The “future of work” has been on the minds of workers and HR professionals alike for decades. While specific ideas about the workplace of tomorrow have morphed and changed, the underlying theme has remained the same: redefining workplace flexibility and productivity.
The pandemic has accelerated this evolution. As children play in the backgrounds of Zoom meetings and dogs bark on conference calls, employers now need to consider the “whole human” when structuring their working arrangements.
To grapple with these new changes, employers should understand different options for providing better workplace flexibility to their team. Each workplace is different, so there’s no single approach that will work for every team. In this blog, we’ll touch on some common examples of flexibility, why flexibility is going to be a central theme in the future of work, and how to make your workplace more flexible.
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Examples of Flexibility in the Workplace
What is flextime?
Flextime is allowing an employee to have more freedom over which specific hours in the day to be on the clock. Rather than 9-to-5, the expectation is that 40 hours must still be worked each week, but the employee may have more discretion. (Lunch breaks may be beholden to a particular range of hours depending on state law.)
One approach to flextime that is gaining traction is the concept of “core hours”. The idea behind core hours requires that the whole staff be working and reachable at the same time for a few hours, such as 10am-12pm. This allows for effective collaboration and inspires attentiveness to work obligations, while still affording more flexibility for both personal preferences and familial obligations such as childcare.
Naturally, this demands a more active and engaged management style, especially one that incorporates modern employee development and performance management principles.
What is telecommuting?
Telecommuting, also referred to as a remote working arrangement, is the use of technology to attend or report to work.
As many of us have been telecommuting throughout the pandemic, this should be pretty familiar by now. Work output is generated from home or a location of the workers’ choice and company’s approval. Meetings are attended via video conferencing or phone, and collaboration is done via shared docs and project management software.
It’s important to note the potential personal income tax implications of telecommuting. If an employee works from home, most commonly they are taxed as an employee in the state they live, which may not be the same state where the company is based. Having remote employees out-of-state may also create a sales or use tax nexus there, or incur additional state-specific corporate taxation. Always check with your tax advisor if you have questions about multi-state compliance.
Related article: The Competitive Advantages of PEOs for Remote Teams
What is a compressed work week?
A compressed workweek is one where a full-time employee maintains a base number of hours worked, but over fewer days per week. For example, a full-time employee may work four 10-hour days instead of five 8-hour days.
Employers of non-exempt employees are advised to keep in mind state overtime regulations that might incur overtime obligations based on a threshold of hours worked per day, in addition to per week.
For example, a non-exempt employee in California may be entitled to overtime compensation even working less than 40 hours in a week, if they work more than 8 hours on any single day. The premium rate of pay further increases in California for hours worked in excess of 12 in a day.
Benefits of Workplace Flexibility
Support Working Parents
While parenting is a full-time job with no PTO, employers can take steps to ease the burden of working parents through selective flexibility. For example, as in-person schooling resumes or for parents who engage daytime childcare services, consider extending to parents the option to log off while they drop-off or pick-up their kids.
Naturally, it isn’t just playing chauffeur that pulls a working parent away from their workstation. Family mealtime, homework help, and bedtime stories might all cut across the workday.
This is one instance where the “core hours” model might prove successful. Parents can be online available during a predictable period of minimal distractions, and put in the rest of their hours at a time that is least disruptive to family life.
However you choose to offer working parents flexibility, don’t forget to follow legal obligations and other best practices with respect to parental leave.
Foster Work/Life Balance
Work/life balance promotes productivity. Employees who believe they have healthy work/life balance are said to work 21% harder than their burnt-out contemporaries among Fortune 500 companies.
Oftentimes, workplace flexibility bolsters engagement with benefits and perks, and leads to overall improvement in employees’ quality of life. Does your company offer gym reimbursement, bikeshare subscriptions, or other employee wellness perks? Flexible working arrangements, compressed workweeks, and results-only or results-oriented working environments all afford employees the time to take advantage of these lifestyle-focused ancillary benefit offerings.
It’s not enough to subsidize healthy habits amongst your workforce. Carve out the time for them to live it!
Improve Employee Retention
Flexible working arrangements may also improve employee retention, which has a direct impact on your company’s bottom line.
Gallup estimates that the cost of employee turnover is anywhere from 50% to 200% of their annual salary, depending on the degree of on-the-job training required and availability of specialized talent among job seekers.
A 2020 study showed that non-monetary perks and benefits such as workflex policies, family leave, or lifestyle fringe benefits have the greatest impact on employee retention because, beyond mere profit, it shows that the organization “keeps in mind the individual needs of each worker beyond their job.” This, in turn, generates higher levels of engagement and is a recipe for mitigating costs associated with attrition.
How to Make Your Workplace More Flexible
Encourage employees to be conscious of how their productivity, focus, and energy level changes throughout the day. Different people have different natural states based on time of day, weather, personal obligations, and numerous other factors.
By practicing mindfulness, employees can learn how to manage their own workflow in a manner that optimizes output and maximizes happiness. Happiness, in turn, promotes productivity.
Besides encouraging ad-hoc breaks throughout the day, consider whether your managers are passively (or actively) infringing on workers’ lunch breaks. A recent study showed that 38% of workers feel discouraged from taking lunch. (This could not only be unhealthy, but unlawful.)
Longer lunch breaks allow employees to get some sun or exercise which might improve mood, and allow them the time to prepare a healthier meal at home. Managers should not only encourage meal breaks, but also lead by example by taking advantage of meal breaks themselves in order to reinforce a company culture that values work/life balance.
An entire book could be written on how to host effective meetings. But before instituting a sweeping revamp of how your organization conducts meetings, you can effect immediate, actionable change with scheduling.
Have you ever had just a few meetings scattered throughout the day? Days like this dictate how and when you engage in deep work, and productivity can be undermined when you realize it’s time for a meeting in the middle of your flow.
Maybe you want to encourage establishing some days as meeting days while others are reserved for deep work. While a heavy meeting day can be draining, it might have a net positive impact on overall productivity. You might even consider implementing overarching strategies that reduce meeting time across the board.
Flexibility Is the Future
COVID-19 hit the fast-forward button with respect to our relationship to work. In the 2010s we talked about work/life balance. The 2020s will redefine that balance.
Flexibility is the future, and it’s intrinsically tied to how organizations are structured. Of course, not all roles afford the opportunity for some of the more sweeping and progressive changes touted by HR thought leaders.
Even if the roles at your company don’t afford all the opportunities for flexible work arrangements, you can still encourage your employees to come forward with suggestions on slight modifications to their working arrangement that might make them more productive. This could be a tweak in scheduling, the occasional work-from-home day, or days that are split between home and office with a midday break for lunch and commuting.
Looking for other ideas on how to offer a better place to work? Check out the benefits and perks you can access through a Professional Employer Organization like Justworks.
This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, legal or tax advice. If you have any legal or tax questions regarding this content or related issues, then you should consult with your professional legal or tax advisor.