What are Flexible Work Arrangements?


Flexible work arrangements are a bit different from traditional work hours, such as 9am to 5pm Monday through Friday.

Flexible work arrangements allow employees to choose when, where, and how they work, with some limits.  For example, employees might choose their start and end times for the workday.  Usually, employees still need to work during certain core business hours, defined by the employer.  They might also create an alternative schedule for a work week.  An employee might also work remotely, or share a job with another worker.

Types of Flexible Work Arrangements (When you Work)

There are many different ways that you can set up a flexible work arrangement.  The goal is for you to finish your work, while having freedom to work on your schedule.

Compressed Work Week

A compressed work week is one where an employee works more hours per day, but fewer days per week.  Normally, an employee will work 8 hours per day, 5 days per week.  This comes out to 40 hours per week.  However, there are different ways to put in your 40 hours!

For example, you could work 10 hour days, instead of 8 hour days.  In this case, you would work only 4 days per week, instead of 5.  This is a nice option if you want to take three day weekends.

Personally, I would choose to take Mondays off.   Besides, Fridays are usually the most fun day to show up at work!  You could also take Wednesday off, which breaks up the work week nicely into two halves.  This also ensures that you never need to work more than two days in a row.

The only limits of a compressed work week are your imagination, and what your job allows.  You could ask for 3 12-hour days, followed by a 4-hour day.  This would give you 3.5 days, or about half the week off.

Shift Differentials

A shift differential refers to extra pay that an employee receives.  This extra pay is compensation for working hours outside of the traditional 9am to 5pm schedule.  For example, every hour outside of the 9am to 5pm schedule might pay an additional 10%.   Assume your normal hourly rate is $30 per hour.  The shift differential of 10% would give you an extra $3 per hour.  Your total hourly rate is then $33 per hour.

If your employer agrees, you can work less hours for a higher rate of pay, to make the same income.

Example

If your normal hourly rate is $20 per hour, then you will make $800 in a 40 hour work week.

With a 25% shift differential, you would earn an extra $5 per hour.  Your rate is $25 per hour, for time you work outside of 9am-5pm.

If you worked 32 hours, all outside of 9am-5pm, your total pay would still be $800 for the week.

Alternative Weekly Schedules

In addition to changing daily or weekly hours, you can change the total hours biweekly or monthly.

For example, let’s discuss the 9/80 or 5/4/9 arrangement.  Normally, you would work 80 hours over the course of 2 weeks (that is, 40 hours per week).  However, in this arrangement, you work 9 days every 2 weeks, and put in your 80 hours.

In week 1, you work 9 hours a day, Monday through Thursday, and then work 8 hours on Friday.  This is a total of 44 hours for week 1.

In week 2, you work 9 hours a day, Monday through Thursday, and take Friday off.  This is a total of 36 hours for week 2.

All told, you worked 44 + 36 = 80 hours in two weeks.  However, you get every other Friday off!  With vacation and holidays, you can take a lot of long weekends with this arrangement.

Also, keep in mind that you don’t have to stick to this particular 9/80 agreement.  You could choose to take every other Monday off.  Then, you could work 8 hours every other Wednesday.  Again, all you need to do is convince your boss!  You might be able to work with colleagues to ensure adequate coverage, based on staggered days off.

Types of Flexible Work Arrangements (Where and How you Work)

In addition to changing your work hours, you can also change where and how you work.

Telecommuting

If the question is “Where do you work?”, telecommuting answers “Anywhere!”.  Telecommuting, or working remotely, means that you can do your work from anywhere on Earth.  All you need is a computer with an internet connection, and perhaps a few other tools.

To learn more about the tools you need, check out my post on telecommuting equipment.  Also, for an idea of whether it might work for you, check out my telecommuting post here.

Job Sharing

A job share means that you share work hours and responsibilities with another person.  For example, you both might work 20 hours per week, instead of 40 hours per week.  Together, you would be responsible for completing all work assignments for your shared job.

There are many ways you can split up the work.  A creative person could do writing, design work, and problem solving.  A detail-oriented person could do scheduling, accounting, and billing.

You could also split the work evenly, giving each person a chance to try all aspects of the job.  You could even alternate tasks each week.

There are also many ways you can split up your time when job sharing.  You can split the days between you, 2 and 3 days each, and alternate every other week.  You can also have one person work in the morning, and one in the afternoon.

One drawback is that if your job-sharing partner leaves, then he may take important knowledge with him.  Also, you might need to work full time while the boss searches for a replacement.

Benefits of Flexible Work Arrangements

There are a several benefits to flexible work arrangements, related to better employee health and productivity.  These arguments might help you to make the case to your boss!

Attract and Retain the Best Employees

By offering remote work arrangements, companies have an advantage over companies that don’t offer them.  Many employees have family or other considerations, and they will value flexible hours or schedules.

All else being equal (pay, benefits, commute, etc.), employees will choose the company that offers flexible work arrangements.  Once you have hired an employee, flexible work arrangements will help you to keep him at the company.

Boost Productivity

Allowing for flexible work arrangements can boost your productivity, which helps to improve the company’s bottom line.

Staggered hours can also help you to avoid traffic.  For example, you could start at 7am and end at 3pm, avoiding traffic in both directions.  If this saves you an hour or more each day, then you will be happier and more productive!  In addition, you will have more time to do things you enjoy during the week.

In addition, flexible work arrangements can also allow you to work at your energy peaks.  You can then avoid the times of day when you are not at your best.

Consider a job-sharing arrangement where one employee works mornings, and another works evenings.  In that case, your employer is getting the most productive 4 hours of the day from each employee!

Avoid Burnout

Finally, flexible work arrangements can help employees to avoid burnout.

For those on a 9/80 or 4/10 schedule, extra 3-day weekends can help with relaxation and unplugging from work.  Staggered start and end times can help to avoid stress from traffic before and after work.

Drawbacks of Flexible Work Arrangements

Of course, there are some drawbacks to flexible work arrangements.  First of all, only some jobs will allow flexible work arrangements.  Software engineers, for example, might be able to work on a project at any hour of the day.  However, customer service representatives may need to be present at a physical location during core hours, usually 9am to 5pm.

In some cases, this means you might see jealousy from some employees.  They see others working flexible hours, and wish they could do the same.

In addition, you need to make sure that other employees are not taking advantage of flexible working arrangements.  If they do, it could ruin the fun for everyone if your boss revokes the privilege.

Finally, with job sharing, an employer must divide work fairly.  Everyone should agree beforehand about responsibilities, hours, and pay.  Communication can be difficult when other employees don’t know which job-sharer is working on a given day.

Is a Flexible Work Arrangement Right for You?

Before you ask your boss, decide if a flexible work arrangement is right for you.  Think about the type of job you have, and whether you can do it during alternative hours.

Also, think about whether you want to work the “graveyard shift”.  You can earn extra pay or work fewer hours, due to a shift differential.  However, the lack of interaction with employees may bore you to tears!

Considerations

You are more likely to make the case for a flexible work arrangement if you do your homework.  Show your boss that you have considered potential problems, and address them.  Prove that you are willing to do the work, in advance, to make it work!

Suggest a Pilot Program

Your boss may be concerned that the program will not work.  For this reason, he may not want to spend the resources to make a transition.  This is especially true if it might disrupt the business.

In this case, you can suggest a pilot program to your boss.  This means that you will try out a flexible work arrangement on a trial basis.  You should suggest that you and a few other responsible employees switch to a flexible work arrangement for a week.

If this group is productive, then the boss can expand the pilot to all eligible employees for a week.  You could also suggest a longer trial period of two to four weeks for the smaller group.  Either way, some bosses will need evidence that the arrangements will work before signing off on a huge change.

Prove You Are Ready

First, make sure that your work record is impeccable.  You need to show that you can handle your job on a regular schedule.  Then, your boss might allow a flexible schedule.  Show up on time, do your work, and produce good results.

This also means that you should prepare to tell others about your transition to flexible work.  Talk to your boss about how you will tell coworkers and clients about the transition.  One issue to address is any customer concerns about your availability.

Customer Relationships

Show your boss that you have plans to maintain and improve existing customer relationships.  Continue to check in with clients and offer help as needed.  If you will only be working a few extended days per week, make sure that your customers know this.

Suggest that your customers keep a list of questions to ask.  Then, you can go through those questions on your longer days.  This will actually improve productivity, since you can answer all of the questions at once, instead of piecemeal.

You should also make sure that your clients have someone to contact in case of emergencies.  If you don’t want to be on call, then find a coworker who you trust to help out!

Employee Relationships

As mentioned above, you will sometimes need to have your coworkers help you to resolve customer issues.  Thus, it is important to maintain a good relationship with coworkers, and communicate your situation.

You should also address any possible problems with coworkers.  One cause for concern, mentioned earlier, is jealousy.  For instance, you work flexible hours, but your coworker works 9-5 on Monday through Friday.  In this case, brainstorm with your boss about a different perk that he could offer to those with inflexible schedules.

Another concern is the availability of hours, and how to distribute them.  Will the most favorable flexible schedules to more senior workers?  Will it be based on results, instead of seniority or time worked?

One possibility is to have some type of lottery system.  That way, everyone has a fair chance at receiving desirable hours.  Another possibility, mentioned above, is a pay differential system.  Your boss can offer an extra pay incentive to people who work undesirable hours.

In order to determine the desirability of hours, simply have everyone put in an “ideal hours” request.  The boss can then tally them up, and see which hours are the most requested!

Training for Managers

In order to schedule flexible workers properly, managers at the company may need training.  To ensure coverage for all hours, the boss might need to set up some type of spreadsheet system.  If you help him with this, he is much more likely to embrace the idea!

Training should also include ways to motivate employees who do not receive flexible work arrangements.  As mentioned above, this could include some type of alternative compensation or fringe benefit.

There is one more thing to consider if you are planning to ask for telecommuting.  In that case, managers may need training on how to manage remote employees or teams.

How to Break the News

Your boss may be concerned about breaking the news about flexible work arrangements.  Some managers or employees may be uncomfortable with changing their routine.  They might also worry that it will be difficult to communicate with coworkers who have flexible schedules.

Offer to help with drafting a letter or notice to employees explaining the situation.  Solicit questions and concerns from coworkers, and try to address them.  If you can solve problems before they come up, your boss will be more willing to make the change.

Focus on Hours or Results?

Your boss might think that you need to work a certain number of hours per day to be productive.  He might also think that too much flexibility will cause workers to lack discipline.

For instance, let’s say your boss worries about employees working three twelve hour days.  Reassure him that a four day weekend will rejuvenate employees and improve their morale.  This can actually improve the quality of their work!

Remind your boss about the benefits of flexible schedules.  When employees have some freedom in choosing their schedules, they will feel more loyalty to the company.  This will cause them to work harder for the bottom line.  It will also make them less likely to leave for greener pastures!

How to Ask for a Flexible Work Arrangement

Before you do the work to write up a proposal, make sure that remote work is what you really want.  To dig deeper into the issues to consider, check out my post on the pros and cons of telecommuting.

If you think a flexible work arrangement would fit with your job and schedule, prepare to ask your boss.  You will need to be specific about what you want.  Write up a formal document to submit to your company.

Make your case using some of the benefits mentioned above.  Also, anticipate any objections your boss might make, and address those as well.  Finally, mention that you want to do this on a trial basis.  After you prove that it works, you can make the switch on a long-term basis.  For more ideas on what to consider before you ask, check out my article on why you might want to telecommute.

Conclusion

Flexible work arrangements can benefit you and your company, but only if implemented properly.  Make sure that everyone involved is clear on expectations.

A flexible work arrangement is not a chance to goof off.  Instead, it is an opportunity for a company to give an employee a non-financial benefit.  It is also a chance for an employee to complete quality work during non-traditional hours.

I hope this answers your questions about flexible work arrangements.  If you have any lingering questions, please ask them in the comments below!

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