One of the more interesting takeaways from the pandemic was the fact that you don‘t have to work at the same time as your colleagues to get work done – as many people discovered through flexing their work hours around responsibilities at home.
But can organisations really make a permanent move from the traditional 9-5 to something more flexible? If you haven’t yet taken the leap, what does it take to make this work?
Understand work – before you can start deconstructing the role of time at work, you need to understand the work your organisation does in its current state. Identify your sources of productivity, the impact networks have on how different types of work get done and how people experience work both synchronously and asynchronously. What are the pain points of each way of working? What value do people and workflows gain from working synchronously? How can you avoid losing these benefits as you flex on time? Understanding these factors will provide your baseline.
Be principled – To fundamentally change the way you work, you need to re-establish the principles of how and why you work. Keep it simple – three or four principles around the purpose, outcomes and fairness of how you want work to happen should be enough to guide you as you experiment with time flexibility.
Consciously design work – Let’s be honest, before 2020, very few of us thought about how our work was designed, we simply followed the 9-5 (or 5.30. Or 6) model handed down to us from the Industrial Revolution. When adding flexibility into the equation, you’re also adding a degree of complexity – which means you need to give the way work is designed more thought. Which tasks can be asynchronous? Which roles offer the most/least potential for flexibility – and why? This needs to be understood, documented and tested.
Build the skills – New ways of working require new skills and habits. Managers will need new skills to coordinate teams who work at different times. Scheduling needs to be approached in a way that recognises asynchronous working. And team agreements need to be put in place to ensure everyone understands how work happens, with space to test, learn and tweak as you go.
Above all, it’s important to remember that one size does not fit all. When it comes to policies around time flexibility, what suits your competitor may not suit you. Rather than implementing copycat policies, take the time to develop an approach that aligns with your organisations purpose, culture and values, then define what flexibility on time means for you.
Founder of HSM Advisory, Prof. Lynda Gratton has contributed to this Forbes interview which discusses flexibility of time further.