The coincidence that I’m exploring and writing about this topic from my home office over a weekend — completely by choice — is not lost on me. Flexible work arrangements are policies and procedures designed to add flexibility to employee schedules without negatively impacting the quantity or quality of the work being performed. Across generations and geographies, there’s an unrestrained desire to work from wherever, whenever and on whatever device and to put a new focus on work-life balance — a focus so strong that a third of workers would choose a work-from-home option over a pay raise.
And yet, we haven’t come anywhere close to consensus on what the best work models are to enable and achieve that ideal blend of flexibility, productivity and job satisfaction. What flexible work arrangement options are commonly available? Which ones are effective, and how do we make them so? Is there even a best, one-size-fits-all program?
Types of Work Arrangements [Pros + Cons]
When it comes to evaluating the efficacy of various flexible work programs, much hinges on how we define the workweek. That definition can vary wildly based on who you ask, making the workweek highly flexible in and of itself.
On one extreme of the spectrum sit allies of the venerable Alibaba cofounder Jack Ma, who has historically supported the concept of a “996” schedule where employees work a strict 12 hours per day (9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.), six days a week. It’s plenty of time to manufacture productivity and appease the diehard workaholics, but most would probably find the flexibility a bit lacking.
The compressed workweek
On the other side sit proponents of experiments like one conducted by Microsoft in Japan, which found that a flat four-day workweek (which many of us know as “Summer Fridays” or a compressed workweek) boosted employee productivity by a whopping 40%. So perhaps hours logged at the office isn’t the right variable to juice output and judge success of flexible work models.
Somewhere in the middle, for companies looking to maintain the 40-hour workweek construct, sits the “9/80” work schedule (sometimes known as flextime), under which employees put in eight 9-hour days and one 8-hour day within a 2-week span, affording them one weekday completely off. Raytheon embraces this flexible work program and others, though it comes with its own set of pros and cons.
And then there’s the tried-and-true flexible work arrangement of telecommuting. While it has less to do with the actual number of work hours or spent online in a given day or workweek, it does (by definition) eliminate commuting time both to and from the office, freeing employees up to invest more time with their families or doing other things that are important to them personally. Telecommuting doesn’t have to happen every single day to make a noticeable impact as a program, either. That’s why some companies are turning to telecommuting or even job sharing: a day or two of remote work each week can go a long way toward employee happiness and retention.
Tools that Make Flexible Work Arrangements … Work
No matter which flexible work program a company chooses, technology and mobility will be at the core of making it a reality. Thankfully, the right types of applications and devices are already ingrained at most enterprises to carry us forward.
Whether your company is built of remote employees, is globally dispersed or just emphasizes a healthy work-life balance, video conferencing has the unique ability to bring the human connection of face-to-face communication to every interaction.
In case you haven’t experienced this for yourself, emails increasingly go ignored and often won’t make the cut for teams trying to stay in touch as part of flexible work programs. Enterprise chat makes those communications more immediate and informal — Microsoft Teams and Slack are both great options that are also exceedingly mobile friendly.
With employees in and out of the (sometimes virtual) office under flexible work arrangements, it becomes vital to keep all stakeholders and workflows aligned. Using tools like Trello, Asana, Jira or Workfront makes projects, documents, responsibilities and next steps clear and constantly available for all team members, keeping work moving forward at all times.
The Outlook for Flexible Work
Every company will gravitate toward a different flexible work model based on its business priorities, size, habits and corporate culture. There’s a high likelihood that it ends up being some blend of all the programs and tools we’ve discussed, informed by employee preferences and changing tides in modern workplace trends. Whatever the ultimate decision, success in implementing flexible work arrangements comes down to being methodical and committed to setting policies and expectations for the program while experimenting enough to find that happy balance between flexibility and productivity for your work and life.
Flexible Work Arrangement FAQs
Who benefits from flexible work arrangements?
In theory, everyone (though it depends on the priorities of the employer and employee). Employees often prefer flexible arrangements that give them more leeway to organize their own schedule, while employers enjoy the improvements in productivity that come with happier employees.
What does a flexible work schedule mean?
Generally, a flexible work schedule means a schedule that’s different from a traditional 40-hour, 9-5 work schedule. This can be a mixture of at-home remote and on-site work, a 4-day work week, or simply giving the employee more flexibility in choosing which hours they work.
Are flexible working arrangements permanent?
This is usually stipulated in the employee’s contract: once the employer and employee agree to a flexible working arrangement, they will determine a period of time for which the new work schedule applies.
Can an employer refuse flexible work arrangements?
Yes, an employer can refuse your request for a flexible work arrangement, but once agreed to in a contract, the employer must abide by the provisions of your work arrangement.