Have you heard the term “windowed work”? It actually refers to a potentially familiar concept: breaking down the workday into discrete windows of time for different activities.
Windowed work has been in the news recently relating to employees working from home while juggling both work and personal obligations, sometimes simultaneously. It’s easy to see how this can create a problem. Doing too many things at once prevents you from giving those activities your full attention. Windowed work can be a solution to the problem.
In today’s environment, where child care is in short supply and a lot of employees are working from home while taking care of the kids (and sometimes even home-schooling, too), many are struggling with how to get their work done and still manage their other obligations. Many organizations have recognized this conundrum and opted to put more flexibility into the workday.
Instead of requiring employees to be online during specific times (most typically the former workday schedule), they’re instead allowing windowed work, or employees working hours that make the most sense for their schedule. For many, this means working for a few hours in between other daytime obligations and then again in the evening after most home and personal responsibilities have been handled.
Employees in this situation still put conference calls and the like into their schedule and often respond to e-mails and messages as needed while working on other things. But they take time during the more typical work hours to complete personal tasks, like child care and other home errands or responsibilities, that are best handled earlier in the day.
This type of windowed work can drastically reduce stress levels for those facing competing obligations during the standard workday. Overstressed and burnt-out employees are not generally the most productive, so coming up with a solution that allows them to get their work done without feeling obligated to do too many things at once is for everyone’s benefit. (They’ll often end up working later anyway but then resent it instead of viewing it as a benefit of flexible work hours.)
For this to work, the organization’s culture must support it. If leadership expects or demands answers within a very short period of time, that may not work well with a windowed work setup. But if it’s known that employees will respond in a reasonable time frame during their work hours, then it can be implemented fairly easily.
Employees and their supervisors need to communicate to ensure they’re on the same page in terms of priorities, deadlines, and expectations regarding availability. Management has to show trust in employees to get the work done. Team members need to communicate with one another about availability and try to schedule around it whenever possible.
Flexibility is key for everyone. Some organizations utilize shared calendars for this reason, and employees block out times they’re not available. It may also include new ways of working, such as recording team calls for employees to be able to listen to at a later time.
Has your organization increased flexibility for remote employee work hours? What has your experience been?
Bridget Miller is a business consultant with a specialized MBA in International Economics and Management, which provides a unique perspective on business challenges. She’s been working in the corporate world for over 15 years, with experience across multiple diverse departments including HR, sales, marketing, IT, commercial development, and training.