How would you organize your working week if it were entirely up to you? An increasing number of business owners are asking this question. Thanks to the constantly changing situation around COVID-19, it looks like flexible working is here to stay. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found in 2020 that close to 25% of the US workforce was working from home.
Why Business is Becoming Flexible
While the pandemic has pushed remote working and flexitime arrangements to the fore, there are clear benefits to these approaches. Employees experience significant individual differences in when they feel most productive, and these timings don’t always fall within a 9-5 schedule. A more flexible approach allows employees space for the things they need to stay sharp, from exercise to time with their families.
This increases employees’ sense of control, which in turn improves retention rates, boosts engagement, and decreases stress. A recent survey by FlexJobs found that 76% of workers would be more willing to stay with their current employer if they could work flexible hours.
With changing employee expectations, flexitime can help to attract a younger and more diverse team. According to a 2019 study, 92% of 18-27 year olds identify flexibility as a top priority when job hunting, while 79% believe flexibility makes them more productive. Flexible working patterns also appeal to parents, carers, or long-distance workers who may not otherwise be able to apply.
Flexitime can also cut costs for your business. By allowing more employees to work remotely, you can downsize office space and cut real estate costs. A 2021 study by Capgemini Research Institute found that 88% of organizations experienced real-estate savings due to remote working.
Remote work can also contribute to lowering greenhouse gas emissions. Global Workplace Analytics found that even half-time telecommuting could reduce carbon emissions by over 51 million metric tons per year. This is the carbon footprint equivalent of taking all New York’s commuters off the road.
If you’re considering adopting a flexitime arrangement, it’s worth getting it right from the start. The following considerations will help you create a successful flexible arrangement, from drafting your policy to managing remote workers.
Choose Your Flex
There are many types of flexible work policies available, and it’s important to find one that works for your business. Larger and more established businesses will benefit from having a bigger employee base to fill any gaps, but bureaucratic barriers and legacy rules could get in the way of a quick change. Smaller and younger businesses, on the other hand, have the advantage of more structural freedom, making process improvements simpler.
Flexitime options range from a compressed schedule, which favors longer workdays and three-day weekends, to an emphasis on remote working. Hot desking and job sharing sit between the two extremes, allowing a mix of in-person office hours and remote work. Results-based work offers employees still greater control, allowing them to set their own schedules and work largely unmonitored as long as they meet pre-set goals and deadlines.
Not every option will work for every worker, so ensure your policy is built around your employees’ needs. Conduct surveys and focus groups, encouraging informal conversation about flexitime. If your colleagues feel valued in their opinions, they may suggest new and innovative options which would work better for your team than a tried and tested method. This shared involvement will foster your colleagues’ investment in the program, making them more likely to stay engaged with it.
Trust is the anchor of any successful business relationship, from retail customer relationship management to business-to-business connections. The relationship between a business owner and their employees is no different, but remote working can put this to the test.
A Harvard Business Review study found that businesses require two types of trust to run efficiently: They need to believe that employees will deliver high-quality work and that they have integrity. To believe this, the study found, bosses need clear information about what their colleagues are doing, why they’re doing it, and whether they’ll continue to do it.
These indicators are, of course, much harder to grasp without regular schedules and in-person communication. However, by fostering regular check-ins and a sense of shared accountability, you can build a culture of trust that goes beyond the workplace.
Start by sharing your flexitime policy and the reasoning behind it: Show employees the bigger picture, and how their roles fit into it. By working together to establish goals and objectives, you can ensure you’re allocating tasks fairly and realistically, with room for flexibility. Agree on measurable markers for performance evaluation, and meet virtually or in person to discuss and revise these.
Use remote working as an opportunity to delegate duties and encourage leadership. Self-management is a difficult skill to master, but encouraging it can help employees expand their own career goals by taking on managerial tasks within their teams. Virtual teamwork will also lead to a sense of shared accountability, as individuals will be unwilling to let down their peers.
Employees who feel trusted are more likely to provide valuable feedback on how the new policy is working out. It may benefit your organization to start with small alterations to the schedules and see how workers respond. The better their feedback and outcomes, the more flexibility you can offer, incentivizing competent flexible work.
Remote team members will require a cohesive suite of tools to work efficiently - as well as support and coaching in how to use them. An ideal starting point is a network of communication channels to replace in-person conversation. These may include an internal instant messaging system, remote conferencing tools, VoIP services, or a cloud business phone system.
Workers will benefit from collaboration tools like information-rich video conferencing. Video offers many of the cues we rely on in face-to-face situations, such as facial expression and nuance in vocal tone. This not only increases mutual understanding, but helps to reduce any sense of isolation. It’s important to establish video etiquette early on, to avoid miscommunication, and maintain mutual respect. Make it clear that colleagues are expected to stay visible and attentive during team meetings, rather than doing other work in the background.
Word processors such as Google Docs allow employees to create shared documents, which team members can add comments and notes to. With an ongoing history of edits and additions, this is also a great way for managers to understand their teams’ processes without micro-managing them.
Likewise, you can increase collaboration during meetings with digital whiteboard apps. These allow attendees to all write or draw in the same virtual space. The result is a collaborative mind map, which each participant can save to their own devices for reference.
Finally, consider adopting an employee time tracking software, so you and your remote employees can be on the same page about how company time is being used. Colleagues can log time spent on each project at the touch of a button, and the information gathered can help you plan and budget future tasks.
According to a Harvard Business Review study, employees look to their managers for cues on how to deal with changing situations - so it’s time to bring out your managerial A-game. Remote management needs to be available, approachable, and flexible, maintaining a human touch despite physical distance. Managers need to be consistently contactable via phone, email, and internal messaging systems, encouraging employees to come to them with any questions or issues as they arise.
It also falls to managers to schedule one-to-one check-ins via phone, video conferencing, or face-to-face if possible. These meetings need to be regular and predictable, so that remote workers can base otherwise flexible schedules around them.
Make sure employees understand that these meetings are not just chances for you to monitor their progress, but opportunities for them to reflect on their remote working journey, and make their unique concerns heard.
Keep employees abreast of any news - and connected with their teams - by holding daily virtual standup meetings. Keep these short and to the point, giving each colleague a chance to explain what they’ll be working on over the day, and request any assistance. These huddles will keep home workers feeling like they’re part of something real, and encourage accountability to the team.
While virtual meetings can be kept short and sweet, don’t underestimate the importance of social interaction. Without shared coffee breaks or water cooler conversations, the working day can feel very isolated. Opportunities for remote workers to share lighthearted conversation can improve focus and productivity. This could take the form of a dedicated social channel on your messaging system, or even just ten minutes at the beginning of team calls.
Over the COVID-19 lockdown, many businesses went a step further, sending care packages of food or drink to employees’ home addresses, and organizing a video party where teams could virtually enjoy their gifts together. These events can help promote company culture and a sense of belonging.
Expand Your Workplace
A 2020 survey by Upwork revealed that 68% of managers consider remote work to be getting easier to facilitate as time goes on, rather than harder. This represents a positive adaptation as companies move with the times, embracing a bevy of benefits from employee satisfaction to a smaller carbon footprint.
With a sensitive and employee-centric approach, your transition to flexitime can also be an exciting opportunity to encourage autonomy and collaboration within your organization. Keep workers informed of their flexitime options and seek their ongoing feedback - and you might just create a close-knit community of remote colleagues.