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Flexible Work Arrangements: the Ins and Outs

Companies across the US and around the world have been seeking for years to entice top talent to join their ranks as well as engage and empower their existing employees in order to build the best possible workforce they can. As technology advances, the variety of shapes these enticements take differ as much as employee personalities do, leading human resource groups to offer a multitude of benefits not seen before.

Between flex time (which has become almost a buzz word in the last decade), telecommuting, job or desk sharing, and allowing employees to set their schedules, flexible work options can be attractive to both you and your employees.

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Flexibility – Working to Live Versus Living to Work

Employees are increasingly interested in better work-life balance, whether that’s to attend their children’s kickboxing classes or have a leisurely morning workout with a post rush hour commute. Flexibility to choose which block of eight hours a day they work can give your workforce a whole new lease on the day’s productivity. Some people have their best hours of efficiency in the early morning, and for others, the early evening is their sweet spot. By catering to more flexible scheduling, you’re recognizing that your workforce isn’t a carbon copy, and in providing the opportunity to manage their day a little more on their terms, you’re empowering them to know what suits their work best.

Employees with more control over their daily schedules have been shown to be more focused, timely with their work, and the quality of their work improves. This increases their sense of professional purpose, which contributes to greater job satisfaction, which funnels into their focus and productivity for a positive feedback loop.

Your business also gains a longer workday in which your customers can enjoy greater access to customer service without much impact to your bottom line. Eliminating worries of overtime pay while still covering a wider range of hours is an attractive incentive to being flexible when one worker prefers a 7:00-4:00 schedule and another prefers a 10:00-7:00 workday. You get 12 hours of coverage without risking burning out valuable employee resources.

Job sharing is another way in which some employees who prefer to work part-time can cover the duties of a position while still maintaining their schedule on their terms. This can be ideal for students whose classes take up one half of the day, leaving the other half available for work hours. This can give them a chance to gain experience with your company while you get the benefit of two minds bringing innovative ideas and problem solving for the same position.

If environmental impact is something you are conscious of, allowing your employees to telecommute can save in a multitude of environmentally friendly ways. Xerox’s Virtual Office Program allowed over 8,000 employees to work from home, and in 2015 they estimated savings of nearly 5 million gallons of fuel, preventing 43,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, and eliminating 99 million miles driven between work and home. That’s a single company. Can you imagine the impact if a greater number of companies enacted policies supporting flexible arrangements? The results could be staggering.

With the good comes the bad

Of course, every upside has a downside. There’s a level of technological investment in telecommuting employees that a lot of companies simply can’t afford. Smaller employers may also not have the management capacity to oversee a multitude of varying schedules. Juggling the hours of a few employees may not be so daunting, but for a larger company with hundreds if not thousands of workers, these flexible schedules could create more headaches and lost productivity than they’re worth.

In addition, the lack of face time with employees could hurt communication between employees and supervisors. Immersion in a busy office helps your staff keep their fingers on the pulse of the company and its efforts, and the same isolation that helps eliminate distraction for telecommuting employees can also hurt the team member mentality. This can be avoided by requiring a certain number of hours to be worked in-house, but even scheduling meetings can be nightmarish if all the innovative minds have to be tracked down. Instead of telecommuting employees, perhaps flex time or compressed workweeks work better.

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Those water cooler conversations that bring new insights to the work your employees are doing also suffer. Nothing beats a face-to-face conversation when the creative juices are flowing, and if a chunk of your workforce is missing from your hallways and offices, those conversations simply don’t take place as frequently. Perhaps video conferencing or advancements in virtual and augmented reality in the workplace can alleviate some of this, but again, those conferences have to be scheduled with a far-flung workforce. And as any creative person can tell you, you can’t always schedule inspiration.

Then there’s the matter of trustworthy employees. The last thing you want is to have an employee parked on their couch in the midst of a Netflix marathon when they’re supposed to be concentrating on a project critical for your customers. Without direct managerial oversight, how can you be sure you’re getting their best work? A certain level of scrutiny of a flex worker’s productivity must be undertaken to measure their performance and reassure yourself they’re doing what they say they are. This can make you feel like a babysitter and them feel as though they’re being micro-managed. That good, productive, happy feeling you were trying to foster by having a flex work policy? It can quickly dissipate and cause hard feelings, which leads to higher turnover and larger recruitment costs, not to mention the portion of your management teams’ day spent wrangling proof of productivity.

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The modern workforce is changing in ways we have yet to see or predict. Keeping employees happy in the type of environment in which they thrive is a vital key to successful and innovative businesses and building solid relationships among your workers and with your clients. Recognizing all the ways in which your employees can thrive with more flexible work arrangements shows you have their ideal working conditions in mind. Your people are your strongest asset, and giving them outside-the-office opportunities is one way to empower them to be happier, more engaged, more satisfied professionals.

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