By Cooper Harris, Founder of Klickly. Google’s “Young Innovator” & L’Oréal’s “Digital Woman of the Year” nominee. Featured in Forbes, Inc. & Mashable.
The age of remote work has ushered in newfound flexibility in office set-ups, allowing many of us to work from home or, for some, even from a favorite “Instagrammable” travel spot. But is it possible, in making this transition, that we’ve overlooked certain unintended consequences of such an ultra-flexible workspace? Can we really work wherever and whenever we want and still maintain a healthy work-life balance?
Flexible office hours have become very popular, with many companies offering this modality as an argument for personal autonomy in the workplace. It is also now bandied about when recruiting new talent, the newest “must-have” in hiring. However, it seems there might be unintended consequences of such a “boundary-less” work structure.
Many employees are now working longer hours than ever before, with some surveys reporting increased employee burnout and an inability to unplug. All of this is, in part, due to the flexible nature of office hours that many companies have chosen to adopt. Some might argue that it has become much more difficult to create a work-life balance when the delineation between the two is so murky.
Though flexible hours are indeed quite popular right now, I have personally found it is healthier for my team to set defined office hours for the following reasons.
Working during a specific window of time makes you accountable to the rest of your team, honoring everyone else’s work. I have found it can be demoralizing to be on Slack at midday and see no one else available. When everyone is “on” at the same time, even in the virtual realm, it sets a healthy company expectation. With flexible office hours, there is much more of a temptation to multi-task, be less attentive and push important items to another day, which can lead to a “herd mentality” with everyone ultimately doing less work.
Set office hours can allow companies to maximize productivity and efficiency in the workplace. With concentrated employee availability, you are able to unblock specific blockers more quickly. If you are moving fast, as you do in any young company, and need to get a sign-off from supervisors or input from coworkers, it is really frustrating to not have access to these individuals because they are not working during the same window as you. Your work is essentially always getting stalled, waiting anywhere from 12 to 24 hours just to get feedback. This start-and-stop workflow can create major inefficiencies, particularly on projects with tight deadlines.
Perhaps most importantly, set office hours help a company establish healthy employee boundaries and expectations. Having a specific window in which people are asked to be “on” also means there isn’t an expectation to be “on” at all hours. Creating a clear boundary for work allows people to get more rest so that they are able to return recharged the following day.
Surveys have shown that the majority of people are currently struggling with this overlap of work/life balance, with many finding it difficult to negotiate their daily schedules. Given this data, you can imagine it is simply not optimal for productivity or mental health to always be “kind of working.” Flexible working hours can ultimately lead to more fatigue and burnout, even though your output and productivity are somewhat low.
I’ve known companies whose employees felt like they were always working and never got any downtime, while their supervisors complained of very low-quality output. In my experience, it is much more sustainable for both employee and employer to focus on tasks for a concentrated number of hours in the day and then have the freedom to be off in the evening, where they are more able to enjoy personal/family time without unnecessary work distractions.
Though a set office hour model is not for everyone, it is important to remember that neither is a more flexible model necessarily. It ultimately comes down to the company culture you want to foster and the quarterly goals you have in mind. Take a look at your company’s internal and external needs and see if a more structured working model might benefit your team. If so, consider the perks of increasing workplace accountability and providing clear work/life boundaries. In my experience, you are likely to foster a more healthy, efficient and communicative workplace.