Flexible Work Schedules Explained

What Are Flexible Work Arrangements?

Flexible work arrangements refer to any policies, practices or informal arrangements that allow employees to have greater flexibility and control over when, where and how they work.

These arrangements move away from the traditional 9-to-5, office-bound schedule to better accommodate employees' diverse needs and promote work-life balance.

The key benefit is giving employees more autonomy over integrating their professional and personal lives in a way that works best for their circumstances and working styles.

Flexible work arrangements can take many forms, but some common examples include:

Remote work or work-from-home opportunities

Hybrid schedules splitting time between home and office

Flextime policies to shift start/end times

Compressed workweeks with fewer but longer days

Job-sharing between two part-time employees

Flexible Work Arrangements vs. Flexible Work Schedules

While often used interchangeably, there is an important distinction between flexible work arrangements and flexible work schedules:

Flexible work arrangements encompass any alternative to the traditional in-office, 9-to-5 structure. This includes arrangements around the work location, like remote or hybrid options that allow working from home. It covers any non-standard schedule as well.

Flexible work schedules, on the other hand, specifically refer to alternative scheduling practices for when and how employees work their required hours and days. This does not necessarily include the ability to work remotely.

For example, a compressed 4-day workweek or flextime schedule providing employees control over start/end times would qualify as a flexible work schedule, even if the work must still occur on-site. Meanwhile, a work-from-home policy is considered a flexible work arrangement, as it changes the location of the work.

The two often overlap, with many employers combining arrangement and scheduling flexibility. For instance, some may offer hybrid remote/office arrangements along with flextime schedules.

But the key distinction is that flexible arrangements deal with the where and what kind of work happens, while flexible schedules focus on when and how the work gets done within set constraints like weekly hours.

Implementing strategic flexible work arrangements and schedules has become an increasingly critical way for companies to attract and retain top talent by promoting greater work-life balance and job satisfaction. When properly structured and supported, these flexibility initiatives can boost employee engagement, productivity and well-being.

A List of Flexible Schedule Options

Here are some of the most common types of flexible work week schedules that organizations can implement to give employees more control over when and where they work:

  1. Compressed Work Week

Compressed Work Weeks With a compressed schedule, employees work their standard hours but consolidate them into fewer days per week. Common examples include:

  • 4/10 Schedule: Working 4 days at 10 hours per day, then taking the 5th day off each week.
  • 9/80 Schedule: Working 9 hours per day for 9 days, then taking the 10th day off (80 hours over 2 weeks).

This allows employees to have an extra full day off every week or every other week while still working their full hours. It can improve work-life balance, reduce commuting time/costs, and give employees a restful 3-day weekend. However, longer daily hours may not work well for some roles or employees.

  1. Flextime

With a flextime policy, employees are given a core range of hours they must be present (e.g. 10am-3pm), but can choose when to work their remaining hours before and after. This provides flexibility in:

  • Start/End Times: An employee could work 7am-4pm or 9am-6pm, for example.
  • Break Schedules: They can shift breaks and lunches to accommodate personal needs.
  • Make-Up Time: If they need to leave early one day, they can make up those hours on another day.
  • Provide "summer hours" with half days on Fridays. An extra afternoon of personal time refreshes people.

Flextime requires well-defined core hours, but otherwise gives employees autonomy over how to meet their total hours. It helps with balancing personal/family obligations.

  1. Remote Work

Remote Work Options More and more companies are allowing employees to work remotely, whether:

  • Fully Remote: The employee works from home or anywhere they wish full-time.
  • Partial Remote: Working remotely 1-4 days per week, and in the office the remaining days.
  • Remote As Needed: An ad-hoc ability to work from home when obligations require.

Remote work eliminates commutes, provides geographic flexibility, and allows better work-life integration. However, it requires appropriate infrastructure, communication protocols, and performance management strategies.

  1. Job Sharing

In a job share arrangement, two employees effectively split a full-time role, each working on a part-time schedule that allows for personal/family time. For example:

  • Split Weeks: One works Monday-Wednesday, the other Thursday-Friday.
  • Split Days: One works mornings, the other afternoons/evenings.

This allows employees to only work ~20-30 hours while still being engaged in their role and career path. Job shares require extensive coordination between partners.

  1. Gradual Retirement/Phased Return

Some employers allow employees transitioning to retirement to slowly ramp down hours over time for a smoother transition. Similarly, new parents returning from leave may prefer gradually increasing back to full-time. For example:

  • Starting at 50-60% time for a period, then increasing incrementally
  • Working full-time for part of the year, then taking a partially-paid sabbatical

This gives employees more control over work-life integration during major life transitions.

A good human resources consultant can help you formulate the best mix of strategies for your particular culture and then craft policies that help employees while protecting the company.

No matter which types of flexibility are offered, it's critical for the organization to have clear policies and protocols around scheduling, handoffs, communication, performance management, and work coverage.

Be open to unconventional ideas from staff on new ways of working flexibly. Empower them to experiment.

Getting buy-in from managers, properly training employees, and monitoring for any unintended negative impacts are essential practices for successfully implementing flexible work week initiatives.

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