By Cathie Ericson
What is just as important to employees as their salary? Turns out it’s a flexible work schedule, according to respondents of FlexJobs’ 2017 Work Flex Super Survey. And more than 60 percent said they had left or had considered leaving a job without flexible work options.
Many small businesses might mistakenly assume the perk is easier for large companies to implement. But with some smart planning and clear communication, entrepreneurs may be surprised at how easy and successful a flex schedule can be for their workers.
One of the biggest challenges small businesses face is having enough office space as the company adds employees. The expansion can also be costly, especially if the space needs to be renovated. That’s one of the reasons why Daniel Gallant, executive director of New York City-based Nuyorican Poets Cafe, has embraced flexible work schedules.
With three full-time and five part-time employees, plus 10 contractors, the ranks of the multicultural and multi-arts institution have grown faster than its bricks-and-mortar location can comfortably accommodate. “It would be challenging if everyone was in the office at the same time,” Gallant says. “When some people are talking on the phone, and others are trying to write, it can be disruptive. Flexible hours allow you to use your space more functionally with fewer people there simultaneously.”
Offering workers a flex schedule can also help a growing business meet client needs more effectively. Gallant says his clients often require responses and feedback outside of normal business hours. Because he allows his employees to work flexible schedules, it’s easier for him to have folks available when these requests come in. “We’re much more responsive in following up on leads and outreach, as well as addressing our audiences on social media channels,” he says.
Attracting Top Talent
Ask small business owners what keeps them awake at night and most will say attracting the best talent. A flexible work schedule can help with that challenge. Alisa Cohn is a New York City-based executive coach who often advises entrepreneurs. She says flexible hours “allow you to offer something of value without raising salaries or offering other costly benefits.” It also reinforces the family-friendly “brand promise” that many small companies tout, she adds.
David Waring, co-founder of FitSmallBusiness.com, an online resource that helps small businesses find the best services and technology to run their companies, says that as a boot-strapped startup “we compete for talent with larger, better-funded companies. Even though we can’t afford to pay as much as some of the competition, offering flexible hours allows us to attract employees who value that perk.”
He cites this policy as one of the reasons his firm has such low turnover. He claims that with more than 40 employees, only two people have voluntarily left the company in four years.
And believe it or not, a flexible work arrangement can actually help a small business foster better communication among managers and staff, says Cohn. “Managers have to be more rigorous in communicating their expectations with frequent, meaningful discussions about the work and processes,” she says, “since employers are being judged on output rather than face time.”
Make It Work For You
Of course, as with any work policy, a success flexible work arrangement takes some effort. Experts say it starts with offering it to the right people and understanding how to measure productivity. “The best people don’t need to be told when to work, and you’ll find they actually do a better job when they are given the freedom to accomplish their work when it is convenient for them,” says Waring. Avoid too, the temptation to use face time as the ultimate measure of how well employees are doing.
“As long as both the manager and employee agree on what success looks like and have the necessary metrics to measure it, does it really matter when or how much the person is actually working?” he says. “For most jobs, including ours, the answer is no.” For example, his writers are measured by how many articles they turn in per week, not how many hours they are in the office. Success for business development staff is reflected in the number of new relationships entering the pipeline and how existing ones are progressing, he says.
Finally, before pivoting to flexible hours, seek a detailed sense of staff needs and aspirations, says Gallant. “The biggest mistake a company can make is imposing a policy without testing it first,” he says. You might find that flexible hours mean everyone wants to come in at 10 a.m. and no one will cover your 8 a.m. needs, or that collaborative projects suffer, in which case you’ll need to make some adjustments.
It’s also important to let staffers know that sometimes, there will be a need for all hands on deck. Even if you fully embrace flexible hours, there are times when employees should make themselves available at your direction, such as for staff meetings or project team planning sessions. “We are clear that sometimes employees may need to come in at times that are not their choice, but we try to give them plenty of notice and encourage them to build their onsite calendar around these designated times,” Gallant says.