There has been a lot of recent discussion about flexible workdays and employee satisfaction, with Amazon and Yahoo in the news. The Washington Post ran an article recently extolling the merits of alternative scheduling, and your coworkers and team members are probably talking and thinking a lot about it. Is alternative scheduling right for your business? There are many accepted and much-discussed options. We’ll identify a few of them, outline the benefits and challenges, and give you some advice for beginning implementation.
First, a little clarification: Alternative scheduling is not necessarily work-from-home (WFH). WFH has its benefits, and can be integrated into your alternative scheduling model, but there are other options (or a combination) that may be a better fit for your needs. Three alternative options:
- Non-traditional shifts. The manufacturing sector has used shift scheduling for years. Workers maintain an eight-hour workday, but their start times and end times are staggered to cover the desired operating hours of the company.
- Compressed work weeks. Managers designate longer days (up to 10 hours), giving workers one weekday off every pay period.
- Flexible hours. Employees are in the office 40 hours a week, but they are able to choose how they distribute those hours.
Alternative scheduling offers many benefits, not only to the company in terms of productivity, but to the employees and the community as well. Switching to variable work hours requires little infrastructure investment, and is therefore relatively inexpensive to implement. That doesn’t mean, however, that it should be done hastily or without involving all of the affected parties (more on this below). Small changes in scheduling can lengthen your company’s effective workday, making it easier to do business across the country or across the globe. And a formal alternative scheduling model can achieve these gains without the use of overtime, which can be costly and stressful. Shifting your teams’ schedules also makes conference room booking easier, as there are more hours in the day to utilize the meeting space.
Several recent studies suggest that employees benefit from varying their work hours, primarily through the reduction of stress. This correlates to better morale overall, and therefore better retention. An alternative scheduling system also allows workers more choice, thus tailoring their working times to when they are most productive. Additionally, because such flexibility has value to an employee, it can be used as a recruitment incentive.
The community also benefits from a move away from the 9-5 model. Employees heading to the office at staggered times will ease rush-hour congestion, lines will be shorter at local businesses, and traffic density in parking lots, lobbies and elevators will be reduced. Not to mention that as everyone’s stress level lowers, everyone will just be happier.
Of course, any change in the way we do business comes with challenges. Monitoring the productivity of employees becomes more difficult, and some team members may feel that others aren’t pulling their weight if they don’t see each other on a regular basis. Carpooling options may be reduced, and some positions may not be good candidates for alternative scheduling. For example, your receptionist can’t decide to work 10-hour days Monday through Thursday and take every Friday off. Should part-time and contract employees also be offered flexible work hours?
Finally, labor law compliance must be considered carefully. For good reason, federal labor laws limit a full-time employee’s day to 10 hours, but some precedent has been set for workers logging longer hours. When considering moving to a flexible scheduling model, firms must consult carefully with experts in workplace law.
Which brings us to our next topic: if you’ve decided to move forward in the alternative scheduling direction, meeting with a team of consultants as soon as possible is extremely important. Bring in representatives from your company’s Legal and Human Resources departments, and include any union representatives if you will be dealing with union employees or positions. Some laws vary by state, and this decision may come down to a vote within the team or even the company, so the sooner everyone knows the pros and cons the better.
With your team, identify and prioritize your objectives. Are you hoping to ease commutes for your workers, provide them with flexibility, save the company money in onsite costs, free up meeting space, or improve your retention numbers? This site has a cost savings calculator that can give you an idea of how your bottom line may be affected.
Ask your employees how they feel about it. Put out an internal survey with all the options. Or start a pilot program that workers can opt into.
Not quite ready for alternative scheduling? The beauty of flexible scheduling is that it’s, well, flexible! Try some of these smaller tweaks:
- Change up your meeting times. 9 am meetings might seem like a great way to start a productive day, but some studies find that our most productive times may be in the afternoon.
- Consider a “No Meeting Day”
- Find other ways to be flexible and give your employees choice within a normal 9-5 workday.
Lastly, if you’re curious how companies have implemented flexible worker scheduling, we HIGHLY recommend Rework and Remote, both by the founders of software development company Basecamp. The founders of Basecamp built a company with a team of nearly 50% remote and flexible-time workers. To date, they have nearly 15 million customers.
It may be time for your team to begin a conversation about alternative scheduling. Challenges can be overcome with careful planning and collaboration, creating a current, modern work environment that gives your company an edge over others in terms of employee satisfaction, community integration and productivity.