Jesper Schultz is CEO of BasicOps, a San Francisco internet-platform, who allowed his remote employees to set their own working hours and found they were way more productive and much happier as a result. During the pandemic, he allowed his small team to adjust their preferred working hours. The flexibility encouraged workers to prioritise their own wellness and be more motivated and productive while working.
For better or worse, we’ve said goodbye to long commutes and water-cooler chats. A new era of remote work has taken its place, bringing far more flexibility than the traditional 9-to-5 ever gave us.
While juggling childcare and crafting an office out of your bedroom closet probably wasn’t your idea of work-life balance, there are two sides to every coin, and the pandemic has forced some positive changes in the way we work, too.
Flexibility has become a necessity rather than a luxury. After permitting work schedule flexibility, I’ve seen positive shifts in our employees’ overall mindsets and productivity.
Here are the top five benefits of this flexibility that I’ve witnessed reshaping our workplace.
1. Flexibility leads to higher productivity
There’s a myth perpetuated by traditional office culture that our most productive hours happen between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. This schedule may work for a portion of the population, but there’s growing evidence that at least half of us operate on an altogether different productivity timeframe — and much that is calculated by our circadian rhythms.
In “Why We Sleep,” sleep researcher Matthew Walker describes how up to 50% of us aren’t programmed to wake up early. Our genetics determine our circadian rhythms: While you might have no trouble turning in at 10 p.m. and rising at 7 a.m., these hours may force your colleague to wake up far earlier than their natural sleeping patterns.
Losing early morning sleep has been linked to poor memory recall, trouble concentrating, poor communication, and lost productivity. Beyond the cognitive difficulties, it’s also costly for companies: In a study across four large US companies, researchers found insufficient sleep costs employers almost $2,000 per employee per year.
Companies including Nike and Google allow employees to time their work hours to match their circadian rhythms. Employees at these companies are even encouraged to take cat naps during their workdays, with “nap pods” scattered throughout corporate headquarters. Other than scheduled meeting times, my employees can plan their days as they please. If they’re tired after lunch and need a nap, I’m totally fine with that.
2. Remote workers take fewer sick days
The standard workday leaves very little room for the unexpected. The 9 a.m. punch-in doesn’t account for a feverish child at home or a rough night of sleep, meaning it’s likely your employees will opt to call in sick.
With flexible scheduling, your employees will feel comfortable starting later to get a few extra hours of sleep or tend to a sick child at home. Rather than losing an entire day, employees can start when it suits them.
Rigid working hours lead to higher stress levels, and higher stress weakens our immune systems. One powerful way to help keep your employees healthy is by providing flexibility — that alone will decrease stress and anxiety in their daily lives. They’ll take fewer sick days, and you’ll likely see more motivated workers, too.
3. Flexible schedules lead to happier employees
If you’re sceptical that a flexible schedule can improve happiness levels, look no further than Finland, the happiest country in the world.
Finnish workplace culture is a far cry from the American standard: For nearly 25 years, the Finns have been able to set their work hours — by law. The Working Hours Act, put into law in 1996, allows most workers in Finland to adjust their hours as needed. With that much flexibility and control over their lives, it’s not surprising that the Finns are happier than, well, everyone.
By offering a working agreement that mimics the Finns, you’re allowing your employees to incorporate personal errands such as picking up the kids, attending courses, or exercise, all of which will make it far easier for your employee to juggle life and work. They’ll be less stressed, more productive, and feel more balanced.
At BasicOps, all employees have the opportunity to take weekdays off and make up the time over the weekend if that works better for them. One of our employees takes hikes every Wednesday, which I think is great.
4. Communicate more effectively with flexible work
This may come as a surprise, but communication is far more efficient when an employee works from home or works on a flexible schedule. Between excessive coffee breaks and idle chit-chat, there’s a surprising amount of time wastage in the office place.
With the pandemic has come a heavy adoption of workflow management software programs. While these programs existed pre-pandemic, the work-from-home mandates made them all the more necessary to keep projects and collaboration flowing.
Flexible and remote workers are far more likely to use these platforms to connect with colleagues than those who are in the office on a rigid schedule. By adopting such platforms, communication among teams becomes far more streamlined and efficient, saving everyone time and energy.
5. A flexible work culture improves employee retention
Work-life balance is the Holy Grail of today’s professionals. Millennials , who now make up the largest generation in the US workforce, and Gen Z both place a high value on achieving that balance, so finding and retaining new talent will be likely more successful with flex work.
Perhaps most importantly, a flexible working agreement indicates trust and transparency between employee and employer. That not only puts employees at ease but also improves productivity.
While flexibility has been somewhat forced upon all of us during these pandemic times, it’s become clear that there is a silver lining for both business and employees.
The era of micromanagement is dying and flexibility must be embraced in order to keep moving forward.