Article | 4 min read

Improve employee productivity with flextime

By Shiwen Yap

Last updated July 24, 2014

For enhancing employee performance and welfare, “flextime” is an increasingly crucial “flexwork” tool. Flextime enables greater productivity, especially when integrated with cloud computing applications such as Dropbox and Google Drive.

Time is not a meaningful KPI in knowledge work given how technical improvements have reduced the link between productivity and time. This gels with the emerging wisdom that working smarter is more beneficial than simply working longer.

Why flextime?

Flextime was originally developed to deal with problems caused by transit times during peak hour and to attract and retain staff with family commitments. It grants workers greater flexibility in starting and quitting times while maintaining a core time they are present in the office.

Flextime usually takes the form of a scheduling program for staff, enabling individual choice in starting and finishing times daily, provided completion of core hours. While usually granted as one of a number of low-cost perks, it has emerged as a way to enhance productivity and reduce costs. Research indicated that firms enjoyed positive outcomes by creating flexible work arrangements. Productivity went up, as work effort and hours intensified in employees who enjoyed flextime.

Productivity gains from flextime are rooted in an employee’s willingness to maintain equilibrium between themselves and employers. Since the employer has created a positive social exchange benefiting their employees—flexible timing—the worker is interested in maintaining equity and adapts by performing better. Flexible workers repaid the temporal freedom opened to them by performing better at work.

Flextime is one of many possible positive social exchanges that can result in strong, trust-based relationships between workers and their managers—and the company by extension. These are channels for trust-building, since these exchanges are not obligatory. It motivates workers by granting greater autonomy, mastery, and purpose in their temporal control.

Things to consider about flextime

Under flextime, there is a core period when employees are expected to be at work (e.g. 11 am – 3 pm), while the remainder of the working day is “flextime”, in which employees freely deploy their time. Flextime is possible for nearly any job function and has strong business benefits.

However, it is more difficult to offer flextime for customer and client-focused appointments, due to requiring their presence in the office during specific periods. Industries that are not client-driven can allow workers to come into the office for specified weekly hours, while still maintaining flexibility in how those hours are deployed.

Some industries like IT and call centers operate on a 24-hour cycle and shift work, requiring staff through the day and night. For such industries, a flextime schedule is mutually beneficial given the performance gains. However, there are multiple issues concerning flextime, with pros and cons across different sectors and job roles.

The general benefits of flextime include:

  • Improved capability to deploy staff and extend operating hours;
  • Enhanced staff retention and recruitment at multiple organizational levels;
  • Increased savings in overtime costs and improved staff welfare;
  • Improved productivity by intensified work effort; and
  • Reduced conservancy costs by virtue of maintaining smaller offices

A downside of flextime is reduction in staff maintenance. Due to the lack of employee supervision, it could result in employee non-compliance and tardiness. Furthermore, if customer-related issues arise with no managers present, it could result in resolution difficulties with customers. It also demands more administrative resources from HR and IT, if timekeeping tools are to be deployed.

Flextime can inhibit innovation if improperly implemented. Relevant personnel may be unavailable for networking, brainstorming, and meetings if absent from the office—an issue that Yahoo USA experienced and which CEO Marissa Mayer corrected by revoking flexible work. Such decisions are not without business costs and risks to employees.

Examples of companies implementing flextime

The most effective ways to achieve an optimal cost-benefit ratio with flextime in a sustainable manner lies in proper implementation. There are multiple case studies from the London School of Economics and the Labour Relations Agency UK of arrangements in the corporate sector and non-profit organizations.

One model is the variable working week, with a minimum and maximum duration of 35 to 48 hours. Under this model workers can spend 7 to 9+ hours a day on the job, or use the extra hours as needed. However the business saves costs, due to not needing to pay for overtime unless beyond the maximum work hours.

A low-cost perk, as practiced by the World Wildlife Fund, is granting employees every alternate Friday off. Another model is compressed work weeks, with working hours compressed into four days, rather than a conventional 5 day or 5.5 day working week.

Managers need to take a leadership role in creating possibilities for positive work outcomes and flexible working. Employers need to engage and invest in their people—their human capital—in order to create positive business outcomes. The simplest way to achieve this lies in intelligently managing the dimensions where employer-staff interests mutually overlap: the autonomy and mastery of time.

This post was originally published by Zopim. Since joining Zendesk, Zopim has been welcomed into our product family as Zendesk Chat, along with a number of treasured belongings.