When entrepreneur Patrick Sweeney launched his fourth company, he knew he didn’t want to be a stickler about employee office hours. Having seen the benefits a flexible work environment could offer, he gave people the freedom to set their own schedules. But running an office where people were no longer “on the clock” wasn’t easy at first.
“This flexible schedule was initially really tough on me as a CEO who needs to see the team,” says Sweeney, president and CEO of the social media company dwinQ.
Sweeney’s dilemma isn’t uncommon for employers. In today’s competitive job market, job seekers place a high value on companies who provide some form of flexibility. Offering flexible work hours has become a popular and low-cost way for companies to establish themselves as employers of choice.
For starters, letting employees create their own work schedules promotes a better work-life balance. When people can attend their child’s Little League game or kickboxing class, and still finish their work, they’ll feel more fulfilled in their personal and professional lives. Plus, when people are able to work when they’re most productive, they’re likely to produce higher quality work. The result is a happier work force of employees who don’t feel as burned out or frustrated. Furthermore, companies that offer flexible schedules will enjoy more employee loyalty, as employees will be reluctant to give up valued flexibility to take another job, says Rod Hughes, vice president at the PR agency, Kimball Communications. This is known as “golden chains.”
Policies such as flextime, space sharing and telecommunicating can also save companies time and money by reducing demand for office space, facilities and resources — for example, employees work from home and use their own computers. Companies with workers on flexible schedules can also handle more business at off hours, decreasing employee overtime and allowing them to respond faster to customer needs.
Despite all the benefits, and while most businesses would love to be flexible with their employees, there are drawbacks to flex schedules.
Without face-to-face interaction and set hours, organizations run the risk of communication breakdown. Employees at companies with flexible work hours may have trouble getting in touch with colleagues, making it harder to coordinate projects, meetings or phone calls. Leaders may also find it difficult to supervise employees working at different times and locations. “The more employees you have, the more you have to keep track of varied schedules,” Hughes says. “It can become a management headache.”
This leads to another problem — accountability. Because flexible scheduling is based on trust, less motivated employees could use the lax, unsupervised environment as an opportunity to work on their golf game instead of a customer proposal. It’s much harder to hold people accountable when they aren’t in the office every day. And without daily face time, business leaders may struggle to maintain relationships and build a culture where people feel like part of the team.
Finally, flexible scheduling policies are not for every company, or every employee. Some organizations will experience push back from employees who feel more productive working in a typical office setting with traditional office hours. Companies should consider all of these factors when considering flexible scheduling for employees.