Flexible Work Arrangements – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

‘Our policy has always allowed employees to work flexible hours, as long as the work gets done with no negative impacts on others. A serious surfer doesn’t plan to go surfing next Tuesday at two o’clock. You go surfing when there are waves and the tide and wind are right.’ – Excerpt from the book, Let My People Go Surfing

On this week’s episode of the Beyond Billables podcast, we’re speaking with Hive Legal’s Melissa Lyon, and a big topic of conversation has been flexible work arrangements. In Melissa’s case, Hive allows her to work from home around 90% of the time, which is perfect for her since she’s a mother of three kids. She was quick, however, to point out that this wasn’t an issue that relates strictly to motherhood or domestic issues. ‘Flexible work practices are for everyone, I don’t think they’re just for women and families.’

This is obvious when you think about it. Everyone has that something else in their lives that takes up a lot of their time and energy. For some people, it’s kid and for others, it’s a hobby or a passion for travel. Regardless of whether it’s golfing or geocaching, having the flexibility in your professional life to fit this other thing in is imperative to thriving. To again use Melissa’s words, ‘I believe flexible work practices allow people to maintain their sanity, their drive, their purpose and ultimately to enjoy what they’re doing.’ That’s a key point, and one we couldn’t agree more with.

So, flexibility matters. Work-from-home deals or remote positions are becoming increasingly normal in the law, and a new generation of professionals are coming in to drive change. With all these dynamics in play, it’s worthwhile to stop for a moment and really consider the pros and cons. (Hint: there are more pros.)

Whether the flexible work schedule involves compressing work days, flexible daily hours, or telecommuting challenges, here are some pluses and minuses.

The Pros of Flexible Work

  • The aforementioned freedom and flexibility to better meet family responsibilities and/or pursue things outside of work. If you have a flexible schedule, you can go to a parent-teacher conference during the day, take a yoga class, or be home when the cable guy comes. You might even have time to cook dinner for you and your family.
  • Employees don’t waste as much time, energy and resources commuting to a centrally located office. In some areas, commutes of more than an hour each way are not uncommon.
  • It avoids the stress of rush hour. There are few things more infuriating than sitting in a motionless car surrounded by other people in boxes of steel. You’d be amazed at how much faster a commute can be by simply making your arrival and departure times variable.
  • Flexible arrangements give people a sense of autonomy. By allowing people more flexibility and freedom over their schedule, you allow them to not feel like they are slaves to their schedule. People like control, so giving them a little can really make a big difference.
  • It reduces employee burnout rates. Flexibility means employees can take a break when they need it without incurring the wrath of a boss or the judgemental glances of coworkers.
  • It allows people to approach work on their own terms. Many people think that early birds are hard workers and night owls are slackers. There is zero empirical evidence to back this up, and wherever you fall on the spectrum, flexibility means letting yourself fall into a schedule that best suits your needs and your most productive modes.

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The Cons of Flexible Work

  • Some people thrive in the social atmosphere of the office and actually perform worse when working from home or at different hours from their colleagues. If you’re part of a distributed team in different parts of the world, you also start running into serious timing issues, which can be substantial when clients need quick answers.
  • Working from home can often make neighbours and friends think you aren’t actually working, thus creating a whole raft of new issues. Since you’re at home, they assume you’re free to help them or babysit the kids – in this way, the line between work and home can start blurring in unintended and fractious ways.
  • Working from home or at varied hours reduces the structure in your life and requires more discipline and focus. There is no clear delineation between work and home. When you use flexible schedules sometimes that means work all of the time, sometimes it means nothing gets done. This is tough for some people to adapt to, no matter how appealing it may sound on paper.

Regardless of what type of situation you face or set of variables you’re working with, challenges exist – don’t kid yourself about that. This article is only factoring in the employee’s perspective, there are many pros and cons on the employer side as well. Overall, more flexibility is thought to improve morale, reduce absenteeism, lower turnover rates, and help to recruit and retain top talent. On the flipside, there will always be people who try to abuse flexibility to simply do less work. Extremely team-oriented firms may also struggle to maintain the team dynamic while giving people a free leash.

While nothing will ever be perfect, those who want to emulate Melissa should consider using flexibility to integrate work more successfully into their lives. Overall, the advantages generally outweigh the disadvantages, and a good manager can handle the disadvantages. The tide is going in one direction, and if your job is not open for flexibility with good cause, it may be time to reconsider your position.

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