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The days of nine to five, Monday to Friday work schedules are numbered. The pandemic ushered in a new era of worker expectations, and this shift isn’t going away with any vaccine.
A huge portion of the global workforce has spent the better part of nine months working from home, adjusting to a new reality, and building new routines. The door to this new way of working wasn’t just opened. It was pulled right off of its hinges.
A November 2020 study from JLL found that, for the first time ever, workers value work-life balance more than a high salary (72% vs. 69%). That same study found that 71% of workers expect more flexible schedules post-pandemic.
This isn’t a matter of employee entitlement and shouldn’t be viewed as a challenge businesses need to somehow overcome. It should be seen as an awakening to the needs of a new generation of workers. It’s an opportunity to build a workplace that values employee happiness as much as it does profit.
And to be clear, these two things aren’t mutually exclusive. There is no shortage of studies showing that employee happiness leads to greater productivity, retention, motivation, leadership, and more. Plus, the nine-to-five workday is a remnant of historical jobs and ways of working. It doesn’t map to when many of us are at our most creative, motivated, or productive.
Do the benefits of maintaining your status quo schedules and working arrangements outweigh the risks of possibly disengaging a huge part of your current and future employee base?
If you’ve come to the conclusion that change is necessary, here are three ways you can introduce schedule flexibility within your organization.
Related: How to Put a Fresh Spin on Your WFH Situation
1. Availability hours versus working hours
One of the main hiccups involved in increasing scheduling flexibility is ensuring that your employees are available when you need them. If there’s an issue that needs solving or an opportunity you can jump on, will your team be there to act?
And while meetings might be changing, they’re not going away. For that reason alone, you need employee schedules to overlap at least to some degree. If you’ve ever worked at a company with international offices, you know how hard it can be to find appropriate meeting times when people are working different hours.
Whether you’re working remotely or in the office, one way to increase scheduling flexibility without creating a new set of issues for your business is to set a defined period of availability hours during the week. These are periods during which all employees need to be available — for meetings, communication, or time-sensitive tasks.
These periods shouldn’t be eight hours long. Instead, pick a period of three to four hours at the start or near the end of your typical workday. This should give your team ample time to interact with and support one another, while still providing far greater schedule flexibility. People will be able to drop off or pick up their kids from school, work late at night to avoid distractions, or simply take breaks as needed throughout the day.
While it might mean a change from your typical nine to five, availability hours should be a simple adjustment for your company — an easy trade-off to potentially increase employee happiness and productivity.
Related: 10 Must-Have Productivity and Life Hacks for WFH
2. Weekend swap days
Is there a day in your week that is particularly chaotic? Maybe all of your kids’ extracurriculars line up and it’s nearly impossible to work regular hours or get anything done. Or maybe your partner has a weird schedule and everything falls on you?
One more question: Have you ever worked a weekend day just because you wanted distraction-free focus time?
Another way to introduce greater scheduling flexibility is by offering employees the opportunity to swap one working weekday with a Saturday or Sunday. This could see them working an adjusted week, like Sunday to Thursday, or splitting their week in two and taking Wednesdays off, for example.
This can be done as a one-off, allowing them to work a single weekend day when something comes up. But weekend swap days work much better when offered on a long term basis.
Give employees the option to work a weekend day for three- or six-month periods. This requires them to commit to a modified schedule upfront. The advantage there is it introduces stability week-to-week so the rest of your team gets familiar with their new schedule and won’t be guessing whether they’re in or out of the office day-to-day. And the employee gets to truly test whether the different schedule is a better fit for their lives.
Plus, by allowing certain roles — customer support being the biggie — to work weekends, you might even expand your service offering in the process.
3. Optional four-day work weeks
The movement behind four-day work weeks has been gaining steam for the better part of a decade. It has recently been thrust into the spotlight more widely as a result of Covid-19 but also because of several companies and even entire regions experimenting with this system. New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern notably cited four-day weeks as a possible means of rebuilding the economy after the pandemic comes to a close.
In the same November 2020 TLL study cited above, 73% of professionals said they were in favor of a four-day workweek. And while you might be concerned about the effect of reduced hours on output, Microsoft Japan saw a 40% increase in productivity after introducing a shortened workweek.
While it’s clear many employees would love the added schedule flexibility, the four-day week represents the greatest logistical challenge for your company. There’s plenty to consider:
Will you set the specific third day off each week or let each employee decide?
Will you allow all employees to work four days, or will only some employees qualify?
Will you offer the same salary and benefits to employees working four days, or will these be adjusted?
Will people still work 40 hours during those four days, or will they work reduced hours?
Will you set a one-size fit all policy or allow managers decisional power on this?
Will you need to review any and all variable compensation plans?
Will this impact any funding programs your company may benefit from?
A four-day workweek does require a little more forethought and management, but you don’t have to jump in with both feet.
At Unito, we offer optional four-day weeks to employees who have been with the company for at least one year. We made this decision because we feel it’s essential for employees working four days to be very comfortable in their role and very capable of managing their schedule and responsibilities — which we felt was more realistic after working in the position for a year.
The decision to make the four-day week optional was a reflection of the fact that not all employees want this degree of schedule flexibility. This is especially true if your shortened week comes with a proportional decrease in salary — if people work 80% of the hours, they receive 80% of their salary. This may be a deterrent to some, though as mentioned above, work-life balance is more important than salary for a growing number of people.
This approach to the four-day week has allowed us to retain valued employees who really desired this type of arrangement, while most employees continued with their regular routines.
You have to stretch to get flexible
Changing your routine or your approach isn’t easy, but things truly worth doing rarely are. The impact a four-day week or flexible hours can have on your employees — and on your bottom line — in the long term is worth a bit of short term discomfort.
Covid-19 might have sped up the process a bit but these changes were always inevitable. Will your business be one of the first to adapt?
Related: WTF Do I Eat While I WFH?