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Return to Work: The Benefits and Drawbacks of Flexible Work Arrangements

creative and flexible arrangement of pencils

As the number of coronavirus cases in Hawaii subsides, companies are making plans to reopen their doors. While employees may be eager to get back to work, the workplace they return to will likely be different than the one they left—at least for some time.

Social distancing and increased safety precautions immediately come to mind, but what about the conventions of work as we know them?

Many companies jumped headfirst into remote work—a growing, but until recently, radical way of working for most. With changing coronavirus guidance and a dire need to reopen, employers will need to be creative and flexible in determining how they bring their workers back safely.

In addition to remote work, there are a handful of other flexible—some less traditional—work arrangements that employers may want to consider. These include:

  • Flex time—Allows employees to choose their work schedules within a certain range of hours and days.
  • Compressed workweeks—Allows employees to work the traditional 40 hours in less than the traditional five workdays.
  • Shift work—A work schedule that typically takes place outside traditional business hours.
  • Part-time schedules—Allows employees to work less than the traditional 40 hours per week.
  • Job-sharing—Allows two different employees to perform the tasks of one full-time job.

Not all flexible work arrangements will make sense for every business, and a variety of options will probably be more realistic than a one-size-fits-all approach. Let’s take a look at some of the benefits and drawbacks of flexible work arrangements and steps to take before you implement them into your workplace.

Considering flexible work arrangements at your business

Flexible work arrangements can have huge payoffs—for employees and employers alike—but not all businesses have the budget, technology, and/or staff to manage them.

The benefits of flexible work arrangements

Flexible work arrangements can provide numerous benefits, including:

  • Increased efficiency and productivity
  • Improved work-life balance and employee satisfaction
  • Lower overhead costs
  • Better job recruitment and employee retention
  • Environmental benefits
  • More agility to adapt during emergency situations, such as weather disasters or pandemics

The drawbacks of flexible work arrangements

While there are clear benefits, there are also potential drawbacks of flexible work arrangements that employers should consider. Such drawbacks include:

  • Missed opportunities for collaboration
  • Potential negative impact on customers
  • Loss of company culture/decreased employee engagement
  • Not practical for all employees and positions
  • Potential abuse by some employees
  • More complicated schedule management

Steps to consider when implementing flexible work arrangements

If your business is considering offering flexible work arrangements to employees, here are some key steps to take before committing to any changes.

1. Identify flexible work arrangements that make sense for your business

Not every business can offer the same type of flexible work arrangement. Look closely at your options and find one (or more) that is not only reasonably doable, but applicable to your workforce. If employees are already working remotely, is this something you can continue to offer after the pandemic passes? Or if a lot of employees have school-aged children, could flextime be beneficial for them?

2. Assess the potential impact on customers

When reviewing flexible work options, consider the potential impact on customers. With compressed workweeks, customers could either lose out on a day of service or benefit from longer hours due to extended workdays. With flex time, varying work schedules could lead to issues of unreliable or sporadic service.

3. Consider a flexible policy that accounts for wage and hour issues

With any flexible work arrangement, a policy with clear guidelines can help manage expectations and protect your company from potential liabilities. Your policy should answer key questions such as:

  • Who qualifies for the modified work schedule?
  • Will the modified work schedule affect eligibility for leave benefits and/or overtime?
  • Are there any reasonable accommodation considerations under the ADA?

Companies with collective bargaining agreements should consult with their unions before making any changes to the workweek. Ensure your policy is flexible enough to cover situations where an employee may need to change their schedule to adjust to business needs (e.g., covering for increased operational demands, peak business seasons, or customer needs).

4. Have an open conversation to solicit employee feedback

Even if you’re sold on the benefits of a flexible work schedule, it’s important to solicit feedback from your employees. Many people like (and thrive in) traditional, structured work schedules. Others may really need schedule flexibility to achieve more work-life balance.

5. Start with a trial period before full implementation

Before making any sweeping changes, start with a trial period. This could look like one compressed workweek a month or starting one department on flex time for several weeks. Whatever you decide, set and track productivity benchmarks to give you an idea of how successful (or not) the modified work schedule was.

Flexibility for the future

While the road to COVID-19 recovery is still uncertain, there is one thing that is certain: employers need to adapt quickly to the changing environment and come up with effective, sustainable solutions. Offering employees flexible work arrangements may be one way to safely bring them back to work and allow your business to get back up to speed.

We know that managing employees with different work schedules can be a big task, especially if you’re doing it manually. Streamline your process with HR Symphony! Our state-of-the-art, human resources information system comes built with a Time & Attendance feature, so tracking time and paying people is easier than ever.

Have a question for one of our HR experts? To learn more about this issue or to schedule a free consultation on the advantages of human resources outsourcing, contact simplicityHR.

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Readers should first consult their attorney, accountant or adviser before acting upon any information in this article.

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