-19 pandemic, as businesses sought talent in a tight labor market and were increasingly willing to offer remote work options and other flexible scheduling. This strategy has only gained steam during the pandemic, as shutdown orders forced companies to adopt innovate methods of managing employees and completing projects.
Following a lengthy period of remote work arrangements, many employees are hoping their company will allow them to work from home for at least part of the week – and they are sometimes willing to seek employment elsewhere if their employer is unwilling to make this arrangement. A recent survey by the research and advisory company Gartner Inc. found that a majority of non-knowledge workers want improved flexibility at their company, while three-quarters of knowledge workers have heightened expectations for their employer’s flexibility.
Employers can offer flexibility in a number of ways, including how employees can manage their time, how the work week is arranged, where employees can work, and how benefits are structured. Additional flexibility can yield a number of benefits, but should also be done in such a way that it does not impede business operations or run afoul of any legal issues.
The benefits and challenges of flexibility
The positive outcomes of increased flexibility can include:
- An improved advantage in recruiting and retaining workers, as well as a reduction in employee turnover
- More suitable work arrangement for those who have caregiving responsibilities
- Better employee engagement, performance, and diversity
- Improved trust between employers and employees
- Cost savings due to factors such as the ability to reduce office space and energy use
- Increased adaptability during unexpected scenarios
The challenges involved in a more flexible setup might include:
- Difficulties in implementing flexible schedules that are fair and relevant to worker needs
- Adequately monitoring employee work and ensuring that they are managing their time wisely
- Ensuring that employees can collaborate effectively under flexible scheduling or workplace arrangements
- Implementing new technology to support flexible arrangements and ensuring that it is secure when being used at home offices
- Ensuring that remote team members are given fair consideration for career advancement
Some effects could be positive or negative depending on how the company sets their policies. For example, a flexible work arrangement could offer reduced stress and a better work-life balance by giving employees more leeway to mix personal obligations such as medical appointments into their workday. Alternatively, a flexible schedule might also lead to the expectation that an employee will be available at all hours, potentially resulting in higher stress levels and an unhealthy work-life balance.
Options for offering employees flexibility
Flexibility can be offered in a few key areas: where an employee is allowed to do their work, how they can structure their workday or work week, and when they are allowed to take time off. Instead of the typical 9-5 workday from Monday to Friday, a company can offer arrangements such as:
Remote work: Employers became very familiar with this option during the pandemic. Remote work essentially allows workers to complete all of their tasks digitally, enabling them to do their job from their home or any other location with a sufficient internet connection
Hybrid schedules: Hybrid schedules allow workers to put in some remote hours each week, but also require them to come into the office on certain days. This model has been gaining popularity, with employers believing that it allows for better collaboration among team members while workers get a flexible option without feeling like they’re cooped up at home.
Flex time: In this schedule, employees are expected to work a set number of hours each week but have more independence over when they come in and when they leave. For example, they might put in extra hours one day and work a shorter day later in the week in order to make a personal appointment.
Results-oriented schedules: Similar to flex time, this model gives employees nearly full independence over their time management. Rather than logging time cards or requiring an employee to work a set number of hours each week, an employer simply sets expectations for the results an employee will achieve and allows them to manage their own schedule.
Flexible work weeks: Flexible work weeks give employees the option of working longer hours but shorter weeks. One popular option is to allow employees to put in 10 hours for four days of the week so they can take an additional day off.
Job sharing: In job sharing, two people work part-time hours to complete the tasks involved in a position that would otherwise be full-time. This allows greater flexibility for employees while allowing the employer to save the costs involved in paying a full-time salary and benefits.
Unlimited paid time off: This innovative policy allows employees to determine their own time off rather than limiting them to certain holidays or vacation time.
Considerations when developing flexible policies
Employers should assess their business to look for areas where they might be able to to offer improved flexibility. Even when it seems like a job can only be completed on-site, you might find options for certain tasks that can be completed remotely. Managers can also be empowered to determine what work styles work best for their team members while still meeting company objectives.
Make sure certain policies are a good fit for your business. While unlimited paid time off is a very attractive perk for workers, it is most suitable for companies that have certain qualities such as a predictable cycle in how busy the company will be, established trust between the employer and employees, easily measured productivity, and salaried workers.
When offering remote work, you might consider taking steps such as requiring monitoring software unless you can trust that an employee will be productive. Hybrid schedules should be set up in such a way that in-person collaboration is still possible on any given day of the week; this is unlikely if everyone chooses Monday or Friday for the day they’d like to work remotely.
Be aware of any legal issues involved in offering greater flexibility. Any change could potentially have implications for your compliance with regulations on equal employment opportunity, disability, privacy, and other matters.