The theoretical rule of thumb for office hours until recently was “nine to five with an hour for lunch.” Unfortunately, in practice this guideline was flexible only in that it led to more extended office hours and fewer lunch breaks.
This in turn led to increased commuting times for employees and leave days not taken, accumulating year on year.
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Business owners attempted to compensate an overworked staff with office concierge services, office-based childcare facilities, in-house travel agencies and leave day cash swap options. However, these efforts met with mixed outcomes. Employees continued to spend a significant amount of their time at the office, well beyond standard business hours.
From 2003 to 2007 the global business industry resorted to flextime hours. These arrangements allowed for employees to arrive at an earlier time, then leave the office before business hours ended. Or they could choose to come into the office at a later time and depart one to three hours after the official close of business.
The Millennial Wave
Enter the millennial workforce into the business realm. This connected generation paved the way for telecommuting, reduced workday weeks, remote working, freelancing, jobbaticals and virtual office environments. All of this was supported by radical innovations in technology, communication and connectivity.
Problem solved, right?
In theory, this freedom of choice to control where, when and how you work should boost productivity. Additionally, employee engagement and shareholder profits should improve as well.
Unfortunately, however, companies are still facing up to the challenges of disengaged and overworked staff. The main component absent from this equation is accountability.
Flexibility Without Accountability
Greater work flexibility has resulted in the proliferation of idiosyncratic agreements, according to a recent article by The Wall Street Journal. The trend then manifests in inconsistent treatment of workers due to individually customized employment agreements.
Furthermore, a decline in production and service level output from office-employees-turned-remote-workers are notable trends.
Less Becomes Less
The crux of the issue lies with the employee’s behavioral disposition: Do they have an external or an internal motivation of control? The former is not self-managed. They would therefore not fit into a “gig economy” type of working environment.
IBM, a previous pioneer of flexibility in the workplace, amended their policy last year. They recalled a significant percentage of their workforce back to the bricks-and-mortar office environment. Yahoo, Best Buy and Reddit all followed suit soon after.
More Becomes Less
On the other side of the conundrum, flexible working policies may inflate the actual hours employees spend on work due to the gift-exchange phenomenon. This theory from British sociologist Heejung Chung points to the fact that employees feel obligated to work longer hours if they have the freedom of flexible hours. Increased hours thereby lead to overworked staff, effectively reducing productivity levels.
Hours at Work Versus Hours Away from Work
The overall concept of workplace flexibility extends beyond flextime, reduced work weeks and remote working environments. Google is a prime example of successful flexible working mechanisms in the office. Google offers employees foosball, chill rooms, outside garden meetings and meals on demand 24/7.
Although not every company can afford expenses to that accord, some flexible working trends are in fact easy to implement and cost-effective to manage. What’s more, they may add immediate value to both the organization and the employee.
Get moving—around the premises, to the park or to the pub for that matter. The change of scenery, fresh air and the odd beer or two may just put a spring back into the step of sluggish employees working in artificially lit, air-conditioned spaces.
Some employees are super productive late at night. Others are at their best very early in the morning. These few may do well with team collaboration in the middle of the night.
Therefore, if you have employees like these, team them up together. Provide access to the office premises around the clock every day of the week for the “night owls” and “early birds.” Let them work to their heart’s content.
Create opportunities for two entrepreneurial employees to share one role. Each would spend half their time in a permanent role while being able to pursue outside ventures during the other half. This concept works well for students as well as single parents, for example.
Fitting in Freelancers
Deskcamping is an initiative which started in London last year. Similar in strategy to Airbnb, companies rent out spare office desks by the hour to freelancers who are either independent or on contract with the organization. This unique approach allows for SME’s to bring onboard an array of expert “gig economists” in an informal capacity for a few hours every week.
This is a sort of in-house musical chairs tactic. That is, colleagues do not work in the same location or office area day in and day out. Instead, they get face time and exposure to other staff members, because they sit in a different spot every month.
Plug in, Plug Out
Co-workers of different teams or business divisions get the opportunity to spend time in areas outside of their expertise, helping with daily operational tasks. This approach facilitates short-term learning opportunities. It is especially valuable to uplift and inspire employees in service, administration or support-type functions.
Freedom Within Frameworks
Employee engagement may drastically improve within a flexible working environment. Yet a satisfied employee does not necessarily guarantee profit escalation and a progressive bottom line. The vital elements to flourishing flexibility strategies are frameworks and guidelines. Whether you are an executive of a Fortune 500 giant or the owner of a small to medium-sized enterprise, proper guidelines are instrumental to your flexible work policies.
About the Author
This article is provided by myhrtoolkit limited, a leading HR software company specializing in HR software for SMEs.