Flexible Work Arrangements Go Far Beyond ‘WFH’

by in Best Practices, Trends

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.

Flexible work arrangement work from home 9/80 plan

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?

Finding the Right Workweek and the Right Flexible Work Program

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.

The 996

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.

PROS CONS
  • Ample opportunity to get things done
  • Overtime pay potential
  • Increased fatigue can reduce long-term productivity
  • Higher rates of employee turnover
  • Violates many labor laws
  • Employees may revolt

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.

PROS CONS
  • A full day off each workweek
  • Less time spent in traffic
  • Studies show increased productivity
  • Longer days
  • May be difficult to arrange matching childcare
  • Scheduling challenge for service industries

The 9/80

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.

PROS CONS
  • An extra day off every two weeks
  • Moderate adjustment to daily schedule
  • Marketable benefit for recruiting
  • Easy to maintain standard operating hours
  • Shortened mornings/evenings to compensate
  • Extended hours may not be beneficial for all industries
  • May be difficult to arrange matching childcare

The telecommute

And then there’s the tried-and-true flexible work arrangement of telecommuting. While it has less to do with the actual number of hours worked 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. A day or two of remote work each week can go a long way toward employee happiness and retention.

PROS CONS
  • Unlimited flexibility in how it’s deployed
  • Offset commutes reduce time traffic
  • Marketable benefit for recruiting
  • Doesn’t require adjustments to business hours
  • Employees may find it difficult to work out of the office
  • May not be suitable for many industries
  • Communication challenge if not well equipped

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.

Video conferencing

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. 

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Enterprise chat

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.

Project management

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.