Empower Employees with Flexible Work Schedules
It’s summer in the Northern hemisphere and even if you are working in an overly air conditioned office, chances are you have sun, fun, and vacation on the brain. If you are a people manager, the summer is a great time to consider offering your team more flexible work arrangements. Not only can it foster lower stress and higher productivity, but it can be a low-cost way to show that you value employees contributions to your team and respect their lives outside of work. There are many options for schedules outside of the traditional nine-to-five, whether that’s offering early departure on Friday during the summer, or flex-time year round. Here are some ideas to help you get started and consider what flexible options might work for your team.
The benefits of flexibility
Until fairly recently, most American businesses have valued, privileged, and promoted workaholism. Collectively, we came to believe that the more hours you put in, the more valuable you are to your company. Now we are collectively realizing this is not necessarily the case and flexibility, autonomy, and trust are becoming more central to our working lives.
In Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report, 35% of employees polled said they’d change jobs for a flexible work location and the ability to work offsite full-time. Another 37% said they wanted to be able to choose to work remotely at least part-time.
On an emotional level, providing flexible work arrangements helps prevent negative spillover from an employee's personal life into their work. Flexibility allows them to manage personal issues outside of work, preventing additional stress. It also gives employees time to take care of themselves with exercise and other forms of self-care. And of course, mental and physical health have a direct impact on productivity.
Flexibility has also been shown to have a positive impact on a company’s bottom line. A 2016 Vodafone survey sent to 8,000 employers and employees across ten countries found that:
- 61% of respondents said flexibility led to an increase in profits
- 83% saw an improvement in productivity
- 61% of companies in the United States saw an uptick in teamwork
- 77% of American companies saw an improvement in employee morale
If you are a manager and want to empower your employees to structure their own time, or if you work in a office that you think could benefit from greater flexibility, these five, time-tested flexibility options will help you find the right one for your team.
Work from home days
The office can be a distracting place: loud conversations, constant interruption, and an abundance of social time. There’s a lot to love about a lively environment but it can get in the way of getting work done. Giving employees the option to choose to work from home, even one day a week, can make a tremendous difference in their productivity.
Working outside of the office can enable better focus on a big project, creative inspiration from a new environment, or enable employees to balance the workday with a necessary errand or doctor’s appointment, meaning they don’t have to take a day off or time away from work to take care of life’s necessities.
Sometimes you need to be in the office at a set time, whether it’s for a meeting, call, or in-person tasks. However, when you can, having the option to work eight-to-four or ten-to-six, or another combination of hours can enable your employees to take time to avoid a rush hour commute, bring their kids to school, take an evening class, or take care of an elderly parent.
Some companies also enable their team to work longer days and compress their work week into fewer days. For example, you could work four 10-hour days, four days a week.
By enabling employees to control when they come into the office, companies can demonstrate that they trust the professionalism of their team members to get their work done and that they understand they have a life they need to attend to outside of work.
Danielle Fleischman travels frequently for her job at HootSuite and works with clients across time zones. As a result, she works from home often and chooses her own hours within the restraints of client needs. She said this has allowed her to get her work done without distractions and feel as though she gets plenty of time for her personal life. The flexibility has left her feeling more valued and trusted than her previous positions.
While their exact origins are murky, the tradition of summer Fridays emerged out of Manhattan publishing and ad agencies in the 1960s and gave employees a chance to get a jump on summer traffic to the beach by leaving work early. In the present era, summer Fridays take a variety of formats across companies. Some give their teams the entire Friday off all summer, while others have half-days, or full days off every other week. Each company can determine what works best for them, their team, and their clients, but companies that have implemented some version of summer Fridays find they can boost productivity and morale.
However, in today’s economy, especially in tech and client-focused companies, being out of the office doesn’t always mean you are off duty. For example, Stephanie McClintock of Internet Marketing, Inc. said, “It’s a cool perk for employees, but it’s a little challenging to manage on the agency side when you have clients expecting 24/7 availability.”
While Americans have a stereotypical idea that countries in Europe virtually shut down come August, after working for several European companies I can attest that it is partially true. European countries value longer vacations because it gives their employees time to spend with family, rest, and recharge. While closing the office for a month may not be feasible, consider closing for a week or reducing hours when you are least busy. This will give your team a special opportunity to spend time with their children, family, or just enjoy lazy summer days.
Give your employees options
One of the most meaningful ways to offer your team flexibility is to ask what works for them. While this may be a more feasible option for smaller companies, it will help create a sense of ownership, empowerment, and trust.
Consider presenting them with options, such as choosing a day or two to work from home or which hours they come into the office each day. When working with your team on their options, the folks at Squareup suggest thinking long-term, “As your companies mature, so will your team. If you wish to retain these employees as they progress through their careers and lives, you have to anticipate their needs and adjust your offerings to take into account issues like parental leave, flexible hours, and retirement benefits.”
When shifting to a more flexible schedule, work together with your team to set up structures and processes that help them organize their time within a flexible schedule so you don’t find yourself staring at the wall wondering what to do or working around the clock. It may help to implement a scheduling system or software to help keep track of remote days and days off. Finding the right type of flexibility that works for your company may take some adjustments, but whether it’s just for the summer or becomes company policy year-round, it can help create a workplace that is productive, lower stress, and more inclusive of everyone’s professional and personal lives.