Benefits and Compensation

Pros and Cons of Allowing Employees to Set Their Own Schedules

Now that companies around the world have had ample experience with remote work, is it time to extend workplace flexibility to the temporal sphere and allow employees to set their own hours?

The Pandemic Makes Remote Work a Reality

The COVID-19 pandemic has had at least one important silver lining, at least from the perspective of office workers: a forced shift to widespread remote work. For years, remote work seemed like a distant dream for many office workers who loathed their morning routines and commutes and felt they could easily do their jobs from the comfort of their own homes or even a nice beach somewhere.

Now, that dream is a reality for millions, not necessarily because their companies and their managers decided advances in technology and workers’ responsibility made remote work a no-brainer but because the pandemic forced their hand.

The broad exposure and preference for remote work combined with a tight labor market has meant that few companies have the leverage to insist on employees returning to the office. Amazon was a notable exception until it, too, changed course in late 2021 and scrapped its planned mandatory return to the office.

But what about allowing employees to set their own hours, as well as work remotely? If employees can do just fine without being in the same place as their managers and coworkers, can they get by just as well if they aren’t necessarily logged in at the same time as those colleagues? Such a change is not directly required in order to cope with the challenges of the pandemic, nor is it necessarily the case that it would be as minimally disruptive as remote work.

And yet, many companies have experimented with this flexible scheduling arrangement, and we reached out to those experimenters, as well as industry experts in general, to get a better idea of the pros and cons of allowing employees to set their own hours.

An Attractive Employee Perk

The COVID-19 pandemic has created tremendous change in company hiring. The widespread shift to remote work has meant greater willingness to allow remote work, thereby opening virtually the entire world as a labor pool. At the same time, widespread early retirement from those either worried about contracting the virus or fed up with COVID restrictions has been a major contributor to labor shortages, meaning employers are competing aggressively for available talent. Flexible work hours may be a natural tool to both accommodate a geographically dispersed workforce and attract more applicants.

“Indeed, flexible working hours are becoming the golden standard in many companies,” says Monika Dmochowska, talent acquisition specialist at Tidio. “Trusting the employees to choose when they work, hiring people from different time zones, and minimizing micromanagement improves any company’s employer brand and helps to be perceived as a much more attractive workplace.”

Leveraging Employees’ Natural Clocks

There’s a lot of research behind the idea that humans are individually programmed to thrive at certain parts of the day. Some are early birds, while others are night owls; some excel at buckling down at their desk for a solid 8 or 10 hours of uninterrupted work, and others fare better with regular breaks.

“A workplace should provide comfort, not isolation,” argues Jake Smith, owner and managing director at Absolute Reg, LTD. “It should allow employees to work during their best hours in a place where they can maximize their productivity.”

Flexible workspaces offer the biggest advantage of a “set your own hours” policy, continues Smith. “People have individual uniqueness in terms of their work environment. While many find it relaxing to be alone in a room at midnight to complete their work projects, others are more energized when they work in the daytime and be in one with nature.” In addition, some employees need silence to have total concentration, while others may love listening to music while doing their jobs.

Smith is a proponent of the idea that workers are at their best when allowed to work with, not against, their own internal clocks. “The uniqueness in workplace preferences and settings should be one of the factors that companies should consider to implement policies that promote flexible work hours,” he says. “It is worth trying because it can increase employee productivity and improve work performance.”

Impacts on Communication and Collaboration

The 800-pound gorilla in the room when it comes to flexible work hours is the impact on teamwork and other collaboration. If an employee needs to work closely with a colleague who’s on a completely different schedule, flexible scheduling can be a major hinderance.

“The biggest con of choosing your own hours comes with an inability to communicate effectively,” says Josh Wright, CEO of CellPhoneDeal. “Remote work thrives with good communication, but as soon as you throw someone in the mix who can’t communicate well in this environment, it starts to struggle,” he continues. “Add in flexible hours where employees are working at different times, and you’ll have an extremely disorganized workplace. Before you implement a model where employees can choose their own hours, you need to make sure they understand how to communicate effectively in a remote workplace.”

One solution many companies, including Dmochowska’s, use to address this concern is to require employees to be available for meetings scheduled within their teams regardless of their work schedule. This can help alleviate the problem, but it doesn’t address the issue of colleagues’ needing ad hoc collaboration.

Difficulty Managing Staff

Just as with remote work, some companies are going to be understandably wary of allowing flexible scheduling because they aren’t sure how it might impact productivity and accountability, in addition to the obvious impact on face time with managers. Some managers may find it difficult to manage staff when their hours vary from week to week, says Ryan Fyfe, COO of Workpuls, Inc. Fyfe adds that in addition to the general challenge of working with varied schedules, there’s an accountability aspect to remote work that can be challenging for some organizations. “Employees may take advantage of the policy and work fewer hours than they should.”

Certainly, not all employees are mature enough to be entrusted with the ability to set their own hours. Companies implementing flexible work policies need to ensure they hire those who demonstrate the requisite responsibility and accountability or limit the flexibility to those particular workers.

Remote work has been a dream come true for millions of American workers. The success of that widespread transformation in workplace norms combined with the realities of work/life balance and a workforce spread over many time zones has accelerated an interest in flexible scheduling, as well. As with any major change, there are important pros and cons to consider for any company looking to grant staff greater temporal autonomy.

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.

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