Workplace Flexibility

From: Benefits

Workplace Flexibility


Workplace flexibility encompasses the full range of options that offer ongoing benefits to organizations, employees, and communities, for example:

  • Scheduling of hours (flextime, compressed workweeks, shift flexibility).
  • Amount of hours (part time, job sharing).
  • Place of work (telecommuting, seasonal relocation).
  • Management of time (meeting-free flexibility, report late).
  • Organization of career (off- and on-ramps, leaves of absence).
  • Other time off (personal days, floating holidays, vacation buying).

Sustaining a flexible workplace is critical to business success for many reasons. A flexible workplace:

  • Supports employees’ work-life effectiveness and helps enable employees to be the best they can be both on and off the job.
  • Helps their firms stay competitive in attracting the emerging workforce (including new graduates and older workers) and retaining quality employees.
  • Helps organizations and individuals reduce their carbon footprint.
  • Provides a tool that can be used in a variety of ways during tough economic times — to offer an alternative to layoffs, to reduce commute time and fuel expense, and to help keep employees engaged and committed as the business focus changes and budgets are tightened.
  • Contributes to contingency planning for natural disasters, pandemics, and other crisis situations.

In leading companies, flexibility is no longer merely about accommodating highly valued talent. Business leaders are learning how to position flexibility as a powerful management tool used to accomplish work more efficiently, while caring about the needs of employees and bringing strategic value to the organization. When most successful, flexibility becomes an everyday part of the organization’s culture, where employees and managers discover a variety of creative ways to schedule and accomplish work.

As employees everywhere strive to juggle all of their work and life commitments, workplace flexibility has hit primetime with flexible work arrangements (flextime, compressed workweek, part time, job sharing, and telecommuting), informal ad hoc flexible options, shift flexibility, and flexibility that enables career breaks. In the most advanced stage, workplace flexibility becomes a part of the culture and an elemental component in the daily workplace.

Telework Enhancement Act of 2010

On December 9, 2010, President Obama signed the Telework Enhancement Act into law, which aims to significantly boost teleworking by federal employees. The law requires all federal agencies to establish telework policies within six months. The act establishes all of the following:

  • The head of each executive agency must establish a policy under which eligible employees of the agency may be authorized to telework, determine eligibility, and notify employees.
  • Creates an interactive telework training program and a central telework website.
  • Provides that each agency must have a telework managing officer to be devoted to policy development and implementation related to agency telework programs.

According to the act, telework or teleworking is a work flexibility arrangement under which an employee performs the duties and responsibilities of the employee’s position, and other authorized activities, from an approved worksite other than the location from which the employee would otherwise work.


An employee may not telework under a telework policy if either of the following apply:

  • The employee has been officially disciplined for being absent without permission for more than five days in any calendar year.
  • The employee has been officially disciplined for violations of subpart G of the Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch for viewing, downloading, or exchanging pornography, including child pornography, on a federal government computer or while performing official federal government duties.

Participation Requirements

The required policy must:

  • Ensure that telework does not diminish employee performance or agency operations.
  • Require a written agreement that meets both of the following stipulations:
    • Is entered into between an agency manager and an employee authorized to telework and outlines the specific work arrangement to which the parties have agreed.
    • Is mandatory in order for any employee to participate in telework.
  • Provide that an employee may not be authorized to telework if the performance of that employee does not comply with the terms of the written agreement between the agency manager and that employee.
  • Except in emergency situations as determined by the head of an agency, the option to telework does not apply to any employee of the agency whose official duties require on a daily basis (every workday) either of the following:
    • Direct handling of secure materials determined to be inappropriate for telework by the agency head.
    • On-site activity that cannot be handled remotely or at an alternate worksite.

For example, Border Patrol agents, Veterans Affairs Department nurses, prison guards, and Transportation Security Administration screeners would not be permitted to telework.

  • Be incorporated as part of the continuity of operations plans of the agency in the event of an emergency.

Agencies also must set up interactive training programs for employees and managers, designate high-ranking telework managing officers who would set policies and report to the agency head, and incorporate teleworking into their continuity of operations plans to keep running during snowstorms, terrorist attacks, or other emergencies.

Prohibited Discrimination

All teleworkers and nonteleworkers must be treated the same for all of the following purposes:

  • Periodic appraisals of job performance.
  • Training, rewarding, reassigning, promoting, reducing in grade, retaining, and removing employees.
  • Work requirements.
  • Other acts involving managerial discretion.

Definitions, Benefits, and Common Approaches

This section provides an overview of various types of workplace flexibility (flextime, compressed workweek, job sharing, part-time work, telecommuting, and other time-off flexibility), potential benefits to employees and employers, and practical examples.


Flextime is when the workday start and end times differ from the workgroup’s standard, yet the same number of hours per day is maintained. Some potential benefits of offering flextime are:

  • Improved efficiency if work schedules match employees’ most productive hours.
  • Employees retain more control over scheduling personal responsibilities on either end of the workday.
  • Allows for commuting to and from the workplace outside of peak rush hours.

Some common approaches to providing flextime are as follows:

  • Core hours: Established range of time when everyone must be at work with flexibility on either end of the workday. For example, core hours are from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., but employees may start as early as 7 a.m. or leave as late as 6 p.m.
  • Daily flex: Regular daily schedule that varies from the standard, such as working from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. instead of 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Variable flex: Ability to take time off during the workday to attend a school function, doctor’s appointment, and make up the time on either end of the workday or later in the week or pay period.
  • Summer time flex: Work hours differ during the summer months. For example, a summer plan might apply where the employees’ workload during the months of May to September is not as demanding. Under the plan, employees are permitted to work an extra 30 minutes Monday through Thursday in order to leave work at 12:30 p.m. on Fridays.
  • Day-of-the-week flex: Work hours are flexed on a particular day of the week, such as Fridays.

Compressed Workweek

compressed workweek is a full-time option that enables employees to work longer days for part of a week or pay period in exchange for shorter days or a day off during that week or pay period. A few potential benefits of offering a compressed workweek are:

  • Improved productivity if some work can best be accomplished during quieter times of the day.
  • More days off.
  • Decreased number of days that employees commute to and from the workplace.
  • Allows for commuting to and from the workplace outside of peak rush hours.

Some common approaches to providing a compressed workweek are as follows:

  • 4-day workweek (also called 4/10): 10-hour days.
  • 3-day workweek (also called 3/12): 12-hour days.
  • 4½-day workweek: Four 9-hour days and one 4-hour day per week.
  • 9-day biweekly (also called 9/80): Working 80 hours in 9 days (typically 8 days at 9 hours and 1 day at 8 hours) and taking the 10th day off. Employers must remain compliant with all applicable state and federal overtime laws when implementing this option.

Part-Time Work

Part-time work equates working fewer than 35 hours in a week. Some potential benefits to offering employees the option of part-time work are:

  • Retention of employees who need to scale back work hours to manage family situations or other personal needs.
  • Expansion of the potential labor pool to individuals needing/desiring to work but not at a full-time rate (retirees, students, persons with disabilities).
  • Provision of time off for education purposes — to complete a degree or take continuing education courses.
  • Provides an option for a gradual return to work after maternity or other leaves.
  • Allowance of a gradual entry into retirement.
  • Alternative to layoffs.

Some common approaches to offering employees the option of part-time work are as follows:

  • 80 percent of full-time (32 hours per week).
  • 60 percent of full-time (24 hours per week).
  • 50 percent of full-time (20 hours per week).

Job Sharing

Job sharing occurs when a full-time position is shared by two people, each working part-time hours. In addition to the potential benefits of working part time, some potential benefits to job sharing are:

  • Broader range of knowledge, skills, and experiences to a position because two people are sharing the job.
  • Cross-training and skill enhancement opportunities for each partner.
  • Continuity of coverage when one partner is sick, on leave, or on vacation.
  • An option for employees who want to reduce their hours, but whose jobs cannot be accomplished on a part-time basis.
  • Alternative to layoffs.

Some common approaches to job sharing are as follows:

  • Alternated weeks: Each employee works one week on, one week off.
  • Shared workdays: Each employee works 4 hours per workday.
  • Overlapped schedules: Each employee works 2½ days per week with a Wednesday overlap.


Telecommuting occurs when an employee is working from a remote office location one or more day per workweek. Some potential benefits of allowing employees to telecommute are:

  • Expanded recruitment pool geographically.
  • An alternative to relocation.
  • Reduced office space and associated costs.
  • May assist in accommodating employees with disabilities.
  • Reduced organizational and individual carbon footprints.
  • Decreased wear and tear of transportation infrastructure.
  • Reduced or eliminated commute to and from the workplace.
  • A work environment with fewer distractions.
  • Facilitated ability to work during “personal best time.”
  • Decreased employee work-related spending (fuel, business clothing, and meals).

Some common approaches to telecommuting are as follows:

  • Home office: Designated office space at an employee’s home.
  • Satellite or neighborhood office: Remote office established by one or more employers, typically in a community with a large concentration of employees.
  • Hoteling: Designated shared workspaces at a company location are reserved by employees who work remotely, but occasionally come into the office.
  • Traveling: Working primarily on the road or at client locations.

Note: Further in-depth telecommuting information is located in Telecommuting.

Other Time-Off Flexibility

Employers also have the option of providing other time-off flexibility. Employers and employees may select from a wide range of flexibility options that enable time away from work or create uninterrupted time during the workday. Some potential benefits of providing other time-off flexibility are:

  • Options for employees to take limited or extended time off from work to manage various family and personal situations, volunteer in the community, or take a longer vacation or career break.
  • Creates “quiet time” during the workday for catching up on projects (meeting-free flexibility options).

Some common options to other time-off flexibility are as follows:

  • Personal days: Fixed number of days off with pay for personal reasons (organizations may specifically designate a number of days/hours for volunteer work or attendance at school activities).
  • Paid time off (PTO) banks: One bank of time off for sick leave, vacations, emergencies, and other personal reasons.
  • Leaves of absence: Extended paid or unpaid time off for maternity, paternity, adoption, education, and volunteer work.
  • Phase-back: Ability to return from a leave of absence gradually by working fewer days or hours and ramping back up to full-time.
  • Sabbaticals: Paid or unpaid time off (typically one to six months) for personal renewal or volunteering offered to employees after a specified length of service.
  • Flex Year: Work full time for part of a year and then take a leave of absence or work reduced hours for the remainder of the year.
  • Emergency flexibility: Fixed number of days off with pay for emergencies; organizations may allow time to be taken in hourly increments.
  • Report late: Ability to report late to work and make up the time at the end of the workday.
  • Vacation buying: Allow employees to pay for a specified number of additional vacation days each year.
  • Vacation borrowing: Allow employees to borrow one or more weeks of vacation from the following year.
  • Vacation sharing: Allow employees to give their vacation days to another employee who needs additional paid time off due to an illness or other personal situation.
  • Day-at-a-time vacation: Allow employees to take mini-vacations instead of using one full week or more.
  • Floating holidays: For businesses that are open on holidays, allow employees to work on the holiday at regular pay and take another day off of their choosing.
  • Shift flexibility: Allow employees to work with co-workers to adjust their schedules by trading, dropping, or picking up shifts.
  • Meeting-free flexibility: Establish blocks of time by workgroup, division, or organization-wide when no meetings are scheduled. For example:
    • No meeting hours: Designate one hour each day as “quiet time” when no meetings are scheduled and when employees are encouraged to work individually without interrupting co-workers.
    • No meetings days: Select one day a week when no meetings are scheduled.
    • No meetings weeks: Select one week or more each year when no meetings are scheduled.
  • Career flexibility: Offer opportunities for employees to customize their career paths including “off-ramping” and “on-ramping” at various points throughout their careers. Off-ramping might involve taking a leave of absence, scaling back work hours, taking on a job without travel requirements, or stepping down from supervisory responsibilities. During a leave, employees may stay connected to the workplace by receiving email communications, attending training programs, or participating in workgroup meetings.

Accomplishing Work Through Flexibility

In successful companies that utilize flexibility, it is the way they do business. That is, these firms understand that flexibility is a way to enhance employee ownership and participation without sacrificing results and productivity. In fact, efficiency and the bottom line are improved. With good communication and a highly motivated and committed team, companies may easily generate profitable employment that meets their financial, professional, and personal goals. Clients and customers benefit as well, with professional services and project deliverables completed on schedule and at competitive rates.

Communication Is Key

Communication is central to the success of workplace flexibility. Clear ground rules about how to implement flexibility and evaluate work performance are necessary to ensure the arrangement is working and meeting business needs. There must be measurable input/output and standards to make the arrangement work. Once a flexible arrangement is approved, reviewing the agreement regularly (for example, every 30, 60, or 90 days) will help ensure it is working and meeting business needs. All flexible arrangements should be reviewed to ensure they remain efficient and profitable.

It is also important to establish effective communications between employees and managers. For example, working with flex-options mentors, a company may enhance their virtual work program. To improve communications, companies may implement text messaging for their home-based employees to better collaborate and more quickly resolve problems. These enhancements may prove to increase revenue by maximizing employee effectiveness.

Focus on Results and Team Input

In moving toward a more flexible work environment, employers should adhere to the concept of placing emphasis on results rather than time an employee physically spends in the workplace, behind a desk. This is particularly difficult in some business sectors where hours clocked at the desk have been, and continue to be, highly rewarded. In a flexible environment, however, work is defined differently. Focusing less on the where, when, and how work gets done and more on actual results — that is, what the employee produces — is central to creating and maximizing workplace flexibility.

One of the most proven methods of affirmatively responding to a request for flexibility is asking the employee, or employees, to propose a workplace flexibility solution and a strategy for its execution. Employers may also ask the team, or group of employees, to help develop strategies for creating workplace flexibility, which can generate creative workplace approaches and high workplace results.

Support for Flexibility

In a business or an organization where flexibility is the norm, it is fully integrated in business operations and processes. There is no stigma attached to flexibility and flexibility is supported at the highest leadership levels; for example, implementing company-wide family-friendly policies and flexibility as core principles for all personnel. However, flexibility should be a two-way street rather than an entitlement, because successful arrangements require mutual respect, a healthy give-and-take, and mature communication.

Flexibility is also a means in which an employer can give back to hard-working employees. Building and sustaining a culture of flexibility gives businesses an extraordinary advantage over others in that employees are more loyal, more productive, and less apt to leave.