Flexitime is all the rage, but when you’re a one-person or few-person team, how do you break the shackles of the 9 – 5 and create a working schedule that’s better suited to your lifestyle?
Firstly, why would you want to set up flexible hours?
If you’re a small business owner like a freelancer or a contractor, you may even have made the decision to go solo to benefit from setting your own hours. Working for yourself can lead to a better work/life balance, especially where the ‘life’ end of the scale can be demanding, eg: hobbies, childcare, or even just if you’re a morning/night person. But it’s easy to be sucked back into the 9-5 routine, especially if your business relies heavily on working with other businesses, you may feel obliged to stick to their business hours.
If you’re working in a small business of up to 50 people the situation will be a little different. You’ll have more people to please who all have their own work/life balances to maintain. Plus the pressure of sticking to the ‘normal’ business hours for the sake of your own staff and other businesses that you may work with.
But why even break from the conventions of the standard 9 – 5 workday? We can sum it up in two words; productivity and profit.
Flexible hours for productivity
Recent studies and trials around Europe have demonstrated that we’re more productive on 6 hour work days than on 8 hour days. The reasoning behind this seems to be that less office time means less stress on our bodies, more time for exercise, recreational activities and appointments leading to fewer sick days and unplanned absences.
Shockingly, one recent study has determined that in an average 8 hour work day, we actually work just under 3 hours!
We agree, 3 hour days are a little insane, and believe that result is more a factor of modern day stresses and distractions. But the 6 hour day could be worth considering for your business.
Similarly the 4 day working week strategy is rising in popularity, even the Green Party have included it in their manifesto ahead of the 2017 elections.
And even just offering flexitime can be massively beneficial to your employees and your bottom line – take a look at how flexible working benefited MIT Sloan School in Cambridge.
Flexible hours is all about helping your employees to help the company, and apparently it works.
Flexible hours for profit
Flexible hours can reduce sick leave, overtime and absenteeism as well as productivity, it’s what all CEOs are striving to achieve but few are brave enough to introduce.
Companies have been able to demonstrate a 1-3% per annum saving thanks to introducing flexible hours, and with a little work, up to 5% saving can be achieved. The savings come from a combination of reduced recruitment costs, reduced overtime costs and reduced absenteeism.
Of course, if you’re a freelancer or contractor, essentially a one-person business, you’re unlikely to worry about recruitment or overtime, but if you’re more productive with your hours and can reduce sick days and absenteeism as a result of your new schedule, then you should also see a positive result in terms of your profit.
Flexible hours for employees
Always remember the human element, flexible hours are about improving your company’s biggest asset – it’s employees.
Before you start on your flexible hours journey, find out what your team wants and needs to help them work more efficiently. Set up a survey and work with the results to determine the ways your office set up can be improved.
This may involve flexible start/finish times, flexible breaks, flexible locations thus cutting down commute times, or flexible total hours worked.
How to work with flexible hours
To a certain extent, this depends on your business, but there’s always something you can do.
If your main concern is that with reduced or flexible hours your team won’t complete the necessary workload, then trial it. Take half of the employees and test the new proposed flexible schedule against the other half working the standard hours. You’ll need to commit to this trial, a week’s worth of data won’t tell you anything, try to run it for at least thee months.
If you decide to take this approach, ensure that you’re using some sort of time tracking software within your business. It’s a good idea to bring this in anyway so that you can see which activities are taking too long and which activities are the most profitable. Check out tools such as Harvest or Toggl, which can help you and your team track their productivity.
If your trial is successful, then it’s time to consider how you’ll cover all the necessary business hours. There are a few ways to achieve this;
Agree on a set time of day when all employees will be working and available to respond, eg: response time 11am-2pm. Inform all other businesses you work with that these are the correct hours to contact your office. Add this detail to all email footers and set autoresponders and voicemails so that anyone who contacts you outside of your set hours will be aware of the situation. You can also ensure that business meetings are set within these times to ensure full attendance. The hidden benefit of this type of setup is that the remaining hours outside the 11am-2pm window are dedicated working hours in which meetings, calls and emails will not interfere.
If your employees all want to work early and leave early, for example, you may need to compromise by setting up a schedule. Flexibility is all about compromise, if you need to cover certain hours people may need to take turns when it comes to their desired working hours.
It’s important to establish the rules and make sure the whole team understand and adhere to them. And yes, freelancers, we mean you too – one-person businesses need rules and commitment too, if this is going to work.
Employees should still have set, contracted goals to achieve. Whether this comes in the form of hours worked or targets achieved should be decided and adhered to.
You may need to set up rules surrounding the use of flexitime, holiday and overtime to ensure that the system is fair for all.
If you’re big enough to have someone working in an HR role, then make the smooth running of your flexible plan their responsibility. It’s easiest when one person oversees the office plan as a project in it’s own right and can ensure coverage when it’s needed. If you don’t have anyone in this role, considering the boost in productivity and profits, it might be worth hiring someone to cover it.
And if you’re a one-person business, then this role will fall to you. Set up your rules and track your own coverage to ensure you’re working efficiently.
Continually improve your flexible workplace
The key to long-term success with your flexible approach is to refine your offering, approach and process continually.
Ask for feedback from your employees. This can be done in meetings, with anonymous feedback or an online form.
Analyse your results, use those time-tracking tools and have your HR person report back on what is and isn’t working.
Combine all of this information with your accountant to pinpoint where improvements can be made and ensure you’re going in the right direction.
Finally, remember to look at the big picture, making these kinds of changes will have a significant impact on your business in many different ways. Some things will work for you and some won’t, keep testing and trailing until you’re seeing the results you want.