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Understanding Flexible Schedules for Modern Workplaces

  • Human Resources
  • Article
  • 6 min. Read
  • Last Updated: 07/11/2024

an employee works from home as a part of his flexible schedule arrangement

Table of Contents

Flexible work schedules have become a high priority for many workers, and they can help support productivity and employee wellbeing on the job. Seventy-one percent of employees who work from home at least some of the time say that a flexible schedule helps them strike a better balance between work and personal life.1

For employers, a flexible schedule can be an important part of recruitment, employee engagement, and an effective retention strategy.

However, flexible work isn't for everyone. Some employees prefer to interact with colleagues in person and may perform better in a traditional office environment.

Let's examine the importance of flexibility in the workplace, consider its advantages and disadvantages for both employees and employers, and consider additional factors that can help you develop a successful policy.

What Is a Flexible Work Schedule?

A flexible schedule is intended to provide employees with more control over their work schedule to help it fit their lifestyle. However, it doesn't mean there is no structure or that they don't have in-person attendance expectations. In some cases, a flex schedule may mean working outside regular 9-5 hours so employees can spend more time with family. For others, it may mean working from home several days a week or working 4 longer days each week and having 3 days off.

Types of Flexible Schedules

Flexible scheduling doesn't necessarily mean fewer hours or part-time work. In most cases, employees still work full-time, but they have some freedom to choose when and where they get work done. Company culture, the nature of the job, and organizational goals will all influence how an employer implements flexible scheduling.

Let's look at some common flexible work schedule arrangements.

Working from Home

Not all jobs require an in-person presence for productivity. Many workers, such as those working in IT or creative roles, often find that working outside of a standard office environment allows them to focus better without the interruptions that may come with an open office floor plan. Working from home may be an ideal fit in these scenarios.

Work-from-home opportunities can take many different approaches depending on the organization's needs and the type of job. Some positions may be designed as 100% work-from-home opportunities, while others function best with hybrid scheduling, where employees work some days in the office each week. Either way, employers should prioritize company culture and connection to help employees who work from home feel part of the team.

Part-Time Employment

Many workers choose part-time employment to care for children or fulfill other responsibilities. Flexible work opportunities can provide even more support in these cases.

Some roles easily lend themselves to schedule flexibility, allowing employees to choose when they complete their required hours. While that's not always possible for every role, it can be an attractive benefit for employees who need more adaptable schedules.

Compressed Workweeks

A compressed workweek means employees complete the same number of hours in fewer days. Essentially, the employee works a flex schedule with longer shifts in exchange for more days off. One example is the  4-day work week, where work is completed in 4 10-hour days. This is becoming more common for professional roles.

Some healthcare businesses (like hospitals) also use compressed workweeks in the form of rotating schedules or alternating shifts.

Flex Time or Flexible Hours

With flex time, employees have flexibility in the timing of their work as long as they complete their expected number of hours. If an employee is asked to stay late or work an extra shift, for example, they can take an equivalent number of hours off later in the week.

A flexible hours arrangement means that employees may choose their workday's starting and ending times. It can include flex time, asynchronous work, and compressed workweeks. It may also mean an employee can start later or end earlier if they complete their responsibilities. Many employers offer flexible hours in the summer when business tends to be slower.

Some employers have begun experimenting with other types of permitted “flexible” leave as well, including unlimited PTO, extended parental leave, and sabbaticals.

Asynchronous Work

Asynchronous work allows employees to choose their own schedules, including start and end times, breaks, and which days they work. This is often a good solution for companies with employees in different geographic locations who need to schedule meetings across time zones.

While asynchronous work schedules may seem challenging to implement, they can improve employee satisfaction, productivity, and retention.

Ideal Candidates for Flexible Scheduling

Flexible work schedules appeal to employees in many different scenarios, but they can be especially helpful for those in circumstances that make a regular 9-5 job challenging. For example, individuals with personal health challenges, and those who need a quieter work environment could all be ideal candidates for flexible schedules.

Flexible scheduling may also be a good solution for employees with long commutes, who work in different time zones, or who prefer particular hours for other reasons.

Advantages of Flexible Schedules

As with any workplace policy—including a standard 9-5 workweek—flexible scheduling has pros and cons.

Let's start by looking at some of the potential benefits of a flexible work schedule for both employees and employers.

For Employees

Flexible work and remote work opportunities are an important consideration when choosing a job. Employees value flexible work schedules because they offer more freedom to design a schedule around the individual's unique needs.

Benefits for employees can include:

  • Better work-life balance
  • Enhanced productivity
  • Reduced stress
  • Greater job satisfaction

When employees have the flexibility to take time off or change their schedules, the likelihood of job-related stress decreases and job satisfaction increases. One study found that working at home increased job satisfaction by 65%, and working an alternative schedule boosted the likelihood of job satisfaction by 62%.

For Employers

Employees aren't the only ones who might benefit from flexible work schedules. Offering a flexible schedule allows employers to expand their talent search to include skilled workers in other locations, and candidates who need to work from home for personal or family reasons.

Employers could also see improved outcomes when they implement flexibility in the workplace, including:

  • Higher retention rates
  • Enhanced productivity
  • Reduced overhead costs

Disadvantages of Flexible Schedules

While flexible schedules can work well in many scenarios, they may not be ideal for every worker or every employer. Be aware of these potential disadvantages as you evaluate your options.

For Employees

Not all employees enjoy working from home. They may feel increased pressure to be productive or feel like they are always on the clock. Blurring of work-life boundaries can quickly lead to employee burnout if safeguards aren't put in place to maintain a clear separation between work and personal time.

Schedule flexibility can also create challenges for teams. When you aren't sure when a team member will be in the office or on the clock, it can be harder to schedule meetings and get feedback.

For Employers

Some employees work better away from the office, but others don't. When employees are struggling, they can't do their best work and may not be as productive without the accountability of an office environment.

Flexible schedules may also create challenges for scheduling meetings, evaluating progress, and communicating effectively. Managers must be careful that employees working flexible schedules don't become "out of sight, out of mind." Maintaining communication, providing feedback, and offering recognition when schedules vary require extra effort.

4 Tips for Employers Implementing Flex Scheduling

Flexible scheduling is attractive for many organizations, but it's not the right choice in every scenario. If you are considering offering flex work for your employees, here's some tips on how to make it successful.

  1. Set clear policies and guidelines. Establish clear guidelines around in-person office time, and work-from-home expectations. For example, if you need employees to be in the office no later than 10:00 or remote employees to meet with managers weekly, it may be a good idea to put that in writing. Document flexible work policies in your employee handbook so they can be easily accessed.
  2. Leverage the right tools and technology. Effective tools and technology can help simplify interactions between employees who work different schedules in different locations. Here are a few must-have tools to put in place:
    • A project management platform to track task progress
    • A communication platform
    • A video conferencing tool
    • Online time and attendance software that can be accessed remotely
    • A time tracker for hourly employees
    • Cloud storage for shared documents and files
  3. Train managers and employees. Without intentional effort from managers, employees who work from home may feel isolated from their teams. Implement manager and employee training programs to communicate best practices for maintaining a solid company culture, even with flexible scheduling.
  4. Implement in phases. Start by offering a pilot program to a few employees and then asking for their feedback. Use their comments to address challenges and work out the kinks before implementing flexible scheduling in phases across the organization.

Measuring the Success of Flexible Scheduling

You can measure the success of your flexible work schedule by tracking positive changes in your workforce and business outcomes. Monitor KPIs like productivity, customer satisfaction, employee retention, and turnover rates to see how the new policies affect them.

Employee engagement surveys can also provide valuable feedback about employee perceptions of flexible schedules. Ask questions about issues that matter to your organization, such as culture, manager relationships, communication, recognition, empowerment, and peer connection.

Legal and Compliance Considerations

Employers covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act who implement flexible work schedules should be mindful of its requirements for employee wages, overtime, and recordkeeping.

Employers should also evaluate their policies to ensure they comply with your states' wage and hour laws, FMLA, and any other legal requirements. Some areas employers may want to pay particular attention to when implementing flexible scheduling policies include:

  • Methods for tracking all hours worked
  • Clearly defined policies on breaks and start/stop times
  • Compliance with local, state, and federal minimum wages
  • Accurate employee classifications (exempt or non-exempt)
  • Paid and unpaid leave expectations
  • Workers' compensation considerations
  • State, local, and international labor laws

Financial Implications of Flexible Scheduling

Embracing a flexible work schedule may allow your company to control certain costs, such as leased office space, equipment, and utilities. However, you will still need to provide the technology your employees need to work from home. Depending on the job, this may include laptops, phones, headsets, and reliable internet access.

Conduct a cost/benefit analysis to figure out whether flexible scheduling is a good investment for your organization. List all applicable costs and benefits, which may extend beyond dollars paid for a commodity or service. Benefits may include increased employee productivity, reduced recruiting costs as retention rates rise, and improved wellbeing of employees.

Future Trends in Flexible Scheduling

Flexible work opportunities have dramatically increased since 2020, and they are here to stay. Younger generations of workers already have increased expectations for flexible work opportunities, and the benefits for employee health and wellbeing are undeniable. In the future, evolving technology will make flexible work increasingly valuable for employers by supporting enhanced productivity, collaboration, and engagement.

As you determine whether flexible work schedules suit your team, consider the advantages and disadvantages, the financial considerations, and the potential for added value. With strategic vision and practical policies and guidelines, you can use flexible work to attract new talent, increase engagement, and retain your best employees.

See how Paychex Flex® Time can help you monitor and manage employee time off.

1 Pew Research Center (2023). “About a third of U.S. workers who can work from home now do so all the time.”


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* This content is for educational purposes only, is not intended to provide specific legal advice, and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice of a qualified attorney or other professional. The information may not reflect the most current legal developments, may be changed without notice and is not guaranteed to be complete, correct, or up-to-date.

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