Realizing the Dream of the Mobile, Flex-Time Workplace

Workplace values are changing, contends a video and accompanying article recently posted to Fortune.

Contingent workforces and freelancing are more common than ever before, it seems, and employees expect mobility and flexibility. They are less likely to accept a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekday routine of sitting behind a desk with an hour for lunch and then returning to that same desk to sit for another several hours. One reason for the rise of freelancing and mobile workforces may be a desire for better work and personal-life integration. Not being tied to a full-time, permanent position and or expected to be in the same place at the same time every weekday means more time for personal-life fulfillment.

As common as this new, more freewheeling perspective is, it seems like companies are behind the times. Most companies I’ve had experience with still expect employees to adhere to a traditional, in-office weekday schedule. 

It’s a shame more companies have not embraced mobile workforce options and flex-time scheduling, as these options benefit both employee and employer. If employees are not coming into the office at the same time and the same days, office resources can be scaled back. You don’t need as much floor space and as many workstations. It’s also a more pleasant experience for employees, who will find less crowded offices quieter and not as hectic. No lines to use the coffee machine, watercooler, or bathrooms. And fewer people concentrated in tight quarters during cold and flu season, meaning less chance for germs to be unwillingly shared.

From a city-planning perspective, as members of the community, companies that offer mobile, flex-time options do the larger geographic area a great service. Employees at major local companies coming in at staggered times means fewer cars on the road at the same time, making everyone’s commute safer and smoother. 

My mother and I talked about the dream of universal flex-time schedules years ago. I wondered whether there would be great frustration at never being in the office at the same time as some peers. My mother pointed out that companies could establish several “core hours” per workweek in which, barring sickness, vacations, or specific personal appointments, all employees would be expected to be at the office, or at least at their desk at home with the computer and phone turned on ready for work. For example, those core hours could be 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. New employees would be given the option, first, of whether they want to primarily work from home or the office, and second, which flex-time options, beyond the universal core hours that apply to everyone, work for them. Scheduling options could include: 7 a.m.- 3 p.m.; 8 a.m.-4 p.m.; 9 a.m.-4 p.m.; 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; or 11 a.m.-7 p.m. 

Imagine that Shangri-La! And the competitive advantage such flexibility would give your company in attracting top talent. Those attuned to the mornings could begin work at 7 a.m. and be done by 3 p.m., and those at the other end of the spectrum could enjoy late nights knowing they would not have to be ready to work until 11 a.m. And wait until they hear they don’t have to even be in the office during their working hours! Given the same salary offerings, would your competitors ever stand a chance?

It takes more courage than I realized for companies to offer employees what modern technology makes easily possible. The fear is not warranted, however. At the time of hire, all employees, especially those who opt for full-time mobility, would have to be made to understand that they would be evaluated based on the outcome of their work, rather than the process. They would be made to understand that the company’s culture is to value the ultimate result of the work, rather than where the work gets done. If the outcome, the end product/deliverable of the work, is not done by due dates set by the manager and is consistently not done satisfactorily, the employee would be terminated—and that standard would hold true regardless of whether the employee works outside or inside the office. 

If you communicate those expectations to employees, what is the danger of allowing them to work the hours, and in the places, they desire? 

Do you offer fully mobile, flex-time options for employees? What are the challenges of offering this kind of lifestyle flexibility to your workforce?

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