Your Guide to Flexible Work Arrangements

Many businesses have some form of workspace flexibility happening in their organization to some degree.  Much of this is done informally as opposed to having a prescribed policy in place.  Maybe you have experienced some of the following incidences in your place of employment. 

  • An employee has a repair person scheduled to be at their home between 8 – 10 a.m. The manager allows this individual to work at home during that time and then come into the office after for the remainder of the day.

  • Another employee has a child’s school event they want to attend over their lunch hour but will require them to be away from the office for 2 hours. They use their lunch hour as one and agree to make up another hour of missed work on another day during the week.

  • There is one day during the week that an employee does not have child care available. This individual works first shift for an organization that has workers on three shifts. The employee gets approval from the manager for an altered work schedule. For that day of the week, the employee will work second shift instead of first in order to take care of their child for part of the day.

These are all examples of flexible work arrangements.  Many managers make exceptions for good employees who can be counted on to get their jobs done, no matter the space or time frame.

The following is an overview of flexible work arrangements and their definitions:

  • Flex time – compressed work week, flex hours, banking time (PTO), and shift swaps

  • Flex time off – extra vacation, personal days, long-term time off, reduced hours

  • Flex location – work remotely

According to a study done in 2014 by McLean & Company HR Trends, flexible work arrangements are the norm rather than the exception.  Many employees consider workplace flexibility to be one of the most important factors in considering job offers.  In fact 64% of Millennials would like to work from home occasionally.  Sixty six percent of other employee generational groups would like to sometimes shift their work hours. 

Location flexibility has become a widely accepted practice and most organizations that do permit it develop metrics to track their return on investment.  Working from home may look differently based on situations:

  • Regular, recurring - regularly scheduled workdays working from a home office

  • Brief, occasional at-home work – employee is writing a report or preparing a spreadsheet from a home office after hours or on weekends. An employee may write a report or prepare a spreadsheet after hours, on a weekend or at home just to avoid interruptions.

  • Temporary or emergency work - working from home to ensure business continuity during inclement weather, a natural disaster or an event such as a political convention that causes significant traffic and parking disruptions.

  • Regular and consistent days during the week - each week looks the same so everyone knows on Tuesday’s Jim works from his home office and know to contact him there.

Some of the benefits an employer receives for offering workspace flexibility are that it can limit employee absences, it may increase productivity, and it’s possible to save money on office space and related expenses. Flexibility also opens the talent pool for recruiting efforts; employees may be happier and more engaged and will spend less time driving to and from the office. Generally people want flexibility from their employers so most will see this as a positive change and a benefit to brag about; it provides an extension of trust for employees from the company.

The positives for employees are many in that they will save commuting time, they are away from workplace drama, they can take breaks when they want, they can wear what they want, they can spend more time with family and they may be happier and more engaged in their work.  They will enjoy a sense of faith from their manager and company to work out of sight and be trusted to get their responsibilities accomplished.

Of course there are some alternative effects to be mindful of.  When employees work remotely it can change the culture and dynamic of the work environment, the flow of communication and there may be a need to add more video conferencing than in the past.  The company will need to develop metrics to help manage projects and maintain accountability.  There may be a loss of productivity due to different distractions at home (kids, laundry, etc.) and you must pay attention to security issues with business information.  There can be situations where there are technological issues, i.e., slow internet connections, improper computer capabilities, etc.  The employer may have to manage some workers being disgruntled because they are not permitted to work from home as their responsibilities don’t lend themselves to working remotely, i.e., receptionist or individuals who meet with customers at the office throughout the day.

For employees who work at home either occasionally or full-time they may miss out on the collaboration that goes on between individuals who work in an office setting. They also may lack the self-discipline it takes to work from home.  They will be out of the hub of activity in terms of office politics, management and intellectual ferment and may may experience more distractions and interruptions while at home.  They may not like mixing home and work together; this relationship may make them work more because it’s always there. They also may feel as though it has a negative impact on career advancement and perception that employees away from the office are not as available as those working in a traditional office setting. 

When offering employees a flexible workspace be sure to implement a thoughtful, written policy to help administer the transition.  Having a prescriptive policy will reduce questions and guess work for administration; it will also provide equal treatment for all employees who can take advantage of it and the company can boast as a benefit to candidates they are trying to recruit.  This could be a deal breaker for some recruits in deciding to take an offer of employment.

One of the basic extensions the company needs to make to employees is trust.  Without it the policy will not have an opportunity to be successful.  Company leadership and supervisors must trust that employees will indeed get their work accomplished in a timely manner and trust that  employees will not take advantage of the employer because they are given freedom of workspace.  In turn the benefits are many for overall increased morale, employee engagement and ultimately success of the organization.