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Why Introducing Flexibility May Be Your Smartest Business Move

Businessman_working_from_homeThink about your ideal job. Does it involve getting to work at the crack of dawn, barely having time to grab lunch, and getting home after dark—even in the summer? Of course not. The ideal job allows time for family and friends, as well as a good pay check and a challenging work environment.

Bosses want an ideal employee. They may think that is someone who comes early and stays late and takes no breaks, but that’s a recipe for disaster. An employee like that will burn out quickly. So, while you may think someone who does nothing but work is ideal, the reality is a well-balanced employee will be productive for a long time to come.

How do you get that well-balanced employee?

You give them a chance for balance. You set the environment that will help them gain balance in their lives.

Yes, you can develop this type of well-balanced employee through offering flexible schedules and telecommuting.

What is a flexible schedule?

Traditionally, people show up to work at the same time, punch a clock and work designated hours. In today’s knowledge economy that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense any more. Sure, if you’re running a factory or a grocery store, you need people on schedules because you can’t open your doors if you don’t have someone to run the equipment or man the cash registers.

But if you have knowledge workers—creative people, or people who work with a computer, these strict schedules aren’t necessary. Does it really matter if your marketing manager arrives at 8:00 or 9:00? Of course not. Does it matter if she takes two hours off in the middle of the day?

The question you need to ask yourself is, is she doing her job well? When the answer to that question is yes, you let her work what works best for her. Coming in late and leaving late? Great. Coming in early and leaving early? Also great. Coming in early, taking 3 hours off in the middle of the day and then coming back? Also great. The key thing is that the work gets done and done well.

Naturally, there are times when people need to work together. One way to do this is to have core business hours. Everyone must be in the office from 10:00 to 2:00, for instance, but other than that, people can come and go as they please. Or Tuesdays are a 9:00 to 5:00 day in the office. Whatever works best for your business and your department. It doesn’t have to be the same for every department.

Employees love this type of schedule. It allows the early birds to work when they are at their best, and it allows the night owls to do the same. So, why doesn’t every manager embrace this? Well, because managing people on flexible schedules is harder than managing people on a fixed schedule.

Lots of managers, whether inadvertently or on purpose, manage people by the number of hours they work rather than what they do. It’s really easy to see that Jane is always at her desk at 8:00, never takes more than 30 minutes for lunch, and leaves promptly at 5:30. She must be a great employee! Maybe, maybe not. Managing people who are responsible for setting their own schedules means that you must judge their actual work product. This is how everyone should manage, but lots of people substitute face time for work quality. You have to pay more attention, give more feedback, and be more aware of what is going on. It’s hard. Hard, but worth it.

What about telecommuting?

Telecommuting is extremely popular, and in today’s well connected world, lots of jobs don’t need to be done in an office. They don’t even need to be done in the same town or the same country. (Although, for legal and tax purposes, you may want to keep all employees in the same country.)

People who telecommute are given something that people in the office don’t get—extra time during the day. They don’t have to commute. They don’t have to take a day of vacation when a repair person is coming to fix the washing machine, or the painter is coming to redo a bedroom. They also don’t have to spend weekends catching up on the laundry. It’s easy enough to throw in batch of clothes now and then, without interrupting your work flow.

All of these things make an employees’ life so much easier. That balance? When you can spend your weekends doing something other than laundry, and use your vacation to go to the South of France rather than waiting for the washing machine repairman to come, your life is balanced.

Telecommuting is not for everyone and not for every position. Some positions need a high level of interaction between coworkers. Some people don’t function well working alone. Some people don’t have a home environment that they can dedicate to work. But, just because it doesn’t work for some people and some jobs, doesn’t mean it doesn’t work for everyone.

Like flexible schedules, managing the telecommuter can be more difficult than managing the person who sits next to you. You have to trust them, or you install special software on their computers, or what have you, but you still need to make your judgments based on the work product at the end of the day.

One of the best ways to handle a telecommuting situation is to have people part time telecommute—three days in the the office, two at home, for instance. This gives a lot of the benefits of telecommuting and a lot of the benefits from working closely together as a team.

If you allow your employees the flexibility they crave, they will be more productive at work, and you’ll end up with a better product. Your employees will be happier and balanced. It requires a major mindset switch—it’s not just about time at their desks, it’s about performance. But, despite the challenges, this can make a wonderful difference to your business.

About the author:

Suzanne_Lucas_Evil HR Lady_author_mYngle_blogSuzanne Lucas spent 10 years in corporate human resources, where she hired, fired, managed the numbers, and double-checked with the lawyers. Now she writes about how to managers can manage their employees and employees can manage their managers, along with tips for making your career great. You can reach her at [email protected] or follow her blog, Evil HR Lady.

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2 Comments on “Why Introducing Flexibility May Be Your Smartest Business Move”

  1. M Cassidy Says:

    The only thing that I would see as an issue is the perception by other team members who are hourly and may not be afforded the flexibility – That’s something I’m experiencing at my company and not quite sure how to relay that so folks don’t feel like there is unequal treatment. I’d be interested in hearing suggestions and Ideas for that. Thank you!

  2. Dina Says:

    what about the notion of salary being based on a 40 hour week? also: how does employer make certain that they are not being taken advantage of?