The days of 9-5, on-site officing may not be obsolete, but they’re certainly no longer the only way organizations are getting work done.
In 2023, Forbes data shows that 12.7% of full-time employees work from home and 28.2% work a hybrid model, with those numbers predicted to rise.
As employee demand for flexible work arrangements continues to increase, HR managers and teams are faced with preparing entire organizations to work in new ways. In this article, we’ll discuss how HR teams should handle this shift in work, and review the benefits and challenges about preparing companies to shift from in-person to at home or flexible work arrangements.
What is flexible work?
Flexible work arrangements allow employees arrangements or schedules that differ from the traditional 9-5, Monday through Friday, in-office work week.
At GenesisHR, we’ve seen a shift amongst many of our clients since 2020—clients have adapted to some sort of flexible work arrangement since 2020. Some of the recognized benefits to flexible work include the following:
Increased ability to attract and retain employees
Better work-life balance for employees
Increased job satisfaction
Lower office overhead cost
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What are the common types of flexible work arrangements?
1. Flexible Location
Flexible locations allow employees to work for their employer from any location.
For employers and HR teams, it’s important to pay attention to every employee’s specific location; employers are still responsible for workers compensation benefits for employees in remote work arrangements, and if your employee is outside your compensation range, you may have a problem.
Another aspect HR teams should consider is ensuring employees are connected to the organization in a meaningful way regardless of their physical location, so they are not left out of the office dynamics or opportunity for advancement.
Telecommuting works nicely for jobs that require independent, autonomous work with minimal face-to-face meetings. Ideally, telecommuting arrangements have a measurable work output, so expectations and output are able to be quantified.
Telecommuting can take different forms; it may mean an employee is fully remote, in the office occasionally, or in the office for urgent work only.
3. Hybrid Work
Perhaps what most people think of when they hear the term “flexible work,” many people think hybrid work is the future of work. Hybrid work arrangements allow employees flexibility to work from home and work in-person as well.
One survey of U.S. employers reports that 87% of employers will embrace greater flexibility post-pandemic, with most planning a hybrid onsite/remote-work model.
4. Snowbird Programs
“Snowbird” programs allow employees to transfer to different locations (typically in a warmer region) in the winter months. This flexible work arrangement is typically tailored to organizations that have multiple offices or satellite offices. Telemarketing or help-desk roles are common candidates for snowbird programs.
Other Examples Of Flexible Work Arrangements
Flex time. This allows employees to work a full day but vary their working hours within the day. Flex time arrangements are typically designed so core work hours are covered, but employees can adjust on the front or back end of those hours as needed.
Reduced hours/part-time. If this fits the needs of both the employee and the employer, these arrangements can be beneficial. It’s important to pay attention to benefits in this scenario, specifically for large employers, as the Affordable Care Act requires benefits when an employee works 30-plus hours. ERISA also requires participation in retirement programs in accordance with the 1,000-hour rule. If your organization chooses to go this route, it’s important employees understand the full scope of what will be affected if they proceed with a reduced hour/part time schedule.
Compressed work week. With this arrangement, an employee can work longer periods of time per day in order to arrange for a day off. I commonly see these as 9/80 programs—employees work 80 hours over 9 days and have the tenth day off.
Job sharing. In this arrangement, two or more employees share a position or duties. Benefits need to be clearly outlined in advance in this arrangement, and employees need to be highly collaborative together. I think the key is to ensure the two parties are truly able to work together so that the business doesn’t feel a gap in information flow or work. Job sharing can help a company retain talent when someone no longer wishes to (or no longer can) work a full time role but still wants to contribute to the org’s success. It allows for role continuity since they can fill in for one another’s absences. If done well, job sharing can work for almost any type of role. The responsibilities of a single job could be split in such a way that the duties can be assigned to each person complementing their individual strengths.
Gradual retirement. This arrangement can be beneficial to organizations losing valuable talent and institutional knowledge as employees retire. Setting up a staged reduction in hours to allow them to transition out over a period of time can help with training and restructuring. If your organization does this, it’s important your company actually invests in ensuring the transition is happening in order for this to be truly beneficial. Otherwise, you’re potentially paying double and providing benefits to multiple employees for little added value.
Sabbaticals. These are authorized periods of time away from work without loss of employment rights. Sabbaticals are often paid leaves occurring on a company-set structured basis.
Do flexible work arrangements offer any benefit to employers?
If you’re reading this as an employee, these arrangements probably sound great, but as an employer, you may be wondering if they actually add value to your company—or just a lot of headaches.
In my experience, you can provide these benefits with minimal friction for your business and still run your business successfully. Here is how employers can benefit from flexible work arrangements.
1. Improved retention
This survey found that 80% of workers would choose a job that offered a flexible work arrangement, and 30% value choosing their work location so much that they would take this over increased vacation time. Another showed that 80% of respondents said they’d be more loyal to their employer if they were offered flexible work.
Survey found that 80% of workers would choose a job that offered a flexible work arrangement, and 30% value choosing their work location so much that they would take this over increased vacation time.
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2. Improved talent recruitment
Since flexible schedules are highly desirable to workers, it makes sense that in order to hire the best workers, a company will want to be competitive in the area of work arrangements. Employees will seek out the roles and benefits that suit what they want, and if you aren’t offering it, then you are not attracting the best talent.
3. Increased productivity
It’s true! Many companies are loath to enter into the relationship if they can’t watch their employees working, but surveys of remote workers found that they work 1.4 days more per month, or 16.8 work days per year, than in-office employees. With flexible work, distractions are minimized, allowing employees to focus. It does require a shift in thinking, but it will allow for an opportunity for managers to rethink their evaluation metrics and focus on obtaining better work regardless of location.
4. Higher employee engagement
According to SHRM, engaged employees tend to perform better than those who are not engaged. Engaged employees have fewer missed days of work (with remote work, sometimes an employee is too sick for the office, but not too sick to work remotely), less turnover (being able to balance home/work life helps employees remain loyal); and greater career longevity (maintaining institutional knowledge within the company longer).
5. Creates a more diverse workforce
A broader recruitment pool allows employers to hire employees who they feel are the best at what they do, and not just the best within their locale. Having a broader pool of candidates usually leads to a more diverse team, which in turn leads to better performance.
Flexible Work Arrangements: Common HR Challenges & How To Address Them
It’s not just sunshine and rainbows with flexible work arrangements—real issues do exist, and they can be harmful to your organization if they aren’t recognized and proactively addressed.
Here are the top challenges I see with flexible work:
1. Control Issues With Management And Leadership
I often hear managers recount the pandemic-era stories many of us have heard about employees working multiple full-time jobs and collecting full pay from each. These employees were not producing at their best level and management wasn’t set up to understand their performance. These stories are more the exception than the norm and shouldn’t color employers’ attitudes toward flexible work.
Yes, depending on your managerial style, flexible work may require a shift in how you manage. It will be important to not look at time in the seat so much as quality of work and results. Here are some of my suggestions for managers and leaders for adapting to this shift:
Set clear guidelines and expectations for employees. Make sure to state these expectations early and often. For example, when should someone be available for communication? How much of a time lapse is acceptable for responding to a Slack message or email? What is your policy for attending meetings? Ensure they have arrangements at home to allow for no distractions—such as alternative childcare arrangements—and then make sure your policies are all recorded in your employee handbook.
Reward employees for outcome, not just showing up. Some employees will take advantage of flexible work arrangements, and management should address those instances. But also make sure to publicly laud and reward employees who are achieving to help set the examples.
Trust your employees! If you set clear expectations and they are being met, then your employee is providing the outcome you are looking for—this warrants allowing more trust that the employee is completing their work well and on time.
Keep a pulse on employee satisfaction. To help ensure the work arrangement is meeting expectations for everyone, consider implementing things such as Pulse surveys.
Ask your peers. Tap into stories from other successful organizations and work on taking away best practice strategies from these groups to help improve management style and oversight.
Connect with managers. Leadership must allow managers to have a hand in determining which roles may be conducive to flexible work arrangements. If they are resentful of the arrangement, it may prove challenging for everyone. Leadership will do well to make sure managers are trained to have the necessary skills, knowledge, and tools to adapt. Make sure these training opportunities evolve as technology and needs change. Important training for your teams include leading virtual teams, learning effective remote communication, providing feedback remotely, building trust, and maintaining employee engagement from a distance.
2. Communication Challenges
Remote and other flexible work arrangements make communication more difficult if you don’t have a plan and process for how and when you’re imparting important information. Make sure your employees are well informed about important decisions.
Ensure regular meeting times for your whole team, as well as one-on-one meetings with your staff members at least weekly. Collaboration should be encouraged through these meeting times. Use the electronic tools at your fingertips (like Slack, Teams, and Zoom) to facilitate these conversations and ensure everyone is comfortable using them
Also, make sure employees feel confident that they can contact any colleague in a virtual environment. Ensure electronic calendars are always up to date and available to all. Learn more about how to overcome communication challenges when working remotely in our article, An Employer’s Guide To Work From Home Best Practices.
3. Technology Issues
Flexible work arrangements are dependent on the right technology—without it, your employees won’t be able to complete their work. Although not primarily an HR-related task, HR can provide guidance in terms of technological needs.
Make sure employees have the proper equipment for working outside the office (headphones, laptops, cell phones, etc.) and ensure there is an internal system for data sharing and communication. Also, make sure to utilize available systems for streamlining workflows regardless of employee locations. It is extra important to have added system security for remote roles.
4. Employer Bias
Remote employees may be seen as less committed to their jobs compared with those who remain full-time in the office. They have fewer opportunities to engage with their managers and may be inadvertently punished for this. Note that there are some possible legal considerations here in terms of inadvertent discrimination of a class of employee when this proximity bias arises—your HR team needs to address these issues through training and management coaching, although it may also help to revisit the recruitment process to ensure it is being done in a non-discriminating manner.
5. Lack Of Career Development
Remote workers need to have equal access to growth opportunities, training programs, and career development resources as those who are in office; however, because flexible work is a newer development, there are not many resources available to help employees develop their careers in remote environments. Ensure you have the right performance management tools in place. Consider a skills matrix software platform to assist. It may take more upfront effort, but it will allow for better results management and employee experience.
6. Compliance Issues
Labor laws are different in each state. Policies on minimum wage, sick time, overtime, medical laws, paid leave laws, or state funded disability programs are ever-evolving and require constant attention.
This is where a PEO like GenesisHR can be invaluable. We work to ensure our clients are able to operate in any state. And we equip our clients with the knowledge of what that means, helping to facilitate much of the work involved.
There are other compliance issues around knowing when and where your employees are doing their work, including the following:
Equal opportunity compliance. Unintentionally, it may be the case that some groups of employees benefit more from flexible arrangements than others. It’s important to pay attention to who is benefiting and how that may tie into nondiscrimination policies.
Wage and hour. Nonexempt employees are required to receive overtime payments after working a certain amount of hours. In some flexible work arrangements, employees have the feeling of always being available to work and they may go above these hours without the employer realizing. Employers need to control off-the-clock work.
Benefits. Switching to a part-time schedule may impact benefits. Pay attention to the ACA (30 hours for health) and ERISA (1,000-hour rule allowing employees to contribute to the company retirement plan).
Workers compensation. Nearly all states require coverage if you have one or more employees working there. If an employee gets injured during the course of employment, then they may have a valid claim. Some employers use software to track the physical location of the employee when they log in each day, which may help ensure employees aren’t working in a location where they are outside of your worker’s comp coverage (for example, on vacation in another country when you only have coverage in the U.S.).
Multi-state compliance. Every state has their own unique tax laws. Hiring someone in a state where you don’t currently have any employees will require you to register with that state and ensure relevant tax authorities are aware of the new office. (Yes, one employee in that state does constitute an office!)
Is flexible work right for your organization?
Wondering if your team might be a good fit for flexible work, or how you can successfully implement remote or hybrid opportunities to employees?
GenesisHR’s experienced team of HR professionals can help you understand the benefits and considerations of flexible work and help you implement a successful program. Contact us today to get started.