Flexible Work Schedules: How to Support Even Super Short Shifts of Varying Lengths
Flexible work schedules and workplace flexibility have been trending for several years now. However, the trend was dramatically accelerated in early 2020 thanks to COVID-19. Out of necessity, millions switched overnight to work from home. Work-life balance took on new meaning as work from home parents juggled child care and other family obligations.
Because standard shifts rarely work in the home setting, new patterns of work hours quickly emerged. Workers proved quite adaptable, and so did their workplaces. Now, like many other changes in 2020, flexible work is likely to stay—because it works.
Benefits of Flexible Work Schedules
91% of HR professionals agreed that flexible work arrangements positively influence employee engagement, job satisfaction and retention. What is the benefit of flexible work for employers and employees?
- Improves retention
- Attracts top talent
- Deepens the talent pool for recruitment
- Achieves greater workforce diversity
- Improves attendance
- Generates cost savings
- Reduces real estate footprint
A recent study found that 80% of employees said they would be more loyal to employers if they had flexible work options.
A SHRM Poll on Telework in the Time of COVID-19 shows a myriad of benefits including reduced commute time and better work/life balance—without reducing workload. 77% of millennials say that flexible hours improve productivity for people their age. A Stanford Graduate School of Business survey showed significant positive impact on productivity and employee retention.
Similarly, SHRM research on flexible work arrangements showed very positive benefits overall for these programs. Small businesses benefit as much or more than larger businesses, by gaining access to and retaining top talent. Research around the world suggests a tendency for people working irregular hours to put in more hours than those who work standard fixed hours.
What are flexible work schedules? How do companies offer them?
Flexible work arrangements are popular and effective with office employees as well as many other positions.
- Flex time. Many companies establish core hours and then allow a flex schedule outside of that. Take a page from Finland where most staff have the right to adjust typical daily hours by starting/finishing up to three hours earlier or later.
- Compressed work week. Here, companies shorten the number of days worked by increasing the hours per day. For example, someone who works ‘four tens’ has four 10-hour shifts in a week.
- Job-sharing. Two (or more) people perform a job traditionally held by one employee. Job sharing is used successfully in the public and private sector, but is not as common as other types of alternative scheduling.
- Remote Work. Once considered the exception, remote work is now embraced by workers and employers alike. Long after 2020 is gone, remote work will continue for many. Some companies are moving toward a virtual footprint, reducing their real estate where they can. Others will likely give employees the option to work remote at least some portion of their week. One of the great benefits of this shift in thinking is that remote work options enlarge the hiring pool. Companies can expand their talent search beyond the local area. Remote work may require core time and allow the rest to be flexible hours.
- Self-Service Employee Scheduling. Employees choose their schedules subject to company policies. There may be core times they are required to work or a minimum number of hours expected.
- Fixed Rotating Shifts. This type of scheduling is most common in manufacturing, food and beverage, and healthcare. Employees have a mix of shifts.Companies that spread less-desirable shifts across employees tend to have a happier workforce. Employee scheduling software allows managers to create complicated rotating schedules for large workforces.
Keys to Successful Flexible Work Schedules
- Establish guidelines
- Encourage consistent communication
- Maintain legal compliance
- Wage and Hour Compliance
- Workers’ Compensation
- State laws affecting minimum shift length
- Track, assess, and update flexible work arrangements
- Ensure fairness in work hours—both actual and perceived
- Rely on scheduling software to quickly create work schedules
How to Build Flexible Work Schedules
Building flexible work schedules is not as hard as it may first seem. Break the work down into 4 steps and each time you schedule it will be easier than the last.
Step 1: Understand your labor needs
Before you schedule your workforce, you should understand your labor requirements. Ask yourself:
- How many people do I need working at any given time?
- When does the work need to be done?
- Where does the work need to be done? Is the work location specific?
- Are there peaks and valleys in workload?
You may find that some jobs require specific hours at specific locations while others can be done at any time (as long as the hours are put in). Similarly, some work may require specific certifications or qualifications. Knowing the details helps immensely when it comes to creating schedules that provide adequate coverage, legal compliance, and cost control.
Step 2: Understand labor constraints
Now that you know what your business needs, you need to review what your business has. Ask yourself:
- Who is willing and able to fill a particular labor need? Considerations include full-time or part-time status, maximum hours, certifications, shift availability and shift preferences.
- Who is qualified to fill a given shift? Considerations include certifications, education, training, and licenses.
- Who does the law allow to fill a given shift? A myriad of federal, state, and local laws govern hours worked in a day or week, consecutive work, breaks and meals, and more.
- Who is available to work? Your employees can be unavailable for a variety of reasons, including sick leave, family leave, vacation, and more. Your absence management plan should set policies that manage time off. When employees follow the rules, there is less impact to productivity and processes.Planned absences, and the process for requesting them, must be part of your scheduling process. That way there are fewer surprises for everyone.
- Where can the work be performed? Some employees may be available to float between multiple locations. Others may be available to work, but must be at home. You may even be able to leverage this availability for short shifts that cover your peaks of activity, when otherwise it would not make sense for the employee to commute for that shift. This is truly a game changer, made possible by combining flexible hours and remote working.
Step 3: Create the work schedule
Now comes the easy part, if you have the help of scheduling software. Armed with an understanding of business needs and labor availability, you can create and assign shifts. You can also create open shifts for employees to claim and block time for requested leave. Once you’ve built your first schedules you can leverage them for on-going regular schedules.
Flexible work scheduling software helps you:
- Predict staffing needs using historical data.
- Avoid understaffing by scheduling based on required qualifications and skills.
- Avoid overstaffing by establishing adjustable templates for typical work weeks and setting alerts for overtime.
- Know when employees have reached their FMLA reduced schedule hours, are scheduled for days they need off, or have other restrictions.
- Identify alternatives for specific shifts so that you can quickly see who can fill in when an employee calls in or requests a specific day off.
- See (via mobile notifications) when employees request PTO, request specific shifts or have an emergency.
- Build predictive schedules that give employees time to adjust schedules for better attendance, and employers stay compliant with local scheduling laws and regulations.
- Give employees portal access to schedules from their mobile device, request time off, and submit feedback on extra shifts and other schedule requests.
- Know right away when employees fail to clock in, so you can quickly address the issue.
Step 4: Track and enforce hours worked
Timekeeping is integral to successful scheduling. You need to know that your employees are working the schedule and hours you assign. It is how you control costs, meet compliance, and ensure coverage. It is the data you use for future planning.
There are many ways to track time. Modern timekeeping software can work with physical time clocks installed in your locations. You can also have employees use a mobile app to clock their time. For some segment of your employees such as some office workers you may choose to have them enter time directly into an online timecard. All of these methods allow you to compare what you planned to what actually happened.
If employees do not clock in on time or at the right location, you can get a notification. You can also enforce schedules at the clock, so that employees cannot clock in early for a shift or from a meal break.
All of this, of course, is easier if it is automated.
Unexpected Business Flexibility through Alternative Work Schedules
Many businesses leaders who were forced to modify their work environment are now seeing potential long-term benefit from flexible working. One of the most interesting is the ability to support super short shifts of varying length. This extreme of flexible work hours can be a win-win for employees and employers. Employees can find a better work-life balance than may be available to them through a traditional work schedule. Employers have access to a deeper talent pool and can decrease costs.
Automated scheduling and timekeeping software is invaluable for maintaining labor cost control in a flexible work environment. This level of control and accountability in turn allows businesses to offer the greatest schedule flexibility for the benefit of the entire organization.
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