The (Work) Times are a-Changin’ – Rising Adoption of Flexible Schedules


Bob Dylan famously sung, “Come senators, congressmen, please heed the call, don’t stand in the doorway, don’t block up the hall, for he that gets hurt will be he who has stalled – for the times they are a-changin’.” Swap out “senators and congressmen” for “employers and workforce managers” and these lines of prose are very relevant to the issue of flexible scheduling for the modern workforce. Dismissed by some as “unworkable” or “counter-productive,” flexible scheduling is, in actuality, a growing practice being adopted by forward thinking organizations. Here’s why the thinking about flexible scheduling has evolved and why those organizations resisting the emerging practice stand to lose unless they entertain embracing the newer strategy.

Increasingly, companies are embracing the retirement of the traditional 9 to 5 workday schedule for employees. This is largely because they acknowledge the corporate environment has evolved and that they can benefit from offering employees the option of flexible schedules in exchange for better access to expertise, retention and productivity.

The old office hours rule was in place for years, but as times and technology have changed, so have “work hours.”  The introduction of broadband internet technology into the majority of workplaces weakened the tether between the physical office and the worker, enabling the same work to be performed virtually anywhere. This can be seen in the rising adoption of telecommuting as an option offered for many employees. Globalization further shifted the focus to working outside local work hours because “it is always between 9AM and 5PM somewhere in the world” and markets are always open. Economic forces also played a part as the number of households with two working parents began to grow, further prompting the need for more family-friendly work arrangements.

What does a typical Flexible Work scenario look like? There is no “typical” schedule when it comes to flexible work scenarios. Some involve telecommuting and location flexibility (i.e. shared work-spaces) offering cross-company idea sharing. Others involve split shifts and job sharing. Still, others revolve around compressed work weeks and variable hours like a four day week of ten-hour shifts instead of five eights. Results Only Work Environments (ROWE) are a very recent concept based upon a workplace culture shift away from the 40-hour workweek. ROWE employers are instead giving employees more autonomy and control over where, when, and how long they work as long as the output falls within acceptable tolerances.

The financial impact of employers providing flex work situations are beneficial if the process is managed proactively. There are pros and cons for any organization considering the embrace of flex work. Aside from accommodating the employee, you may wonder what benefits exist for the employer. Some of the pros include increased morale and engagement, reduction in employee turnover, increased loyalty (which supports continuity of critical business information among retained workforce) and reduced absenteeism/PTO.

Of course, there can be downsides too, such as resistance among non-flex workers who may feel as though they’re being held to a different standard. Also, compressed availability for team projects can be a concern if too many key resources are remote workers. In cases where workers are afforded flexible schedule privileges for the first time, there can be some adjustment to non-office dynamics/management. Not everyone is able to handle the responsibility of unsupervised work time which can lead to trust issues regarding “actual time spent on the job.”

Overall, the trend is indeed moving toward the total normalization of flexible scheduling. If you’re interested in adopting this strategy for any or all of your workforce, you should begin by formalizing a proposal with a detailed time/cost/productivity analysis to ensure it makes sense for your particular business needs and requirements. Also, plan to have to negotiate with leadership to get a green light for such an initiative. Address resource needs prior to the conversation. Request open conversations with organizational management/leadership to discuss pros/cons. If it is the right idea for your company, it should become apparent rather quickly that the potential benefits outweigh the possible liabilities.

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