Alternative Work Arrangements

One of the most popular management concepts of recent years has been the scheduling concept known as alternate work arrangements. Broadly speaking, an alternate work arrangement is any scheduling pattern that deviates from the traditional Monday-through-Friday, 9-to-5 work week.

Flexibility is the basic idea behind alternate work arrangements. You give employees some measure of control over their work schedules, thereby making it easier for them to manage non-job-related responsibilities.

The business rationale behind the concept is that by making it easier for employees to deal with pressures on the home front, they’ll be more productive when they’re on the job — and less likely to jump ship if one of your competitors offers them a little more money.

Alternate work arrangements are generally grouped into the following general categories:

  • Flextime: Flextime refers to any arrangement that gives employees options on structuring their work day or work week. In the most extreme (and rarest) form, employees decide for themselves not only when they work, but also for how long.

    More typically, though, employees working under flextime arrangements are expected to be on the job during certain core hours of the work day. They’re given the opportunity to choose (within certain parameters) their own starting and quitting times—as long as they work the required number of hours each day.

  • Compressed work week: Under this arrangement, employees work the normal number of hours but complete those hours in fewer than five days. The most common variation of the compressed work week is the so-called 4/10, in which employees work four 10-hour days instead of five 8-hour days. Watch out for the legal number of breaks per working hours/day.

  • Job-sharing: As the term implies, job-sharing means that two part-time employees share the same full-time job. Salary and benefits may be prorated on the basis of what proportion of the job each worker shares. Apart from the obvious consideration (both people need to be qualified for the job), a successful job-sharing arrangement assumes that the employees sharing the job can work together harmoniously to make the arrangement work.

  • Telecommuting: Telecommuting refers to any work arrangement in which employees—on a regular, predetermined basis—spend all or a portion of their work week working from home or from another non-company site.

  • Permanent part-time arrangements: The hours in these arrangements usually vary from 20 to 29 hours per week, with employees sometimes given the right to decide which days they work and how long they work on those days. The key attraction of this arrangement is that the employees may be entitled to company benefits, albeit on a prorated basis.

In theory, alternate work arrangements offer a win-win situation. Many studies have shown that flexible scheduling policies improve morale and job satisfaction, reduce absenteeism, cut down on turnover, and minimize burnout—and with no measurable decline in productivity. The process needs to be carefully thought out, but it has huge rewards when implemented correctly.

The biggest hurdle with flexible work arrangements is ensuring that it does not disrupt communication. It’s easy to overlook the ambient awareness that simply sitting in the same room (overhearing phone calls, chatting in the elevator, hearing the conversations that happen just after a meeting) creates.

For tech-savvy teams, having an open online chat room to ask questions or even share funny mustache pictures can do the trick. In other cases, you may need to have one day or half-day each week that everyone must be in the office together, with flexible time arrangements for all other days.

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