Office manager Lisa has 6-year-old twins and needs to leave at 2 p.m. to pick them up from day care. Top sales guy Joe coaches Little League and doesn’t want to run leads on Saturdays anymore. Your marketing manager Rachel is working on a master's degree and now has a Friday morning class. And production manager Pedro has an HVAC repair scheduled on his house for 2 p.m. next Wednesday, during which he needs to be at home.
Working hours were once pretty much one size fits all. It was 9-to-5, take it or leave it. Boy has that changed. And as it continues to evolve, employers and managers find themselves forced to come to grips with the fact that people have commitments beyond the job, and that those commitments often come first in the minds of the employees.
Managing Around Life’s Needs
Flextime, a nontraditional work scheduling practice, evolved as a way that enables employers to help employees manage time so as to balance work-life demands. Flextime allows employees to set the time their workday begins and/or ends, while maintaining the same number of hours.
“Flextime periods usually precede or follow a core time during which all employees must be present,” according to BusinessDictionary's definition of this popular workplace practice. In addition to flextime, today’s technology provides workers juggling family and other responsibilities the opportunity to work from home or another location outside the office via telecommuting.
A recent story in Small Business Trends says “up to 25 percent of Americans” now work occasionally from home (even at small businesses) and points out that “hiring remote workers for bookkeeping, HR, marketing, web development, IT, and other positions makes increasingly more financial sense by reducing company overhead.”
With unemployment at its lowest in half a century, allowing workers some freedom to negotiate their own schedules is a recruitment and retention plus. “Increasingly, small businesses throughout the US are implementing flexible work arrangements for employees,” notes Paychex Solutions. The benefits to your organization are reduced rates of absenteeism, higher levels of employee engagement, enhanced work-life balance for your workforce, and positive impact on recruitment and retention efforts.
Flextime makes a difference when it comes to morale. Writing for tech solution company Planday, Lisa Anderson cites the 2015 Workplace Flexibility Study, conducted by Workplace Trends, which “found that flex programs improved employee satisfaction by 87 percent, boosted productivity by 71 percent, and helped retain employees at 65 percent higher rates.”
Neil MacIntosh points out that flextime is a “cheap and cheerful” solution to employees’ desire, or need, to work around life commitments, or simply to schedule work for when they’re most energetic. That’s the major attraction of flexible working arrangements (FWA), particularly for millennials.
“Millennials seek work opportunities with flexibility, which is often viewed as a perk,” points out Tess C. Taylor in Forbes. “The future of work is shifting towards alternative schedules that allow employees to focus on their priorities, which in this case is a healthy lifestyle and more time for family and friends.”
Of course, an ill-conceived flextime policy at your company could quickly backfire. And is flextime even practical at a home improvement business?
For instance, home improvement companies schedule sales appointments at the convenience of customers, which often means calling on prospects at night or on weekends. That’s not about to change. And obviously you can’t install a roof remotely.
That said, construction companies looking to recruit are competing with every other kind of business, many of which now offer flexible work arrangements and/or some kind of telecommuting. Clearly there are jobs at a roofing, siding, and window company—primarily office jobs—that could be performed remotely.
One suggestion by HR experts is that companies offer flextime on a case-by-case basis. That is, when Lisa comes to you with her request to leave at 1:30 p.m. to pick up the twins, the policy makes it possible, but the logistics are up to you and Lisa. In the same way, you can work out an arrangement with Joe that allows him run three appointments on Sunday so as to have Saturdays off.
Managing in this way allows you to maintain a period during the day when everybody is at your fixed office location—those core hours mentioned earlier—while accommodating employee requests. Be aware, though, that what you offer to one in the way of a benefit must be available to all (circumstances permitting).
“If telecommuting and flexible work schedules are distributed like prizes for good behavior,” writes Gillian Flynn, “those employees who are left out may become disgruntled—and if they tend to be women, or people of color, they may indeed have something to be angry about.” And you may end up getting a call from the Department of Labor.
Staying On Task
To avoid the possibility of such complaints, craft a written policy that is unbiased, clear, and documented in the employee handbook and job descriptions stating that flextime is available on a case-by-case basis. Deciding who qualifies, along with when they qualify and how its implemented, can be done by evaluating “the nature of the position, how long a person has been at the company/in the role, past job performance, and how frequently a staff member can telecommute,” among other things, suggests Business News Daily's Nicole Fallon.
To implement your flextime policy, you’ll need to track off-site hours, which web-based tracking tools can help you do. “Online meeting software and shared calendars can only do so much,” notes Software Advice's Brian Westfall, who goes on to offer a number of software suggestions for tracking remote employee productivity. You'll also need to measure changes in project completion, customer satisfaction, turnover, and operating expenses.
Once you’ve implemented your policy, remember (and remind employees) that it’s “a benefit, not a requirement,” advise bloggers at Insperity, a management advice website: “If flextime or telecommuting starts to affect employees’ performance or productivity, make sure you address it right away."