The Pros and Cons of Flexible Work Schedules

Want to offer employees a flexible work schedule? Check out the different type of flex schedules, and the pros and cons of offering them.

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flexible work schedule

Joining work meetings in your pajamas…doesn’t that sound amazing (and comfortable)?

While the notion may have been laughed at 20 years ago, in today’s ever-changing workplace, being able to work in your pajamas has become a reality for some.
In fact, 3.7 million employees (or 2.8 percent of the workforce) now work from home at least half the time, according to Global Workplace Analytics. And research conducted by the same group found that 80 to 90 percent of the US workforce say they would like to telework at least part time.
But telecommuting is just one type of flexible work schedule employers can offer. Here’s a deeper look at the different types of alternative work arrangements available – and the pros and cons of offering them.

What’s Considered a Flexible Work Schedule?

Any schedule that gives employees the freedom “to vary their arrival and/or departure times” outside of the traditional 40-hour, 9-5 workweek would be considered flexible, according to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).
While there are many types of flexible work schedules, here are a few of the most common:

Some employers don’t care when employees come in or leave the office – they just want to make sure employees are coming in for the standard amount of hours. That means early risers can come in from 7am-4pm, while folks who want to attend their 8am yoga class can do the late-bird schedule from 10am-7pm. It’s a “come and go as you please” arrangement.

Working From Home or Telecommuting
We covered this one earlier. It’s ideal for employers who want the best talent working for them, regardless of where they live. SHRM notes that “due to all the technological advances, this practice will likely increase as more and more jobs can be performed completely remotely.”

Working Part-Time
This is ideal for employees who can’t work a full 40 hours, and allows them to work anywhere from four days a week to just one day. Depending on the needs of your business, this could be a great option for keeping a valuable employee who temporarily can’t (or simply doesn’t want to) commit to the the full-time life.

Compressed Workweeks (AKA Shorter Weeks, Longer Days)
Want every Friday, or every other Friday off? With compressed workweeks, it’s doable. Here’s how it works: According to SHRM, “the most common compressed workweek schedule is probably 4/10s (10 hours a day for four days a week). Many employers allow exempt employees to work 9/9s biweekly. This means the employee regularly works 9 hours a day with one day off every other week. The 9/9 schedule usually is not preferable for nonexempt workers due to the concern of overtime pay every other week.”

What are the Rules behind Flexible Schedules?

Surprisingly, there aren’t any federal guidelines around flexible work schedules.
In fact, the labor law bible, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), does not address flexible work schedules, which means flex schedules are allowed at the discretion of the employer. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) notes, however, that “under some policies, employees must work a prescribed number of hours a pay period and be present during a daily ‘core time’.”
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Why Offer Flex Schedules?

Work-life balance – everyone wants it, especially millennials. Outside of salary and financial benefits, a good work/life balance is the leading factor considered when evaluating job opportunities, according to The Zenefits Millennial Survey.
As a result, when it comes to recruiting, offering a flexible schedule can help make your company more attractive. And it’s not just millennials that want flexibility. Working parents who need to attend school functions or employees who are taking night classes can also benefit from knowing that they’re not tied to a strict 9-5.

Sustainable Environment
If you want to help make the world more sustainable, allowing employees to telecommute can help. Just consider these statistics from Xerox’s Virtual Office Program, which allows approximately 8,600 employees (11 percent of its U.S. workforce) to work from home:
In 2015, Xerox estimates that its remote workforce:

  • Avoided more than 43,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions. To put this in perspective, that’s the same amount of energy used by nearly 4,000 homes each year.
  • Avoided driving an estimated 99 million miles
  • Saved 4.9 million gallons of fuel

This is the impact from just one company. Can you imagine the impact on the environment if more companies decided to offer similar benefits?

Increase Productivity
Yup, you read that right.
With the flexibility to work when it’s most convenient for them, employees are simply more focused and productive. Instead of rushing to finish a project in order to make it home for dinner, or spend hours in traffic – with flexible schedules, employees perform tasks with ease.
For example, when Cisco Systems embraced virtual collaboration tools to allow employees to work remotely, employees experienced the following:

  • 75 percent reported improvement in the timeliness of their work, and 67 percent said the overall quality of their work also improved.
  • 69 percent reported higher productivity, since 60 percent of the time they saved via telecommuting was applied to work. The other 40 percent was applied to personal use.
  • 83 percent said they were still able to effectively communicate and collaborate with colleagues, if not better, as when they worked on-site.

What’s the Downside to Flexible Work Schedules?

Nothing in life is perfect, so we shouldn’t expect flexible work arrangements to be either.
Though there clearly are benefits (as listed above), there are also downsides that employers should consider.
For starters, if your company doesn’t have the technology or management to help make flex schedules work – you’re in a tough spot.
“Offering flexible work arrangements can involve a paradigm shift for organizations, especially smaller ones that may not have the critical mass of technology, budget, management and competitive flexibility necessary to make extensive use of flexible work arrangements,” notes SHRM.

Quiet Office
For employers who want a fun office that’s buzzing with excitement, advising employees to work from home or part-time probably isn’t in the cards, because well – if everyone is working from home, it’s likely going to be Boresville, USA on-site.
For employers who want the best of both worlds, consider offering flex-time or compressed workweeks instead.

Lack of Communication and Collaboration
While the Cisco study above shows that productivity and collaboration can still take place with flexible work arrangements, some employers – like Yahoo! – beg to differ.
In 2013, Yahoo’s new CEO, Marissa Mayer, banned employees from working from home. The email sent to employees noted: “To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.”

Employees Take Advantage of the Situation
Unfortunately, not all employees are made equal. Some may abuse the power of flex scheduling and will come in at 11am and leave at 3pm, while others may simply say they’re working from home, but are actually catching up on hours Game of Thrones.
If this is a concern for you, then it’s likely not an issue of flexible work schedules, but rather your employee. Employers should feel confident that employees will use their time wisely. If you can’t trust your employee, why work with them?

The Takeaway

If you have employees you can trust, flexible work arrangements can be great for retention, happiness, and productivity.
However, it’s up to employers and HR managers to do their due diligence and determine what type of work schedule is ideal based on their human capital, company goals, and employee happiness.

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