Alternative Work Schedules

Dear Management Doctor:

I am doing some preliminary research regarding compressed workweeks and teleworking. I am a manager in a local government planning office; most of my employees spend a lot of time commuting so I am trying to introduce some flexibility into the work week. Do you know of any good sources of information regarding this topic? I need logistical information (how to juggle my staff's hours in and out of the office) and HR-related information (OSHA requirements for working out of the home, worker's comp, etc.)

Thank you,

Dear Gretchen:

I keep seeing articles on this in my reading but have not been saving them. I will send the next one I see to you. In the meantime, let's see what my email friends can offer.

I am a big fan of alternative workweeks as they fit into today's varied lifestyles. The one caution is finding ways to do it so the customers don't suffer. Call forwarding, email, and the Internet can all help.

Good luck!

The Management Doctor

Reader Responses

Unless it involves ordinance writing or other planning-related research, I have found it difficult to manage. Our professional positions (here in Bryan, Texas) necessitate a significant amount of customer contact. But we do continue to look for ways to accommodate alternative schedules with laptops, etc. However, laptops tend to be used to meet deadlines for work that could not be done while in the office environment.

For what it's worth,
Joey Dunn
City of Bryan, Texas

Alternative work schedules are, from my point of view and experience, an excellent idea. There are many benefits, morale and staff productivity are among the greatest. The problems that arise include customer contact hours and complaints from some elected officials, who can never seem to call important meetings when you are actually there. If these bugs can be addressed, and you have a bright, trusting, forward thinking planning director (don't we all?), the system will work well. Try it for "summer hours" as a test run.

Hiram Peck

We have had telecommuting and flex schedules in Walnut Creek for many years now. I have several planners with young families that count on it. We have a telecommuting policy that outlines certain procedures and expectations - I believe it can be obtained through our HR department. I also, as a manager, prefer phones to be pounded over to the employee's home so it is transparent to the calling public that the employee is working at home. It also allows me instant verbal access in case The City Manager or Council need info in a hurry (don't they always). You are also correct that email is a great tool. I find also that work production goes up. Initially, it's a burden getting used to, but once an employee gets used to lugging files home, they typically get uninterrupted time to prepare staff reports and environmental documentation.

Paul Richardson
Planning Manager
Community Development Department
City of Walnut Creek

The City of Henderson is on a four-day workweek. All administrative offices are closed on Fridays. All departments that have development related functions have an employee presence on Fridays. For example, Community Development has a front counter planner and receptionist on Friday duty. Building inspectors work either a M-Th or T-F schedule. It works very well for us. I would be glad to talk to or exchange emails with the person who made the inquiry. My phone number is 702-565-2474.

Mary Kay Peck

Moreover, I've found offering an alternative schedule ("flexing") is a big motivator and recruitment tool. This seems to have bearing on your earlier postings!

Steven Finn
Planning Director
Ontario County, NY

Flexible schedules and compressed workweeks can be of great benefit to individual workers and to offices, as they can:
  • allow offices to be open longer hours
  • enable staff members time to take care of errands that might otherwise require annual or sick leave
  • reduce some commuting time and costs
  • contribute to the health and well being of individuals and their families.

Unfortunately, there are some pitfalls. Here are some questions to ask when considering a flexible schedule or compressed workweek:

Can productive work be accomplished on a flexible schedule? An additional hour a day may be very feasible, allowing a staff member to accumulate enough time in a week to have an afternoon off. However, if an individual tries to work long beyond his or her physical or mental capacity to concentrate, the additional time at a desk may be spent at a very low level of productivity. Supervision and coordination issues must also be addressed. Some workers need little or no supervision, but those who do may accomplish very little. If someone must work with another staff member on the project, the staff members' schedules may need to coincide or significantly overlap.

1. Can the office be covered adequately?

Flexible schedules can stretch the capacity of those whom remain on the job while others are flexing to keep the office going. If services are being provided to the general public, adequate coverage can be a serious issue. Some offices have core times or days when all staff are expected to work, and designated flexible days and hours.

2. Is a flexible schedule or compressed workweek fair to everyone? Who gets to have a flexible schedule? Who gets what days off?

One workable solution is to allow the employees alternate Fridays (or Mondays, or whatever) to flex. A flexible time schedule or compressed workweek sometimes requires a significant amount of extra work for the manager, as he or she tries to juggle schedules and coverage. To avoid having the manager become involved in day-to-day negotiations on these schedules, it is useful to pair staff. If one staff member is out, there are others who can cover for the absent staff person who must be on duty.

3. Will flexible schedule be a right or a privilege for staff members?

Except in the case when such a schedule is part of an employment agreement, it is critically important that employees know that it may be necessary to give up their preferred schedule to meet the needs of the office. "It's not my day to work," is not a good answer to hear from a staff member when the office needs to be covered. Managers who allow flexible work schedules should, however, not make constant demands for staff to cover the office that essentially make a flexible schedule a joke.

4. Is there a written policy and does it conflict with any other written policies?

A written policy on flexible scheduling or compressed workweeks is critical. All of the issues that need to be addressed, such as coverage and core hours, should be addressed in a written policy.

Nancy Benziger Brown, Ph.D., FAICP
Interim Director
Center for Workforce Development
Walters State Community College

Below you'll find what we do as a special summer program here in James City County for our planners. It allows them to work extra hours on given days so they can work four day weeks if they choose. This isn't exactly what the woman was talking about, but it might provide him some ideas.

Planning Division "Flex Time" Guidelines
Revised May 2001

Flex time will be offered for two-months in the summer months (to be determined by the Principal Planners).
Participation of staff is voluntary.
Participation is open to the following positions: Planner, Senior Planner, Landscape Planner, part-time Planner/Senior Planner.

All participants must agree upon the full two-month schedule in advance, and only minor changes/deviations can be made from the agreed-upon schedule.
Principal Planners must approve the schedule, and can make changes to the schedule at any time.

Setting the Schedule
Three planners will be in the office at all times, and at least two of those planners must be in the current planning rotation.
Flex time is available on a week-by-week basis, M-F only.
Participants may take off a maximum of one workday by working 40 hours in 4 workdays. Part-time participant must work 2 ten-hour days to receive one four-hour/half-day off.
A flex day must be scheduled around the normal 8 am - 5 pm working hours (no non-traditional working hours permitted, such as 4 pm - 1 am).
Participants may use a combination of flex time and vacation time within the same week, upon approval of your supervisor.
"Stockpiling" of hours to take off more than one workday in one week through flex time is not allowed. Weekend hours and regularly scheduled after-hours meetings cannot be counted toward flex time. However, a ten-hour flex day may include the two-hour period between 5 pm - 7 pm on days for regularly scheduled after-hours meetings.
If there are any staffing conflicts on a specific requested day off, employees with approved vacation days will be given priority over employees who wish to flex.
Participants are encouraged to cooperate while coordinating their flex schedules (remember, flex ? flexible). If any participant expresses displeasure with the flex schedule during the two months, everyone's opportunity to flex will be taken away permanently!

Contributed by Don Davis
James City County, Virginia

Since your original quest for info, Planning has finally been able to implement Flex Time...however, we can't call it that, because other Departments heads don't want their employees asking for it ... our system (approved by HR) is "Within Pay Period Time Off". I have given staff a blanket authorization to work an extra hour a day during a two week pay period, as long as they take the time off during that period. The rule of thumb is that (1) they have to coordinate with peers to ensure coverage; (2) they have to share 4-day weekends, one person cannot hog that schedule;...and (3) the day off cannot always be a Monday or Friday. For the project planners, the latter has a codicil that they cannot take a PC Meeting Friday off and they have to complete projects for packet day one day earlier to take PC shipping Friday off. HR's only comment was that if it became an issue with other departments (meaning, Union involvement), we would have to stop the program.

The system has functioned flawlessly and no other Department has noticed we're doing it.