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Fun & Frolicks with Flexitime

Have you ever thought about flexitime for your company? Maybe it intrigues you? Maybe you feel it’s the thin edge of the leftie/liberal wedge leading to the eventual overthrow of society? Recently JH implemented a flexitime policy and it was down to yours truly to make this happen. So I’d like to share my experience of this process and hopefully if you are considering this route for your team it may help you to make your decision.

I joined JH at the end of July 2013 as Head of Operations, one of the first things I did was set about running interviews with staff to gauge the mood of the team. One aspiration that popped up repeatedly was a wish for flexitime in the company. Many staff found getting in on time difficult due to the vagaries of public transport or felt that they could be more productive by getting in early before everyone else arrives. In fact there were many reasons why it seemed like a popular idea for the team to have a little more flexibility in their working hours.

Exploitation

Now I come from an design agency background, where it’s been my experience that staff are often ‘encouraged’ to work all kinds of additional hours and rarely receive overtime pay for their efforts. Sadly in many agencies this is still the culture. It’s never really been popular with staff, it’s just an accepted part of the agency lifestyle. There are always certain members of staff helping to perpetuate this situation by willingly allowing themselves to be exploited, or from another point of view willing to show how hard they are prepared to work. It’s kind of an unspoken right of passage in the industry and most people from that background would recognise what I am talking about I am sure.

From the above it’s probably not too hard to see what side of the jaded fence I fall on, so the idea of flexitime really interested me. As Head of Ops it’s part of my role to ensure the team are happy and performing well. After all there is a direct correlation between the happiness of employees and their productivity. I discussed the idea with Jamie, founder of JH and he was immediately on board with it. I had six weeks to research, plan and get this working for a trial period.

Now the truth of the matter is that I have never worked in a flextime environment and had no experience of it in my entire career. Hmmmm, what to do? Ah yes, Google! Indeed there is a wealth of blogs, flexitime policies, example timesheets and other material related to flexitime available online. It was in reality relatively easy to read up on the process and compare various approaches and policies. I am fortunate to have friends in the HR business and it was useful to get their thoughts as well, nothing beats speaking with people who are already ‘living the dream’.

The hardest part of the whole process was making sure that we had a working flexitime policy suitable to JH. I did a lot of reading of somewhat dry policies and at first the whole credit/debit time thing made my head hurt, HR speak can be something akin to legalese. However I soon realised I was overcomplicating things unnecessarily. In fact flexitime is much just like managing a bank account really. Staff can either accrue time or go into debt time. Simple really.

Any Problems?

Having completed the JH flexitime policy, a document of some three pages, witten in plain English, I shared it with the entire company for review and feedback – we had previously informed everyone about the impending changes at one of our monthly ‘Town Hall” meetings. JH are a pretty democratic bunch and I felt it was vital that we get the feedback of the staff to ensure that I had not made some terrible blunder in the policy. It helps working with programmers, some of whom have an astonishing ability to pick up on the smallest details and mistakes. I knew if something was wrong they would find it.

The policy was well received, no major changes required and everyone was happy to see that genuine progress was being made. My next step was to create a way of logging flextime hours for everyone. I had downloaded many example flextime spreadsheets and from my point of view none of them were really up to what I had in my mind. Coming from a background of user interface design myself I wanted something that was more detailed, more automated and less susceptible to tampering. Now don’t get me wrong I trust our team 100% but many years as a project manager make me aware of risk and I do tend to troubleshoot as a matter of course.

I set about creating a spreadsheet that enables our team to log their flexitime on a daily basis. To share across the entire company I used Google Docs, and I released the ‘Beta’ version to a select group within the team to trial out for three weeks prior to the Flexitime process coming into effect. Again I was relying on the nature of the staff to find and report any issues so they could be addressed. I was pleasantly surprised to see that three weeks later the tweaks required to the spreadsheet were minimal.

Freedom to work

So at the start of October 2013 flexitime started in earnest. The team are on the honour system, so we trust people to enter accurate start and leaving times. Now I will admit that I had unfounded fears that staff might attempt to find all kinds of loop-holes and ‘fiddles’ to exploit the new system. That I’d end up in a right mess at the end of the month when I came to review things. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact everyone has been fastidious in keeping their records in good order. I can’t stress how trouble free the whole process has been and it’s certainly very popular. There were those uncomfortable and humorous first few days when leaving ‘early’ or arriving ‘late’ seemed just plain wrong – a lifetime of agency timekeeping isn’t easy to break. That soon passed however and now JH are well into the swing of a much more open, adaptable and useful way of working.

So I’d summarise by saying that if you are thinking about flexitime as an option for your business go for it. It’s pretty straightforward to set up, not hard to monitor and manage and is very popular with staff. It gets our culture very well. The extra freedom and trust you are giving your staff does get appreciated. There is a lot of research that indicates that companies running flexitime are more profitable and have a higher retention rate of staff than those running traditional 9-5 models. If I am honest, I can’t understand why it’s not done by everyone these days.

Here are a few links that might help you decide: