Flexible Work Schedules: What You Need To Know With Examples

By Matthew Zane - Jan. 25, 2021
Articles In Life At Work Guide

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When it comes to job perks, perhaps none is sought after by employees more than a flexible work schedule. Everyone can relate to a situation where a rigid work schedule hinders the ability to be productive, both inside and outside the office. Flexible schedules address this issue.

This article will cover the different types of flexible schedules, the pros and cons of both employers’ and employees’ points of view, and provide tips for making a flexible work schedule work for you.

What Is a Flexible Schedule?

A flexible schedule is “an alternative to the traditional 9 to 5, 40-hour workweek that allows employees to vary their arrival and departure times,” according to the US Department of Labor. This type of schedule gives employees some level of autonomy in determining their preferred working hours.

Depending on the policy, employees are still required to clock a certain amount of work hours each week or meet other criteria. Due to this, flexible schedules work best in industries and roles that are project-based or results-focused, rather than in client-facing positions.

With a flexible schedule, employees can choose to work when they’re naturally most productive or improve their work-life balance by allowing them to devote portions of traditional working hours (9-5) to other life responsibilities.

Types of Flexible Schedules

A flexible schedule is not a one-size-fits-all deal – different companies can institute different policies to meet their workforce’s needs. Note that the types of flexible schedules listed below are not mutually exclusive; employers can adopt a hodge-podge of different schedule flexibility options.

Let’s take a closer look at each type of flexible schedule:

  • Compressed workweek. The compressed workweek is a flexible schedule where an employee works fewer days each week but for longer than usual hours.

    For example, an employee could work four days a week and ten hours each day to fill out a 40-hour workweek. An employee could work 80 hours every nine days and have one day off every other week.

    If you love to work hard and enjoy a nice long weekend, this might be the perfect fit for you.

  • Flextime. With a flextime policy, employees can choose which hours to work, and even change those hours from week to week. The employer might institute certain “core hours” during which all employees must be present, say from 11 am-3 pm.

    Other than that, employees can pick and choose how to fill out a 40-hour schedule. For example, early birds could choose to arrive at 7 am and leave work by 3 pm, while a night owl could show up at 11 am and leave at 7 pm.

  • Remote. Work-from-home options were becoming more prevalent even before the pandemic, but 2020 has been a real boom-time for remote workers. Depending on your position and employer, you may be able to work remotely 100% of the time.

    The option to work remotely can also be partial. Perhaps you can work a few days remotely each week and a few days onsite. You could also do work in the office during the day, go home early, and finish your duties at home.

  • Highly flexible. Jobs that come with this level of flexibility are usually project-based and results-focused. As long as you can do everything that needs doing, nobody cares how many hours you’re logging or where you’re logging them.

Advantages of a Flexible Schedule

There’s plenty of upside to allowing for flexible scheduling options from both the employee and the employer. In looking at each of the pros, we’ll use some data from a 2019 survey conducted by Flexjobs.

Let’s start by looking at what’s in it for employees:

  • Work-life balance. The Flexjobs survey found that greater work-life balance was the #1 reason employees want flexible schedules, with 75% of respondents citing it as a major perk. Flexible schedules allow workers to devote time to responsibilities outside of work without needing to request time off or figure out who’s covering their shift.

    Family ranked as the second important perk, with 45% of respondents citing it. The ability to care for children, aid sick relatives with doctor’s appointments, and just set aside time for family activities is a massive part of an appropriate work-life balance.

    Additionally, avoiding burnout is much easier with a flexible work schedule. Employees are the main beneficiaries of this, but employers don’t like burnt-out staff either.

  • Save time/money. Saving time and avoiding commute stress were next to the respondent’s reasons for seeking flexible work options. The two go hand-in-hand – for example if you’re able to go to work early at 7 am or late at 11 pm, you avoid rush hour traffic, which can reduce your commute time considerably.

    Or, if you’re working from home (partially or fully), you cut the commute out of your day entirely. With the average commute for Americans at just under a half-hour, this could save you a significant amount of stress, time, and money.

  • Higher productivity. The basic 9-5 grind suits some people perfectly. It became the standard for a reason, after all. But not all workers are equal; some get their best work done in the morning, while others take longer to gear up.

    With a flexible work schedule, you have some autonomy in deciding when to get your work done. If you manage it correctly, you’ll see an overall increase in your productivity.

  • More control. Everyone likes to feel in control of their life, and flexible schedules bolster that sense of control. As long as you get your work done, you can decide how and when to do it (to a degree).

  • Lower childcare costs. Depending on the flexible schedule arrangement your company offers, it might save you a bundle on childcare. For a house with two working parents who both enjoy occupations with flexible schedules, someone can always be with the kids when they’re not at school.

The above advantages are just a few – we’re sure you can think of other perks that a flexible schedule would provide you.

Now, let’s take a look at what’s in it for employers:

  • Lower turnover. 80% of respondents said they’d feel more loyalty towards an employer who offered flexible scheduling. On the flip side, 30% of respondents said they left a job because it wasn’t flexible enough.

    You don’t need super-math powers to understand the key point here – employees who get flexible work options are less likely to leave.

  • Attract talent. Employee retention is essential, but so is recruitment. Flexible work options are becoming more common, and top talent has options about where they work.

    With just those two pieces of information, it’s not hard to see that offering flexible work options is key if you want the best in the business coming to work for you.

    Similarly, having some fully remote workers opens you up to the whole world (or country, at least), rather than just being stuck with whatever the local candidate pool is.

  • Happier employees. Happy employees are productive employees. When you offer a flexible work schedule, employees feel that their lives outside of work are respected. This feeling of engagement translates into higher productivity and a more loyal workforce.

  • Fewer absences/less tardiness. No-brainer here: employees who already have flexible schedules don’t need to take as many days off. The policy allows employees to rearrange their schedule based on their responsibilities to take care of the outside work.

  • Heightened sense of accountability. When you respect your employees enough to allow them freedom, they generally return the favor. There’s an idea called the “gift exchange theory.” When you’re grateful for a gift, you naturally work to “earn” that gift.

    This plays out in reality. A recent study found that employees with greater autonomy over their schedules ultimately work more hours than their 9-5 brethren.

Disadvantages of a Flexible Schedule

Overall, flexible schedules are great – 97% of people don’t want something if it’s bad, after all. However, that doesn’t mean it’s all sunshine and rainbows.

Let’s look at some disadvantages of a flexible schedule, starting with the employee’s perspective:

  • Collaboration difficulties. One of the major benefits of a 9-5, on-site work schedule is that all employees are present at the same time and place. With flexible schedule options, collaboration can become difficult.

    Additional planning and coordination are necessary. Otherwise, projects can be delayed as employees aren’t on the same page.

  • Work-life imbalance. What – didn’t we say that flexible working options provide greater work-life balance? Well, remember that gift-exchange theory from above? Employees feel more pressure to “earn” their flexible schedule by working even harder.

    Additionally, with a flexible work schedule, the clock never truly stops. This is especially true for those who work from home and feel very little delineation between work time and recreational time.

  • Unrealistic expectations from family and friends. Anyone who’s ever worked from home before has had to deal with annoying requests from friends and family – “hey, you’re at home all the time anyway, you should have no problem helping me with X, right?”

    With a flexible schedule, your loved ones might think you have more free time than you actually do.

From the employer’s perspective, flexible schedules have a few downsides:

  • Equality. Navigating flexible work options can be a tricky thing for employers. For some roles, flexible scheduling is A-okay, while it’s not tenable for other roles. This potentially creates a scenario where some employees feel like second-class citizens in their workplace.

  • Reduced oversight. You need to have a lot of faith in your workforce to introduce flexible scheduling options.

    Managers may have a tougher time overseeing remote teams or team members. Not to mention that planning projects around wildly different schedules can be an administrative headache.

  • Limited client interaction. We’ve touched on this one before. If your role is client-facing, it may be frustrating for customers to contact you when your schedule isn’t static.

Flexible Schedule Tips for Success

Overall, the advantages of a flexible work schedule outweigh the disadvantages nine times out of ten. However, it’s still crucial to follow certain guidelines to maximize the success of a flexible schedule:

  • Communication. Consistent, open communication is imperative to a functioning, flexible schedule.

    From the employer’s perspective, you must communicate precisely your flexible work options and your expectations for employees. For example, you should spell out any core hours, key metrics for success, and protocol for changing your schedule.

    From an employee’s perspective, it’s crucial to let all relevant parties know what your work schedule is, as well as any alterations that arise. It’s especially important to have a tight-knit relationship with your team, since you’ll have to adapt to everyone else’s schedule as well.

  • Maintain consistency. Just because you’re not working 9-5 every day doesn’t mean that consistency isn’t still vital. Flexibility doesn’t mean you can make decisions about when and where to work on the fly. Setting up a reliable calendar for yourself and others will make things much smoother.

  • Keep deadlines at the forefront. The whole “clock-in, clock-out” mentality goes out the window with a flexible work schedule. Instead, you need to focus on project deadlines. This will help determine both individual and team priorities, as you make sure results, rather than time-tracked effort, serve as your metric for success.

  • Leverage technology. Scheduling and communication software are paramount for a successful flexible schedule arrangement. There’s a reason this sort of thing wasn’t available 50 years ago – folks didn’t have the means to make it work.

    Ensure your team or your employees are all on the same page technologically, and flexible schedules won’t cause more headaches than they solve.

  • Accountability. Employees need to be held accountable for their performance all the time, but it’s especially important when introducing flexible schedules. Rather than eliminate the benefit because of a few bad apples, address underperformers and get them up to speed on what your expectations are.

Final Thoughts

Flexible work schedules aren’t going away any time soon. No matter the form they take, employees love the ability to manage their workload when and where they see fit. And employers are always delighted to have satisfied workers with high employee morale.

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Matthew Zane

Matthew Zane is the lead editor of Zippia's How To Get A Job Guides. He is a teacher, writer, and world-traveler that wants to help people at every stage of the career life cycle. He completed his masters in American Literature from Trinity College Dublin and BA in English from the University of Connecticut.

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