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Modern Workplace Flexibility Initiatives
‘Workplace Flexibility’ is steadfastly becoming a workplace norm. Managers want to believe they contribute to a company culture built around that very principle; however, most organizational policies are still very much bound to more traditional working ideals, especially when it comes to employee time and attendance.
What is Workplace Flexibility?
While most of us think we can control what makes us early birds or night owls, our actual natural energy levels are largely out of our active control, and largely in the control of our own biology.
Every individual follows what is called a circadian rhythm, experiencing patterns in increased and decreased energy at different points in the day. Ultimately, these waves and lulls of energy can have a tremendous effect on our productivity. There are specific time management activities you can implement to recognize your employees’ individual patterns of productivity. However, working with the specific needs of employees, while keeping workplace protocol unified and consistent, is the crux of the challenge in introducing flexibility into the workplace.
A recent study found that the most productive hour of the day for many people is, surprisingly, 4:00 a.m. Many successful business titans live by the mantra of beginning the workday very early in the morning. However, it is not uncommon for people to operate at their highest function in mid-morning or even into the evening hours. A different study found that for most people who are not in the habit of starting their workday at 4 a.m. productivity has shifted to rise in the late morning and peak between 2:00 and 3:00 p.m.
These opposing findings help to illustrate the core principle of importance when it comes to workplace flexibility;
Optimal productivity hours will always depend on the individual.
A company that provides adequate workplace flexibility recognizes the individual nature of employee productivity and provides opportunities for employees to work hours that differ from the normal start and stop time. For a more specific definition, consider the description used by the U.S. Department of Labor:
“Flexibility enables both individual and business needs to be met through making changes to the time (when), location (where), and manner (how) in which an employee works. Flexibility should be mutually beneficial to both the employer and employee and result in superior outcomes. “
While most of our assumptions around business flexibility come from our understanding of the flexibility of time, this definition sheds light on two other important sectors of workplace flexibility: location and method. In order to achieve true workplace flexibility, initiatives can be taken in each of these three areas, ultimately improving employee satisfaction and productivity.
Time & Workplace Flexibility: The When
Time is arguably the easiest element for employers to grasp when it comes to workplace flexibility. In all flexible schedules, the employer expects full-time employees to work the required hours or more. However, organizations with flexible time arrangement can still ensure these demands are met, while also adapting to the needs of the employee. This can be implemented in several different ways.
- Allowing employees to work a compressed workweek.
The most common flexible schedule is a four-day workweek, in which employees work four ten-hour days, rather than five eight-hour days. This allows for employees to have an additional day off, affording them more work-life balance.
- Allowing employees to adjust their start or end times.
This enables employees to come to work early and go home early, or to stay later and arrive late or take extra time at lunch. Some people work better early in the morning, others prefer working later in the day. Giving employees the freedom to tailor their workdays to the times that are most conducive to their lifestyles can increase their long-term productivity and satisfaction. Some employers may choose core work hours, for example from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m., in which all employees should be working. However, some flexible workplaces allow employees to come and go as they please, holding them responsible for performing their whole job and achieving the goals of their position on time, but not enforcing a rigid schedule.
- Allowing employees to take longer or shorter breaks, or to break up their workdays into smaller chunks.
This strategy is arguably the most challenging to implement, largely due to the labor laws surrounding meal and rest periods for employees. Employers who consider this should be sure to first seek advice from their employment counsel or the HR team before introducing any new policies.
Location & Workplace Flexibility: The Where
With the technological advancements being made, the need for employees to be physically present in a workspace in order to work is rapidly disappearing. Nowadays, many workers are not limited by geography when it comes to completing their tasks. They can accomplish the same amount of work anywhere, whether a plane, a coffee shop, a park, or most commonly, their own home.
The practice of telecommuting poses many benefits to the overall productivity and satisfaction of an employee’s work life. The importance of establishing an effective telecommuting policy is an increasingly relevant question in many organizations. However, the practice of allowing employees to regularly perform work away from a physical office undeniably opens a lot of possibilities for success for employers and companies. Some of the primary benefits of flexibility in the where of the workplace include: saving on operational expenses such as real estate and utilities, recruiting from a wider talent pool not limited to those willing to commute to work every day, and readily engaging in national and international business.
Method & Workplace Flexibility: The How
Employers seeking to establish a more flexible workplace can also investigate specific roles within the organization, analyzing whether there is any room to change how employees in specific positions do their jobs. Employers can also change which tasks are included in the job description itself.
There are two workplace flexibility tools that can enable these changes:
1. Job Sharing: occurs when two (or more) part-time workers share the duties of a single full-time position.
2. Job Carving: occurs when an employer modifies an existing job description by “carving out” certain duties or tasks so it better matches the skills and abilities of the employee currently occupying that position and reassigning the “carved-out” tasks to other employees.
Implementing Workplace Flexibility
In any flexible working environment, trust is a significant factor. Especially when it comes to employees forming their own schedules and working on their own initiative, unencumbered by rigid scheduling or being in the same room as their supervisor, employers need to be willing to have trust in their employees to perform better when given more autonomy in their working methods.
In addition to trust, measurable goals and clear expectations should also be at the forefront. This can ensure the employer is comfortable with the employee’s ongoing contribution and eliminate any confusion for the employee on specific expectations and deliverables.
Below are some specific guidelines you can follow when implementing workplace flexibility.
Ensure everyone is playing by the same rules.
In order to ensure trust exists between employers and employees with flex schedules, a firm set of guidelines should be stipulated and employees should be trained before the adoption of a new schedule. This will work to limit employee confusion or unfair or inequitable implementation across the organization. The same amount of flexibility should be offered to all employees, regardless of personal situations. Workplace flexibility should never be dependent on familial circumstances or personal lifestyle, since all employee time should be valued equally.
Encourage other activities.
For an organization to develop a flexible workplace culture and environment, the employer should encourage their employees to lean into their hobbies and external interests. This grants employees more autonomy in their own work-life balance, which ultimately engages them in their work further. Offering employees support on all aspects of their lives encourages higher levels of engagement both in and outside of the office.
Measure, communicate and track the progress of assigned work.
Managing employee productivity is beneficial to both parties. Providing clarity of direction with transparency of expectation minimizes confusion and increases productivity and overall job satisfaction. While trust is a critical element for engaging a flexible workplace, clear and specific metrics need to be intact.
When employers are looking to create a more flexible workplace, they should begin with three central questions:
- What is the problem you are solving?
- What do your employees want?
- What can your management team support?
Effective workplace flexibility is an organizational benefit that is greatly appreciated by employees, but it can also serve to be beneficial to employers. Workplace flexibility can reap many benefits, including but not limited to better-met family and personal needs, reduced commuting time and gas expenses, working during hours that fit employee energy cycles the best, boosting employee morale, reducing tardiness and absenteeism, and even reducing employee turnover.
In order to break the barriers into flexible work, every employer must first address and remedy the deep-seated traditional beliefs that undermine their trust, both in the organization and in their employees. With a strong workplace flexibility program, employees can ask for what they really need, and employers can feel confident that the work is getting done.