— January 30, 2019
Time is money, but given the choice, most people prefer time. A new survey from Unum found that flexible work options are the second-most popular employee benefit, trailing paid family leave by just three percent. This is showing that alternative work schedules actually work.
When most professionals can work from anywhere, where do businesses draw the line on acceptable scheduling?
There are tools for scheduling, telecommuting and project management don’t require employees to be in the same room at the same time. Many workers have begun to demand more flexible work schedules. However, companies don’t want to let go of the reins entirely.
Completely freeform schedules provide no guarantees of productivity and may invite too much chaos. Remote work options can still require employees to follow the old eight to five grind, but may not actually be better. Top talent wants true flexibility, not a half-compromise.
The following alternative work schedules provide a range of options that satisfy the needs of both companies and employees:
1. Common window schedule.
No matter how modern the company, there will always be times when employees must work at the same time. Whether that window allows employees to attend meetings or maintain sufficient customer service staff, a bit of togetherness remains essential in the era of flexible work.
Even the Bureau of Labor Services is on the common window train. Employees at the BLS can work as early as six a.m. and as late as eight p.m., as long as they are present from 10 a.m. to two p.m. Tuesday through Thursday. The BLS has a few other rules about flexible scheduling, but its core hours policy helps regulate meeting times and other cooperative efforts.
2. Four-day workweek.
Perpetual Guardian, a New Zealand firm, ran an experiment earlier this year to see if the four-day workweek would lower productivity. To the firm’s surprise, productivity remained constant while employee work-life balance improved by 24 percent. Employees still got the same paychecks for one less workday. The experiment was so successful, the company began work on making the new policy a permanent change.
Four-day workweeks don’t lead to 20 percent cuts to productivity. Instead, they boost employee engagement by cutting out some of the natural downtimes at the office. When companies maintain the same expectations in fewer hours, employees are happy to rise to the challenge with the reward of an extra day off.
This schedule provides another interesting avenue for flexibility. Employees who follow four-day workweeks don’t necessarily have to work the same four days. Just as the BLS sets its core hours from Tuesday through Thursday, companies can let employees choose whether to take off Monday or Friday.
3. Compressed workdays.
For companies that absolutely must stay open throughout the week, the compressed workday might be the answer. In this model, employees all get to work at the same time, but rather than return after lunch, they work an extra hour and call it a day.
This eight a.m. to one p.m. schedule (or a schedule with comparable hours) has a few unique advantages. Not only do employees get every afternoon off, but they also feel free to dispense with the ceremony of office life. It’s the ultimate “work hard, play hard” schedule.
Stephan Aarstol took his business to a five-hour workday in 2016 and loved the results. His paddleboard company continues to grow and prosper, and he found that even his customer service agents enjoyed the same reduced hours. By eliminating unproductive afternoons and clearly communicating company expectations, the five-hour workweek helped Aarstol rethink productivity.
4. Do-it-yourself PTO.
Though less dramatic than the other alternative schedules here, freeform PTO policies are gaining popularity for good reason. People like knowing they can take longer vacations or drop out for a mental health day without worrying about their hours’ balance on the books.
Some businesses let employees keep the days they would get off for holidays and use those days off whenever they want. Others commit to unlimited PTO. However, as nice as unlimited PTO sounds, there may be a catch.
The Muse interviewed several managers and employees at companies with unlimited PTO. That digging found that, while most people like the policies, some workers discovered that their companies hid behind the “unlimited” language to offer less PTO than before.
As with most things, leaders must set the example. If the company offers unlimited PTO, its managers and executives must visibly take advantage of that policy to give employees permission to do the same. No worker will feel comfortable taking two weeks off if the boss hasn’t had a long weekend in five years.
The most important aspect of any alternative schedule is the agreement of both sides to adhere to the new rules. One department on a four-day workweek can’t effectively collaborate with another department that leaves at one p.m. every day. When everyone agrees to follow a smarter schedule, however, employees are happier and the company’s productivity does not suffer for the change.