Before COVID-19 ushered in a new era of remote and hybrid work, flexible schedules were already popular amongst employees, with 67% of small businesses offering flexible work arrangements in 2018. And while remote work and flexible schedules are not synonymous— the U.S. Department of Labor recognizes flexible work schedules as "an alternative to the traditional, 9-to-5, 40 hour work week.”— as the modern workforce becomes increasingly more remote, flexible schedules imply a degree of remote work.
As we move toward a post-COVID-19 world, it comes as no surprise that flexible schedules are in as high of demand as remote work policies for top talent across industries. With 1 in 2 people saying that they won’t return to jobs that don’t offer remote work after COVID-19, organizations that are unable or unwilling to offer flexible schedules to their employees run the risk of losing them.
With modern technology and employees working from home more than ever, remote work and flexible jobs are predicted to be the future, allowing people to work when, where, and how they are the most productive.
A flexible schedule is anything outside the standard 40 hour, 9-to-5 work week, tailored to meet an individual employee's needs. Flexible schedules are often linked with telecommuters or flex jobs, where employees are not required to be in the office for their entire (or any part of) their work week.
Flexible schedules can include a compressed work week, where employees will fit 40 hours into three or four days, to give themselves more time off, or daily flexible schedules, where their hours vary day by day.
Those who choose to utilize flexible schedules are most often doing so for their own personal reasons. Overall, flexible schedules have shown to save employers money and improve employee happiness and job satisfaction. They also can help to decrease stress, ease the burdens of the expense of childcare, and help employees avoid lengthy commutes.
Those who work on teams that span time zones may also work on a flexible schedule, as they need to balance working off-hours with other time zones and overlap with business hours in the home office.
Before COVID-19, flexible schedules have shown to benefit the work-life balance of all types of employees, flexible schedules are extremely beneficial to people with an otherwise difficult work-life balance. For example, those with children, pets, or elderly parents they care for. In a post-COVID-19 world, it comes as no surprise that flexible schedules have only grown in popularity, as the work-life balance of every employee was made more stressful by the global pandemic.
People choose to have flexible schedules for these reasons (& more.)
The key to maintaining a high level of productivity while utilizing a flexible schedule is open communication. No matter where you are working from or what hours you are available, you'll need a way to let your coworkers know where, when, and how to contact you.
Maintaining this level of communication is easy with the right blend of synchronous and asynchronous communication tools.
Synchronous communication is any communication that happens in real-time between two or more people, with the expectation of receiving an immediate response. In a typical onsite office setting, the majority of communication that happens is synchronous and often happens without a second thought. As a rule, synchronous communication should be reserved for situations that benefit from either a humanizing factor or necessitate immediate responses.
However, your flexible schedule may limit the amount of in-person communication opportunities you have with your coworkers. In this case, it is essential to utilize synchronous communication tools. These synchronous communication tools include phone calls, video conferencing, and live instant messaging, as well as in-person face-to-face conversations.
While synchronous communication may be your go-to when working on-site, it is not always necessary or the best form of communication for your scenario. Whether you are working on-site or remotely as part of your flexible schedule, you should use synchronous communication when:
Asynchronous communication is any communication where there is a time lag between when one person delivers information and the other person receives the information, simply put it is any communication that does not happen in real-time. Asynchronous communication is typically used to connect remote and hybrid teams, or teams where all employees are working on a flexible schedule.
However, there are many benefits to using asynchronous communication no matter the location of your teammates. It is an essential tool for remote teams, but has gained prominence in office settings as well due to the vast array of modern asynchronous communication tools. These tools include email, slack or other chat communication platforms, collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams, a shared Google Doc, video messaging through tools like Loom.
Asynchronous communication should be utilized by those adhering to flexible schedules when:
Asynchronous communication bonus tip: Embrace the Away Message function on your chosen asynchronous communication tool to indicate your availability to your coworkers. Many popular chat tools such as Microsoft Teams, Slack, and Skype come equipped with the option to post an Away Message to signal to your team that you are unavailable for immediate response and will instead reply to them on your own time.
Make sure to include specific language around remote and flexible schedules that's company or team-wide in your remote work policy. Allowing all employees to have the same access to flexible schedules and the ability to work remotely will create an equitable work environment, improving job satisfaction.
No two flexible schedules are built the same. Instead, each flexible schedule will look different depending on the preferred schedule and methods for productivity of each employee. The key to transitioning to your flexible schedule is to schedule regular check-ins and progress meetings, and create a weekly or daily standup style meeting to ensure that you and your teammates feel comfortable with your new schedule and there is full transparency on when you'll be working.
Some of the most popular flexible schedules are:
Meeting free days are exactly how they sound: days on which the employee has no meetings— or, to be more inclusive, any synchronous communication appointment— to attend. According to the 2020 Owl Labs State of Remote Work report, meeting free days are an incredibly popular form of flexible schedule, with 80% of respondents agreeing or strongly agreeing that there should be one day a week with no meetings at all.
There are many benefits to meeting free days, such as allowing the opportunity for deeper, uninterrupted work sessions. This rise in popularity is also in response to COVID-19, because employees working from home would like at least one day a week where they don’t have to worry about scheduling meetings around the ongoings of their roommates or families.
Compressed work weeks, when employees fit 40 hours of work into three or four days instead of the standard five, are ideal for employees who do not regularly attend meetings. Due to their compressed nature, this option of flexible schedule allows the employee to enjoy a different time off schedule.
For example, instead of working 9-5 Monday through Friday, an employee utilizing a compressed work week schedule may work ten hours a day Monday through Thursday and enjoy a three day weekend every week.
An employee working as part of a core hours flexible schedule works on the typical office schedule, but reserves a few hours each day where they are available to their colleagues and work on their own schedule the rest of the time. This was a popular flexible schedule option for employees even before COVID-19, when remote workers were twice as likely than in-office workers to want schedule flexibility.
According to the 2020 State of Remote Work report, this desire did not go away. 74% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that they should have core hours.
Daily flexible schedules, where employee’s hours vary from day to day, are ideal for workers whose responsibilities are more individual and require less meetings and less team collaboration.
To set yourself up on a daily flexible schedule, first speak with your supervisor to see if this is a possibility for you. Then, communicate openly with your coworkers and teammates to ensure your new flexible schedule doesn’t hinder your ability to be a strong teammate and collaborator.
Hybrid teams have both in-office and remote employees and often include many people who have flexible schedules and will be tuning in to meetings from home, on the go, or in the office.
If you have a flexible schedule, make sure your team knows where you'll be, when you're working, and how they can find out. This helps your team to know when they can contact you for projects, questions, or issues, and helps you achieve better work-life balance by not having coworkers bothering you during your offline, personal time. Make sure to keep your calendar up-to-date, your instant messaging app updated with relevant away messages and statuses, and be on time for all meetings so that your coworkers show you the same respect in your busy lifestyle.
Some people are better than others at staying motivated and keeping a tight schedule when working from home. For many people, it's helpful to have a structured day in order to stay focused during work times.
Try these methods to help stay on track with an alternative work schedule.
Having a flexible work schedule can decrease stress, increase productivity, and help to ease the burden of childcare or pet care for many people. If your company doesn't currently offer remote work or flexible schedules, check out these companies offering flexible roles.
Editor's note: This post was originally published on January 30, 2020. It has been updated and republished for thoroughness and accuracy.