Original Article By Roy Maurer SHRM July 28, 2020
Of all the significant workplace components being transformed by the coronavirus pandemic, the traditional 9-to-5 workday will likely experience the most change.
For many employees, flexible schedules have become common during the health crisis, and new research from global staffing firm Robert Half suggests workers are happy about it. Nearly 80 percent of the 1,000 office workers surveyed said their job allows for the ability to break up their day into blocks of business and personal time—referred to as “windowed work”—while working from home. Employees can self-schedule fluid workdays (and nights) around child care and schooling, online meetings, personal errands, and focused time on the job. Of those respondents, 73 percent reported that the arrangement has led to greater productivity.
“Any time the stress of how to manage the responsibilities in our lives can be reduced by giving more control over when and where work gets done, that creates an environment for people to shine,” said Carol Cochran, vice president of people and culture at FlexJobs, a Boulder, Colo.-based jobs site for flexible and remote work. “Work is a product—it’s not a place for these particular workers. If somebody is delivering timely and quality results, does it matter when or where they are doing it?”
The survey showed that among those who have the option to follow a flexible schedule:
Respondents who were dissatisfied with windowed work could be challenged by the difficulty in balancing work and personal time, said Mark Bolino, a professor of management at the University of Oklahoma’s Price College of Business in Oklahoma City. “Most people enjoy having discretion and autonomy in their work, but I do worry about the tendency to overwork, which may encroach upon the time that could be spent with family or leisure activities,” he said. “The remote working arrangement can be a trap sometimes because work activities tend to be rewarded more immediately than investments in family and leisure, reinforcing the urge to continue working.”
Paul McDonald, senior executive director at Robert Half, said that while the benefits of flexible schedules are clear, employees “must make a concerted effort to succeed. Communication is key to ensuring everyone is aligned on priorities, projects stay on track, and colleagues feel equally motivated and accountable to achieve business goals.” He added that team coverage should be coordinated, and individual schedules shared. “Make sure your colleagues know when you’re available to meet and collaborate—and when you’ll be less accessible or offline,” he said.
Cochran said both managers and workers must be clear about expectations. “Determine if there are core hours that are needed for collaboration or for the work in general,” she said. “Lean into technology like Slack to let people know when you’re away from your desk or not able to respond. One of the foundations of successful remote working is proactive communication and transparency both ways.”
Bolino added that employers that are considering more remote work arrangements postpandemic should understand that schedules should be equitable, but not necessarily equal, and that a one-size-fits-all approach may be outdated. “Scheduling should work for all,” he said. “I wouldn’t discourage remote working, but I wouldn’t mandate that people work from home or set their own schedules if it’s not the best fit. There’s also a potential for resentment if certain people have arrangements that are seen as more favorable than others. Be mindful that you are offering the same opportunity to everyone who is capable of setting their own schedule.”
Bolino recommended managers also be on the lookout for people overworking at home. “Managers should ask their employees to be mindful of keeping boundaries between their work and home lives. At some point, people will burn out, and that’s not healthy or sustainable,” he said. “On the other hand, there’s always a danger of underworking, too. Accountability that the work is actually getting done must be assured. For some people, being at home is a distraction—either there’s a lot going on at home or they just have a harder time focusing.”
Productivity and time management training could help, Cochran said. “Remote working requires self-discipline and self-direction. When someone is new to working that way, especially when it isn’t expected or isn’t by choice, helping them to create some clear structure in their schedule can be effective. You do not want a complete free-for-all, but, ultimately, you want to start from a place of trust with your remote workers. Then if the work is not happening, you address it.”