It all started in the US in the 1990s: five days a week, from nine to five, 48 to 50 weeks per year had been the typical work schedule for most working people. But by the 1990s, employees were finding that the traditional work week was not optimal. Why?
Some were trying to adapt to the combined needs of a demanding professional life and a busy personal life. They required a more novel approach to the work week and requested a special, more flexible work schedule.
Their reasons for wanting this “flexitime” were many and varied, and focused on personal requirements and family care. The trend soon caught on in the rest of the world, including South Africa.
Some employees want time to attend or teach classes; many need to adjust their schedules to avoid time-consuming traffic jams. And for others, working a non-traditional part-time schedule is a lifestyle choice.
But as an employer, why would you consider offering flexitime? After all, it’s “different”, and if you run a traditional business, to see employees arriving and leaving at various times of the day can be upsetting.
It can also be problematic to co-ordinate people, tasks and productivity when your employees aren’t at work at the same time. So why should employers consider creating flexible schedules?
The main reason is to retain key, dedicated employees whose personal needs conflict with traditional work hours. If you can offer flexitime, you’ll gain increased productivity and worker satisfaction, along with decreased absenteeism and turnover – all great money-savers for your company! And employees who are permitted a work-life time adjustment tend to work harder to hold on to their now-perfect schedules.
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What alternatives are there to the traditional work day? One of the oldest is job sharing. In this case, two workers usually each work half time, comprising one full-time equivalent (FTE) employee. For this type of plan, tasks, roles and responsibilities need to be closely co-ordinated to ensure optimal productivity.
A second plan allows for employees to work different hours, which usually involves them coming in to work either earlier or later than most of their counterparts.
Another option allows employees to alternate between a four-day and then a five-day week, thus permitting a traditional two-day weekend, followed by an extended three-day weekend. Or, if your business allows it, employees can work 10 days straight and then enjoy four consecutive days off. The possibilities here are only limited by what works for your business.
In companies with peak periods, such as accounting firms or tourist businesses, employees can work much more than 40 hours each week during the busy season(s), and then enjoy shorter weeks in the less busy season(s). Closely related to this seasonal plan is “comp time”; this refers to employees working more hours than usual each week and leaving early some days or taking a day off.
In many companies, some employees’ job responsibilities are primarily project oriented – as soon as one job is completed, the employee can simply go on to the next task. With this type of job, one option is for the employee to be paid on a project basis.
And the employee can take time off between projects if they finish sooner than planned. In this instance, the employee functions much like an external consultant.
Telecommuting is another option. With PDAs, computers, the Internet and cellphones, employees no longer have to be “under the same roof” to accomplish their jobs. Employees can work at home all or part time. This is especially helpful if their work environment is small, crowded or noisy, and they need quiet time to get the job done.
These tips will help ensure maximum flexitime output:
1. Your goals for any employee working flexitime need to be clear.
They must be both specific and action-oriented so they can be measured at the end of the work period. And both of you need to agree on the actual scope of work. And it’s critical, especially when it comes to telecommuting, that the mode of transmitting the end-result be unambiguous.
For example, do you want work details or the end product to be communicated by phone, Internet or in person? Are rough drafts and a phone call sufficient or do you need a polished report?
2. An employee’s exact role in the company needs to be clearly defined.
Each person – manager and employee – must know the expectations and responsibilities of self and others. Each person must also know exactly who does what and with whom, and who is responsible to whom. This is especially true when you have employees working outside the office and communicating only via phone or e-mail. When role clarity isn’t ensured, confusion, blame, dissension, antagonism and a lack of productivity often result.
3. Determine the frequency and mode of communication you require before your employees begin working flexitime.
Employers vary on the amount of control and contact they want or demand from their employees. Some bosses want a written summary of a week’s efforts first thing Monday morning; others are satisfied with a phone call. Still others believe that a face-to-face meeting is essential. Determine what you need to feel comfortable with the work your employees are doing.
4. Establish some regular working hours for your telecommuting employees.
It seems the less often an employee is present in the office, the more people need to get in touch with that person. The telecommuter needs to outline a usual time that he or she will be available by phone or e-mail and also set a regular time for coming into the office.
Many employers with flexitime employees have discovered the concept of “core hours”. This is the time all employees must be physically present at the business location for a set amount of time on a specific day. Knowing, for example, that all employees will be available for a meeting every Tuesday from noon to 2pm can go a long way to decreasing the anxiety of flexitime.
Making flexitime work:
- Set precise, action-oriented, measurable work goals
- Clearly define the roles and responsibilities of manager and employees
- Determine the mode and frequency of communication upfront
- Outline “core hours” with telecommuniting employees, thus ensuring common times enabling communication between all employees