Updated: Oct 3, 2019
Where do you work best? In the office surrounded by other people? At home on your couch in pajamas?
There's no right answer - everyone has their most productive place, even if that place is just a mindset.
I work at a consulting company where we pride ourselves and rely on our efficiency. If the best place for you to work (to be most efficient!) is in the office from 9 - 5 - great. If it's at home at 10pm - great. If it doesn't matter, just so long as it's something that interests you - great.
Flexibles work schedules can be powerful.
They can help unlock the best possible results, but with every great reward, there are risks that shouldn't be ignored. The good news is that you can mitigate those risks with proper management.
There are plenty of articles out there that discuss the pros and cons of a flexible work schedule (several of each briefly mentioned below) - just google it and you'll see more than you need to read. If you're reading this article though, you are interested in this type of schedule, while knowing both the pros and cons. So, let’s dive deep in the main themes from each perspective.
Google will tell you there are a lot of pros here. It's easier to recruit people (80% of millennials want to work at least semi-remote) and easier to retain people but let’s get at the biggest pro and talk through it:
Getting the best work out of your employees.
As I mentioned, people work best in their most preferred environment. Working there provides comfortability. Comfortability leads to happy which leads to productive. Give a productive person a project that interests them, and their best possible work effort will be on display. There are also branches off that - happy people mean high employee morale, which leads to high retention, and a plethora of other things that you're thinking of faster than you can read this.
There are studies out there that identify what percent of people are most productive at home vs the office. Most say a majority percentage prefer working from home, but the bottom line is that statistics don't apply to an individual. Whatever the most productive setting is for a specific employee, it should be our job, as employers, to let them tap into that for the benefit of the company. Let smart people be smart people in their best environment.
It shouldn’t go unmentioned that there are definitely some in-person meetings that should remain in-person to get the most out of them. Even flexible schedules include these kinds of meetings (think hands on activities, important financial reviews, etc.). The majority of every day meetings, though, can be accomplished perfectly fine either remote or in-person.
So when would their best work not come out here?
Maybe, against all studies (re: statistics and the individual) they actually get more distracted at home and start watching Netflix instead of pushing for a deadline.
This gets at the biggest con of flexible work… employees taking advantage and the huge trust factor needed.
Watching TV or getting distracted is probably a symptom here. If the employee is continually getting distracted, that's going to happen whether you force them into a cubicle or allow them to work on their couch. It's probably a lack one of a few things: interest, accountability, or work.
If they aren't interested in what they're doing, they're going to watch an episode at home, or go on a 30-minute walk at the office. Either way it's 30 minutes.
If they aren't being held accountable - meaning no ownership - they're going to daydream and wonder why they're doing what they're doing. "Aren't robots replacing jobs soon anyways?"
If they don't have enough work, they have plenty of time for breaks, whatever kind of break it may be. I actually highly encourage breaks, but there is a difference between breaking because its healthy and breaking because you're bored.
All of these can be fixed with good management. Frequent one-on-one's will let you get to know your employee and have honest discussions about what they want to be doing (interest ), get status updates in preparation for semi-frequent presentations with the team/leadership (accountability/ownership), and what their true capacity looks like (workload). You can also add the occasional “above and beyond” goal – what they come out with will show a lot about their character in regards to these three things and their true best work.
At the end of the day, communication and trust reign supreme. It's tough to trust that your employee is always giving their best work. But if you’ve got those three main pieces (interest, accountability, and workload), the trust will be apparent - and make sure it is reciprocated. You should always be a trustworthy face to your employee.
Let smart people be smart people. Who cares where it's getting done.
Of all the pros out there (family time, no rush hour, etc.), and cons (slacker perception, not surrounded by other workers, etc.) there is one theme that sticks out the most:
Switching perspectives to the employee now - the new “you” being referred to.
The thought of completely owning your own schedule is very enticing. "I'll get my work done, just let me sleep in a little from time to time!"
You obviously trust yourself that you'll get the work done well and on time (because you should be working on something that interests you, provides ownership, and fills your time appropriately) and now that you've got your employer's trust too - all is well! You can prove that you are doing well in your one-on-one's and during your semi-frequent presentations to the team (goodbye work from home "slacker" perception).
So why could this be bad?
Work should be work. Life should be life. And of course, there is the all-important balance between the two.
When you work flexibly, the line between the two can get blurred. After all, you've got a high degree of autonomy. Does that mean you have to always be "on"? No. Work mindset vs Life mindset.
If you like to work at 10pm, your boss might call you at 10pm. Fine - you're working then. Just part of a work day for you. If that frightens you, then either designate 10pm for individual work time, or just adjust your schedule accordingly.
Meetings are meetings and they should happen at reasonable times of the day for all parties involved. Same with collaboration sessions (important and help efficiency). Individual work time is important and should be individual. The good news is that you get to do that wherever and whatever time of day you want.
Okay, back to mindsets. If you think of a 9-5 job in an office, there is a clarity between work and life. It's the physical setting that is the clear line (in the office vs in your kitchen). When you work flexibly, that line switches from a physical setting to a mental setting. Laptop closed, work closed.
When you leave the office, it triggers a "turn off" sort of setting where you try to not let work thoughts in. You walk to your car and journey home to do whatever. On the other hand, when you leave work, and work is in your living room, you just have to find a similar journey that leaves work thoughts on pause. That could be watching an episode of tv, get a work out in, start dinner, etc.
When you think about it like that, you do the same things you would do when you got home from the office, you just avoid the drive home in rush hour (efficiency!).
Flexible work schedules can be powerful.
High interest and accountability combined with appropriate workload leads both sides to be happy. Happiness and efficiency are intertwined. Let smart people be smart people wherever they are at their best, and the best results for the company will soon follow.