Before COVID-19, having flexible work arrangements was seen as a nice, but optional, benefit in many workplaces. The demands of the modern workforce, including caring for young children and aging parents as well as busy schedules and other personal interests, had already compelled many employers to begin exploring allowing more workers to log in remotely and/or work outside of traditional business hours. In fact, surveys and polls consistently cite workplace flexibility as an important factor in whether employees stay with an organization, are satisfied at work and are performing well.
As a result of the pandemic, when many businesses had to choose between remote work or no work at all, many employers were forced to implement flexible work options to allow their employees to continue working while complying with stay at home orders and juggling family care issues.
With some states loosening restrictions and other states still requiring many employees to work from home when possible, employers should be considering how to best use flexible work options to maximize employee performance, increase workplace satisfaction, decrease turnover, and save the organization money.
Although flexible work arrangements can and do vary based on your organization’s culture and business needs, the key to successful flexible work options is making sure you’ve got the right fit for the employee and the job, you are able to successfully manage the worker’s performance remotely, and you’ve considered how to meet all compliance obligations that may arise in a flexible work arrangement.
For example, workplace flexibility during the pandemic has meant, in large part, having employees work from home. This means that managers have to consider how to best manage the performance of these remote workers. For some offices, this can be challenging. The manager isn’t in the office to check in with the employee to gauge whether they are on task, struggling with a project or issue, or distracted by social media. And while this means that adjustments may have to be made to keep lines of communication open, such as scheduling more frequent virtual “check-ins,” some employers may also want to explore technology solutions to more effectively manage the worker’s performance remotely. See our article, Maximizing technology in the era of remote work.
Flexible work hours
For other employers, the key to keeping their business running smoothly during the pandemic has been to offer workers the option of working non-traditional hours, such as mornings, evenings, or weekends. As schools and day cares closed or moved to online learning, many working parents have needed to adjust their regular work schedule in order to meet both work and family needs. For some businesses, this might mean allowing a worker to log in a little early to begin working, and then taking a longer break later in the morning to assist their children with virtual learning needs. And while certain new legal protections, such as the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) have provided many employees with time off from work to attend to family and childcare needs, for employees who have exhausted that time off and still have child care needs due to summer care and camp closures, flexible work hours may still be needed. See our article, Ain’t no cure for the summertime blues: FFCRA’s complex relationship with summer camps.
For hourly, non-exempt employees, this means that extra care will be required to track employees’ time worked during their flexed workday. Under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), employers are generally required to track the time worked by their non-exempt employees and pay at least minimum wage and overtime for hours worked over forty in a workweek. While the FLSA doesn’t proscribe the manner of such tracking (e.g., it could be tracked by pencil and paper), employers may want to take advantage of the many time-tracking software options available to assist employees in accurately capturing all time worked. Savvy software can track employees’ time in “real time” and alert both employees and employers if an employee is working overtime so that such work can be managed as needed. See our article, Risks and rewards of engaging employees with mobile devices.
Not all employees enjoy working remotely. For some, working remotely on top of stressors from the pandemic, including health concerns, fears of contracting COVID-19 and the downturn in the economy, has exacerbated feelings of loneliness, fear, and isolation. This means that managers should be alert to employees who are feeling less engaged with their work and who may be struggling with moderate to serious mental health and stress or even substance abuse issues.
Proactive employers may want to remind their employees of any relevant benefit offerings, such as employee assistance programs (EAPs), that may be available to assist employees through these tough times. For mental health or substance abuse issues that interfere with an employee’s ability to work and may rise to the level of a serious health condition or even a disability under a state or federal leave or disability law, managers should be prepared to contact human resources for guidance and assistance so that compliance needs can be met under relevant laws, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). See our eBook, The new remote workforce: Maintaining employee well-being during a pandemic.
More frequent check-ins with employees at this time is recommended. Managers should discuss with their employees the pros and cons of any newer flexible work arrangement that has been implemented. For example, one employee may really embrace a split schedule of two days in the office and three at home (if allowed by current state guidelines), while another may continue to need and appreciate an adjusted schedule of being able to take time off during the afternoon or a compressed workweek schedule to take care of family responsibilities. Without having frequent and candid discussions with employees, it may be difficult to discover whether the new arrangement is working satisfactorily for both parties.
Beyond the pandemic, flexible work arrangements, crafted as a part of an employer’s strategic plan, will aid in attracting and retaining talent. When you’ve achieved the right fit, such flexible work arrangements will increase employee engagement and result in happier, more productive employees.
Janice Pintar has extensive litigation experience in the field of employment law and was a plaintiff’s attorney for nearly thirteen years before becoming an HR Consultant in 2015.
Janice Pintar has extensive litigation experience in the field of employment law and was a plaintiff’s attorney for nearly thirteen years before joining Associated Financial Group’s HR Consultants in 2015. She educates and advises Human Resources professionals and employers on a broad range of employment issues and best practices and costly litigation compliance topics including respectful workplace practices, unlawful harassment avoidance, wage and hour issues, medical leaves and accommodations, as well as federal and state discrimination and anti-retaliation issues. Janice received her undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, magna cum laude, and her law degree from the University of Wisconsin, cum laude.
A recent survey by the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) reported 94% of leaders feel employee engagement is an important or very important workforce challenge. An engaged workforce increases operational income by over 19%, while a disengaged workforce can drain over 34% of an organizations’ operational income. Additional risks of low engagement can be seen in increased turnover, low customer satisfaction ratings and even increased employment litigation.
I had the opportunity to speak recently at a Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) conference where I shared my experience from my former career as a flight attendant. There’s a parallel between my previous office, an airplane, and a more traditional office when thinking about the importance of trust in connecting with and motivating people.
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