Practically overnight, companies have developed work from home (WFH) capabilities with flexible schedules to help combat the spread of COVID-19 and protect employees. For some employers, flextime policies and procedures were built on the fly given the current crisis. For others, you had already been offering more flexibility in response to growing demand over the last decade. Make the most of your mandatory WFH lock down to reflect on what’s working, what could be improved and what portions you’d like to continue. By constantly evolving amid changing dynamics, you protect your company and boost employee productivity.
What is a flexible work policy?
Industries are breaking from the 9-to-5 routine and giving employees greater freedom in deciding their working hours. A flexible work schedule differs from a company’s traditional start and end times. Employees discuss their proposed flextime schedule with the team to make sure job responsibilities and client needs can still be met. If feasible, another component of a flexible work policy is allowing employees to work remotely. Whether working from home or their local coffeeshop, employees get to choose where they work best.
Why offer a flexible work schedule?
There are substantial benefits for companies encouraging flextime. First off, it signals implicit trust. This can be liberating for employees who feel pressure from unspoken expectations to put in “face time.” That energy can be better used in achieving outcomes. A flextime focus also recognizes that employees are unique. Morning people may relish starting work at 6am, whereas night owls don’t hit their stride until much later. Giving employees the option to work during their most productive dayparts and adjusting for family/social obligations inspires a more satisfying work/life balance. In general, employees feel less stress, enhanced wellbeing and higher job satisfaction when they can modify their work schedules rather than taking a vacation day. Employers enjoy increased retention, higher productivity, reduced absenteeism and happier employees.
The challenges of flextime
In our experience, it’s better to anticipate challenges and weigh them against the benefits. With different time zones and calendars, scheduling meetings is a common logistical hurdle with flexible schedules. Ask meeting organizers to carefully consider mandatory and optional attendance requirements. Communication modes change as well. If someone comes in later, you can’t just drop by for your morning coffee chat. As many teams are discovering during COVID-19, it can be harder to bond remotely as a team. From virtual Zoom coffee breaks to online group games, there are many imaginative ways to connect authentically. Keep an ongoing list of team favorites. Don’t forget to schedule recurring check-ins with employees. Whether a flexible or traditional schedule, remote or on-site, employees like to know you care and it keeps them from feeling sidelined from promotion opportunities.
Tips for developing a flexible work policy
- Gather information – The goal is to positively impact the employee experience, so start by asking what type of flexibility interests them. If remote work is highly valued, consider WFH Fridays or a rotating WFH schedule. If on-site work is required, maybe employees can choose from a set number of alternate schedules. Arriving at 10 am might allow a mom to spend more time with her kids in the morning. Demonstrate the importance of work/life balance by offering telecommuting near the holidays when family obligations spike. Also, research how other companies in your industry have successfully incorporated a flexible work policy.
- Seek buy-in – Ready with employee and industry insights, outline how a flexible work policy could work including eligibility guidelines, work expectations, data protection and how it could benefit your company. Use any learnings from your mandated shelter in place operation as guidance. Lead with the “why” using published research as support when you meet with the leadership team. It’s critical to include any HR staff since this operational change will directly impact them. Be open to feedback. If there’s resistance, look for opportunities to limit options and keep it very simple.
- Consider legalities – You want to protect your company from potential future claims regarding workers compensation claims, overtime pay, company-provided equipment, privacy and more. A big challenge can be monitoring the number of hours worked. This is especially important for non-exempt employees eligible for overtime pay. You may already require management approval of OT. If not, this is something to consider. Consult your HR team or legal counsel regarding exemption classifications and any other legal vulnerabilities with a flextime policy.
- Test run – Every company is unique and there is no way to anticipate all issues. Give your program a limited 3-month trial to work out any issues, gather data and determine long-term feasibility of a roll out. In advance, managers should be trained on policy components and management expectations. Review the working written policy with managers and employees alike. It should cover eligibility requirements, rules, stop-gap measures and deal-breakers.
- Measure success – Prior to launch, discuss what success metrics are meaningful to your company and how they will be measured. Survey employees and monitor these performance and productivity indicators in advance so you have a baseline from which to compare. You could discover that a flexible work policy is a low- or no-cost way to drive engagement and retention. In post-surveys, ask open ended questions that can be used to refine the program. Positive employee feedback can also be used in recruiting efforts.
MidwestHR is a top ranked Chicago PEO in Illinois (professional employer organization). For over 20 years clients have counted on our team of experts to manage all or part of their HR functions including payroll and tax administration, benefits management, workers’ compensation, risk management and more. If you’re considering a flexible work policy, we can share best practices and help you implement a program tailored to your industry. Give us a call at 630-836-3000 to learn more.