Here are tips to help you implement a flexible work plan for your team.
- When you're recruiting talent for your business, don't underestimate the power of offering a great work-life balance.
- A flexible work policy gives employees the freedom they want while maintaining efficiency and order.
- Make sure your employees know about the flexible work options your business offers.
Small business owners rank attracting and retaining top talent among the biggest challenges they face, right up there with cash flow and getting new clients. Many small business owners feel they can't compete with bigger corporations because they're unable to offer the same type of compensation packages, but there are other ways to attract (and keep) excellent employees.
A flexible work policy is a low-cost way to make your compensation package stand out, and you shouldn't underestimate the power of such policies. Work-life balance is a big draw for today's workers – especially for millennials, who are the most likely to take a pay cut if it means more flexibility and freedom. That's right, many of today's workers would rather have a more customizable schedule than a higher salary. [Read related article: Want Top Talent? Give Employees the Flexibility They Seek]
When it comes to instituting a flexible work policy, small businesses have the edge over large employers. Big organizations are often too filled with legacy rules and bureaucracy to institute flexible work policies. Small businesses are leaner and can create new worker-friendly policies and roll them out quickly.
If you want to start drafting a flexible work policy for your business, check out these five ways to make your workplace more flexible (and appealing) to employees.
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Flexible work policy ideas
While small business owners can't always compete with large corporations when it comes to compensation packages, they can make their offers more attractive by offering perks.
Remote work isn't just for tech companies or overseas workers anymore. Giving your regular staff the option to work remotely is a great way to improve morale and compete with other employers. Many companies offer full-time and part-time employees the option to work from home on certain days, which can be instituted companywide (e.g., everyone has the option to work from home on Fridays) or managed departmentally, with each manager approving their staff's requests (i.e., different people work remotely on different days).
Offering telecommuting days around holidays, when many employees are likely to be traveling or consumed with family time, is also a great idea. Allowing your staff to work remotely several days before and after your winter holiday break or Thanksgiving, for example, will help create a work atmosphere that shows you care about work-life balance as well as productivity, and that makes for happy (and loyal) workers. [Read related article: 5 Issues Your Company's Telecommuting Policy Should Address]
Flexible work hours: 3 options for workday schedules
Flexible work hours aren't feasible for every business, but don't write off the idea without considering all the options. Something as simple as giving your staff the choice between three workday schedules can make your company an attractive place to work. Many offices allow their staff to choose 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., the standard 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., or a slightly later 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. schedule.
Flexible work schedules like these require little hands-on management and keep everyone onsite, which could help you get buy-in from your human resources department. Generally, HR professionals are resistant to flexible working hours when they disrupt the status quo too much, especially when they take employees out of the physical office. If you anticipate pushback from your HR division, it might be smart to pitch this flex work idea, emphasizing that employees will still be in the office 40 hours a week.
Summer Fridays come in many flavors, and all of them are a nice way to let your employees know your company cares about work-life balance. If your business's busiest time is the summer, you could consider adopting Winter Fridays instead. Here are some common Summer Friday schedules:
- Employees do not work on Fridays and do not have to make up the lost time.
- Employees do not work on Fridays, but they work 10-hour days Monday through Thursday to make up the time.
- Employees leave work one to three hours early on Fridays and are still paid for the full day.
- Employees work half days on Fridays and can choose to work in the mornings or in the afternoons.
Some employees will jump at the chance of a four-day workweek, even if it means longer hours on working days. The option of compressed workweeks could be a major draw for talented professionals seeking a unique flex work experience. There are a few ways to set up your employees to work four days a week, and the amount of flexibility you offer your staff is up to you.
One option is for eligible employees to work 10-hour days for four days in a row and then get either Mondays or Fridays off. You could also offer a nine-day cycle where employees work four nine-hour days (Monday through Thursday), work eight hours on Friday, and then get the following Friday off work. This schedule is a little confusing to explain at first, but it's a great option because it doesn't necessitate a 10-hour day and has the added advantage of keeping plenty of staff in the office on Fridays (since not everyone will be off every Friday).
Part-time staff with telework options
You don't have to restrict flexible working hours to full-time staff. In fact, you might be surprised at your company's ability to attract top talent simply by offering part-time positions, especially if they're also remote. There is a largely untapped market of seasoned professionals who do not or cannot work full time in an office but are happy to be productive members of a company for years on end, so long as they can do it part time.
Some part-time job seekers eschew full-time and onsite jobs because they're busy raising children, running side businesses or traveling, while others don't need a full-time salary but want to keep a foot in their industry. People with physical disabilities often seek out part-time remote employment as well. These aren't all entry-level folks, either: Many of these professional part-timers have advanced degrees and decades of experience; all they lack is the ability or desire to work a 40-hour week.
In addition to being extremely loyal employees (since so many companies refuse to offer part-time or remote accommodations), workers who are employed for fewer hours don't cost as much in salaries or benefits. If they work remotely, they don't even require desks or office space. You might be surprised at the output possible from part-time staff members, and you'll possibly be able to afford a higher-caliber employee for part-time hours than you would if you restricted your search to full-timers. [Read related article: Working From Home Increases Productivity]
How to implement a flexible work schedule
If you don't do your due diligence when it comes to communication – publicizing clear guidelines, getting buy-in from the right people and anticipating snags – even the most generous flex work policy will be disastrous. To make sure your new work perks are well received, employ these implementation tips.
1. Get buy-in early.
While the endgame of offering flexible schedules is to make a workplace more appealing, remember that the implementation will mean extra work for some people in your company Seeking early buy-in from your HR department and key managers will help them see the big picture. Be sure to listen to and note their concerns, and clearly communicate the "why" of the new policy. Let them know you appreciate their work and that you're aware that rolling out new policies can be a challenge.
2. Train managers far in advance.
Managing a flexible workforce isn't the same as managing a traditional one. Yahoo learned this the hard way when it discovered that some of its telecommuting employees hadn't even logged in for months yet were continuing to get paid. Where were their managers? Train managers to ask questions, challenge their team and be available through a variety of communication methods — phone, email, instant messaging, etc. Make sure they schedule regular phone meetings, or face-to-face meetings if possible. Use different methods of communication so that no team members are left out.
3. Devise a trial run.
If you have a large company, are nervous about starting a flex work program or are facing tremendous resistance, a trial run might do the trick. Before launching a full-scale flexible work program, create a trial program using one department or a small group of employees from different departments. Plan to run the trial for a good length of time – one month or longer – to work out the kinks and gather real data.
4. Know that not everyone will be a good flexible worker.
Telecommuting and working flexible schedules require specific traits that not everyone has. But don't shut down the entire flex work program just because a few people aren't cut out for it. Instead, consider other perks that you could offer to employees for whom flex work isn't a good option, while continuing to let most employees take advantage of work flexibility.
Chad Brooks contributed to this article.