During our careers, we've all had different experiences of flexible working — as an employee, and perhaps a manager.
In many companies, working hours are set in stone. But increasingly staff are getting a little more leeway when it comes to turning up to work.
If you've been considering trying out flexible working at your business, giving staff a choice of hours is one of your options.
Let's take a look at how flexitime works, and whether or not it would suit your team.
What is flexitime?
Flexitime (flextime in US English) is a variation of flexible working that involves employees deciding their working hours each day either partly or completely.
This isn't the same as other flexible working arrangements like compressed hours (four ten-hour days instead of five eight-hour days), or job sharing (where two individuals share a full-time role).
Flexitime schemes vary between organisations, but most use core hours. Core hours must be worked by employees — say 10-4 or 11-3. This guarantees that all team members will be at work at the same time for a significant portion of the day, as well as ensuring that enough staff will be working during the busiest times of the day.
Aside from these core hours, flexitime workers can choose to work their remaining hours whenever they like — for example, from 7-3 or 9.30-5.30.
In most cases, employees don't need to notify their manager of the hours they intend to work each day — they can turn up whenever they like, and leave whenever they like, so long as they're available for the core hours and their contractual hours are met.
However, some variations of flexitime are more restrictive, requiring employees to choose and commit to certain working patterns in advance. This approach means that managers can be certain that all slots on the rota are covered, which is essential for customer support and other similar roles.
In other words, flexitime programmes are themselves flexible.
Why bother with flexitime?
At first glance, giving your employees the chance to dictate their start and finish times seems like a whole lot of extra work for you, but don't dismiss flexitime until you've considered its potential benefits.
- Grow your recruitment pool. Flexitime is a huge recruitment boon. Most importantly, it widens the pool of potential recruits, opening the role up to applicants who might otherwise have struggled with the length of a rush hour commute, or the cost of peak time trains.
- Give applicants another reason to choose you. Not all applicants are interested in flexitime, but when they're deciding between two otherwise very similar opportunities, the chance to choose their own hours will definitely give you an edge.
- Boost staff retention rates. Flexitime lets staff gain greater control over their work-life balance and fit in their other responsibilities like school runs and appointments, while also cutting their commute time. Employees with this extra degree of freedom are bound to be happier and more engaged at work, meaning that (on average) they'll stay at your business for longer than they would have done otherwise.
- Increase productivity. Night-owls aren't very productive at 9am, so why not let them start their workday a bit later? Allowing employees to work when they're most productive makes obvious business sense.
- Extend coverage. If you offer customer support or similar services, flexitime has the potential to extend your support coverage from standard office hours to 8-6 or even 7-7, allowing you to provide your customers with an improved service at no extra cost.
And how can it go wrong?
Flexitime isn't perfect — otherwise every business would be using it. There's no doubt that it doesn't work for every team. Here are the main problems you could encounter.
- Trust. You may trust your employees to work their required hours under flexitime, but it only takes one incidence of an employee flouting the rules to break that trust for good. And once you lose trust in your staff, you're going to struggle to see all the benefits from flexitime.
- Monitoring hours worked. If you pay some workers by the hour or don't trust your employees to stick to their hours, you'll need to record hours worked. Accuracy of employee timesheets is always a problem, not to mention the hassle of having to enter this data into whatever payroll system you use. An electronic time and attendance system can resolve many of these issues, but admin time is still a factor you need to take into account when planning flexitime.
- Arranging meetings. If you hold many meetings, it'll become more difficult to arrange them when core hours are all you have to work with.
- Lack of keyholders. You'll need to take steps to ensure that the worker who's in earliest holds a key to the office. This brings up a whole range of security and logistics issues that you need to straighten out before you can launch your flexitime programme.
- Weakened culture and team. Your team is bound to be more fragmented if there are only a few hours a day when everyone's in. Some employees may find this new arrangement damages the office atmosphere and affects their enjoyment of work.
How to make flexitime work for you
If you've decided to go ahead and implement flexitime at your business, you'll need to put some work in if you want it to be successful.
That's the bad news.
The good news is, if you put some effort into the planning stage, the actual implementation and management of flexitime should be straightforward.
The first question (and most important one) is this: why flexitime?
You should be able to easily explain what you hope to get out of your flexitime programme.
Is it a higher quality of hire, a reduction in staff turnover, longer customer support hours, or something else? This goal will help you plan your flexitime programme in a way that works for you.
Next, draft a flexitime policy that covers things like:
- Core hours
- Any restrictions to flexible hours (for example, no starts earlier than 7.30am)
- The period over which worked flexitime hours are calculated against contractual hours (every day, week, month, two months, or quarter). This is sometimes called a flexitime cycle.
- What happens if the employee has an excess or deficit of hours worked during this period
- If time worked will be recorded, and the method for doing so (self-reported, clocking in and out, and so on)
- If and how flexitime will interact with overtime
- Under which circumstances the scheme will be terminated
Even if you're a small company, it's important to have a policy down on paper to reduce confusion amongst managers and employees alike, as well as helping new staff get to grips with your scheme.
We highly recommend starting flexitime with a trial period, where a single team tries out your scheme for a limited period — perhaps two 'cycles' of flexitime, to see how they compare.
Then, send out a survey to find out what worked and what didn't. Adjust your policy where appropriate, and look into changes to procedure or new tools that could prevent any hiccups from happening again.
Here are few free or affordable systems that could help:
- For to-do lists and project management, Trello.
- For team-based, one-to-one, or company wide communication, Slack.
- For employee scheduling and accurate time tracking, RotaCloud's own Time & Attendance package.
Flexitime at RotaCloud
Here at RotaCloud, we expanded and formalised our flexitime policy at the start of 2019. As a growing tech company in a small city (York), it became increasingly obvious that offering flexitime would significantly benefit the many employees who commuted from Leeds, Scarborough, or further afield. With hourly trains and rush hour traffic to contend with, these staff either had to turn up early and wait for the office to open, or deal with long, busy, and unpredictable commutes.
From 2019, RotaCloud's core hours are 10am-3.30pm, with staff able to start as early as 7.30am or finish as late as 7pm.
The obvious benefits for employees are accompanied by wider benefits for the business, too, with improved employee engagement and productivity, and extended support hours for our customers.
Almost every business can use some sort of flexitime scheme to benefit the business and its employees.
But it's the extent and structure of your flexitime programme that will dictate its success, and deciding on what your scheme will look like is down to you. Figure out your goals, processes and any constraints, and go from there.
Or if flexitime isn't right for you, there are plenty of other flexible working arrangements that might fit the bill.