For more than 80 years, the 9-5 workday has been the default — despite the fact that the modern work environment looks nothing like it did when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938.
Now, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, flexible work strategies are replacing this standard, including four-day workweeks, flex time, and 3-2-2 schedules.
Here’s what you need to know about flexible work strategies and how to make them work for your organization.
The benefits of flexible work strategies
Most professionals know when they tend to be the most productive as an individual.
Though many employees have become accustomed to working a single eight-hour block per day, others prefer to break their workday into two four-hour segments with a longer break in between. In short, no employee, let alone an entire workforce, is producing the same volume or quality of work during the same time period every day.
Flexible work strategies enable employees to be active at the times of day when they will be the most productive rather than restricting them to a set schedule that may not be conducive to their individual work style.
Better for recruiting and retention
There isn’t just a strong correlation between a flexible work schedule and productivity. Global HR and recruiting firm Adecco has reported that, following the COVID-19 pandemic, 77% of professionals prefer greater flexibility in where and how they work.
And according to International Workplace Group (IWG), when presented with two similar job offers, 80% of professionals would turn down the offer from the company that did not allow flexible working.
The strength of your recruiting and retention is highly influenced by whether or not you give employees the option to adopt a flexible work schedule.
Over the past 12 months, current members of your workforce and potential future employees have grown accustomed to the benefits of the flexibility that comes with working remotely, including the ability to handle personal obligations and responsibilities more easily and with less disruption to their workday.
Supports employee wellbeing
Prior to the pandemic, the average commuter spent 55 minutes per day traveling to and from work. That equates to about 10 full days every year solely spent driving to the office.
The time commitment alone is jarring, but when you factor in the stress of dealing with other drivers, the cost of gas, and vehicle maintenance expenses, it becomes clear just how emotionally, mentally, and financially taxing it is for an employee to commute during rush hour five times a week.
With a flexible work schedule, employees can leave earlier or later to avoid rush hour. And depending on which flexible work model you implement, they can choose to work remotely periodically and skip the commute altogether.
Not only is this overall better for their wellbeing, but your employees can also use the time they save to engage in self-care activities like yoga or meditation.
Examples of flexible working arrangements
Four-day workweek/compressed workweek
A four-day workweek is exactly what it sounds like: instead of requiring the workforce to be on the clock for 40 hours Monday through Friday, employees only clock in on four of the five weekdays. This allows employees to either have a three-day weekend or a day off midweek, whichever makes the most sense for your business and your workforce.
There are two approaches to implementing a four-day workweek. You can either have employees adopt a daily schedule along the lines of 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. or 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and still put in 40 hours per week (usually referred to as a “compressed workweek”) or maintain eight-hour workdays and ask employees to complete their tasks within a 32-hour week.
Some companies also offer “half-day Fridays” as a benefit, especially during the summer. When social media engagement software Buffer tried this experiment, 91% of participants said they were able to accomplish at least the same amount of work or more in a shorter period of time.
In workplaces that offer flex time, employees are required to work eight hours per day, but they can create their own schedules with no fixed start or end time — as long as they complete their tasks by their assigned due dates. This could work for both full-time or part-time employees.
Some positions are not well-suited for flex time (for example, client-facing roles that have designated support hours). But for positions without these restrictions, offering flex time can be an effective way to accommodate employees who are more productive outside the typical working hours as well as those with family obligations that can make it difficult to adhere to a strict schedule.
The caveat with flex time is that employees must work with their managers to ensure there is at least some overlap with other team members’ schedules so there is sufficient availability for meetings.
A 3-2-2 schedule is a flexible work model in which employees work three days in the office, two days remotely, and then have two days off.
It’s one of the most popular scheduling options for employers who plan on implementing a hybrid workplace because it provides the workforce with basic scheduling parameters while giving employees more control over how and where they work.
“(The 3-2-2 workweek) enables the creativity-boosting serendipity and human connection of in-office encounters while giving people the freedom to keep up with the exercise routines, hobbies, and family dinners many have found themselves enjoying in the middle of 2020 struggles.”
-Jessica Stillman, in a recent INC article
How to successfully adopt flexible work options
1. Invest in solutions that support an exceptional employee experience
Employees who have been sequestered in a corner of their bedroom with a laptop or working at the kitchen table while caring for small children will likely be eager to return to the office. Those with a comfortable home office or a long commute might need more convincing.
That means making it easy for them to find their coworkers, navigate their new work environment, submit requests, or order food when they return. A mobile employee experience app puts this power at their fingertips, connecting them to the workplace and helping them be more productive while they’re there.
2. Use occupancy sensors and space reservation technology to manage hybrid work environments
Historical space utilization data can be a good starting point for making decisions about flexible work schedules, but the way your employees occupy and engage with the workplace now is vastly different now.
You can also use these systems to collect data about how employees use the office in real-time. You can identify trends and make adjustments as necessary. By using sensor data to identify peak occupancy, you can make sure you always have enough available desks. And if you notice the office is mostly empty on Fridays, you might decide to designate that as a “remote only” day.
3. Draft a formal flexible work schedule policy
For many organizations, officially implementing a flexible work model is a brand new endeavor. While some managers may have had informal arrangements with individual employees, establishing a company-wide approach requires creating a formal flexible work schedule policy that is detailed, nondiscriminatory, and consistently enforced.
The policy should clearly outline eligibility, scope, required rules and procedures, and restrictions and exceptions in addition to expectations regarding employee availability, response times, on-site and remote work environments, and security. Having this policy in place will reduce the risk of miscommunication and misunderstanding. It also helps establish a work culture and helps employees have a better work/life balance.
During the pandemic, many employees reported working longer hours because they equated online presence with productivity. While there are certain times of the day when employees do need to be available, workplace policies that emphasize results over being “always on” can help ease anxiety and prevent burnout.
“Encourage your teams to build those same stopping cues into their day. Maybe it’s working in a set room, at a certain table or even from a specific chair. When you leave that environment, you have a natural signal that it’s time to stop working.”
-Sean Higgins, CEO of BetterYou, in a recent Forbes article
The future of the employee experience requires flexibility
In the new hybrid workplace, flexibility is a key part of the new employee experience.
Every employee has different work styles and circumstances. Some are most productive early in the morning but find it harder to focus in the late afternoon. Others may not hit peak productivity until later in the day. Employees also have different preferences for how they use the office. While extroverted employees might be energized by a bustling open office where they can bounce ideas off others throughout the day, more introverted employees might find it harder to concentrate.
Employees who live near the office may be eager to work there most of the week, while those who live far away might prefer to work from home a few days a week.
Keeping individual employee needs in mind and making room for flexible work strategies when possible will help everyone have a smoother transition back to the office.
For more recommendations on how to create a great employee experience with the right technology and policies, download the latest Verdantix report.