Mark Hammer is the CEO of Bloomfire, the world leader in knowledge engagement software.
Recently, I attended a webinar in which two CEOs discussed how they are managing their teams during the COVID-19 pandemic and what they imagine a post-COVID-19 work world will look like. What struck me was how little change they envisioned for that world.
For the most part, they imagined offices would open up slowly, perhaps with all colleagues in masks for a while, and then after a period of time, things would be relatively normal, perhaps with more employees working from home. As the CEO of a knowledge-sharing platform, I’ve observed a number of leaders opening up to the ideas of employees working from home. But from my perspective, the future of work is not only working from home; it’s flextime.
What is flextime?
Put simply, flextime is a working structure that empowers employees to work successfully when, where and however they can be most productive.
Workplaces have traditionally been constrained by a culture that measures performance in time worked. In fact, I once worked for a CEO who would move to the front door of the office every Friday afternoon and monitor when employees left the office. If you left before 5 p.m., he would say nothing in that moment, but on Monday, he would question why you left early and whether you were really committed to the company. What mattered to him and other leaders like him wasn’t performance but control and the illusion of performance.
Alternatively, I believe employees should be measured by the output and quality of their work. And they should have the freedom flextime provides.
Advantages For The Worker
For many workers, the biggest advantage of being able to work where and when they want is having more control over their time. For example, if they no longer need to spend time on a commute, they can use that free time either on work or on other areas of their life, such as children or exercise. (I’ve observed many of my own co-workers doing this now.)
It also means that, when it’s safe, employees can work from various locations should they need (or want) to. They can spend the morning at a coffee shop working, go to the office for a few hours, then head home to finish the day before rush hour. They have the benefit of determining for themselves when to make work a priority and when to focus on the rest of their lives.
Advantages For The Business
The most obvious benefit to businesses is around infrastructure. I don’t see offices going away, but I do see them being far more flexible and smaller than they are today. To me, because employees can work from anywhere, they won’t necessarily need an assigned desk. And when they do go to the office, they can choose a spot to work in. This smaller footprint could potentially save companies money, even as they shift spending from office space to tools that enable flextime.
According to CBS News, flextime could also benefit retention, lower stress among employees and create an overall happier workforce.
The tools needed for flextime are relatively affordable. They include, at a minimum, ensuring each employee has a laptop, a messaging solution for real-time collaboration and a video conferencing solution for more personalized remote meetings.
With the correct infrastructure in place, managers can focus their teams on what really matters, which is moving the business forward, regardless of where their teams are located.
Flextime’s Biggest Drawback
But of course, as with any work model, there are drawbacks. By far the biggest challenge, as you might have seen with so many working from home during the pandemic, is the difficulty of developing or maintaining a strong corporate culture. One of the advantages of working in an office is that workers share far more of their lives with their colleagues. Ad hoc conversations around children, lunches discussing concerts and TV shows, etc., help connect workers.
How Flextime Could Work
If this pandemic has taught me anything as a leader, it’s that the requests employees have made for the past several years for flextime isn’t a concession but a solution. My team has been at least as productive — and in many cases more productive — these past few months. So I cannot imagine going back to a “normal routine.”
I still envision a need for an office (or at least conference rooms) for meetings in which face-to-face communication is deemed necessary. But new tools are being developed every day that make even that scenario more manageable in a distributed environment.
To help ensure your flextime offers are successful, I have a few suggestions:
1. Work to maintain a strong company culture. I’ve found several practices to be helpful on this front. Most importantly, because the focus of flextime is on goal-setting and attainment rather than time spent in the office, ensure that your team has clear, measurable and attainable goals. I have found this to be the most important aspect of flextime. Because so much of what workers do is in flux, being clear on what they are to accomplish is critical.
2. Have both quarterly and annual team and department goals to ensure alignment. Each week, my company holds a meeting that always starts with our goals and progress toward those goals. Transparency is key, as it helps drive performance. In team meetings, encourage “shout outs” to team members who have made demonstrable strides toward achieving their goals.
3. Hold team-building activities. Once you have a truly goals-driven culture, try to enhance your team culture with team-building activities to ensure your employees function truly as a team. These can include morning coffee chats or evening happy hours by video conference, having a team member teach others a new skill, like yoga or painting, or even online trivia contests.
Ultimately, I believe companies that can offer flextime will. And those companies that do will be far more attractive to the employees they seek.