For decades, the nine-to-five work schedule has reigned supreme in offices across North America. Regardless of someone's commute, schedule, or whether they consider themselves a “morning person,” employees have faithfully punched in at 9AM and packed up for the day around 5PM.

However, recently you may have noticed some of your co-workers rolling into the office a little later in the day or heading home by mid-afternoon. You might have even noticed some people not coming in at all, and instead of firing off emails well before 7AM. In other words, you might have noticed the rise of flexible work arrangements and the impact that it has had on your team’s performance.

And it’s likely not just your workplace making changes. A recent survey by The Conference Board of Canada found that “almost nine out of 10 (or 86% of) Canadian organizations are now offering at least one type of flexible work option.”

But while it’s clear that flexible work hours and telecommuting are in high demand, the reason for the shift is a bit more complicated. Whether you’re an employee or employer, it’s important to understand why flexible work hours and telecommuting are quickly becoming the norm and what it means for today’s companies.

 

The Decline of the 9-to-5

To understand the endurance of the nine-to-five, you have to go all the way back to Henry Ford and the American labor unions of the 1800s. At the time, there was no limit to what employers could demand of employees, meaning 12-hour shifts (or longer) were not unusual. But something had to give, and thanks to worker riots and a lot of protesting, the Ford Motor Company instituted a more reasonable five-day workweek comprised of eight-hour workdays. The explosion of productivity and profitability that followed helped the model stick, and the nine-to-five has since remained the standard across most of North America—up until recently that is.

Today, work has changed dramatically and the corporate landscape looks nothing like it did in the days of Henry Ford. With the decline of manufacturing, the rise of women in the workplace, and, more recently, the acceleration of new technology, it has become less necessary for everyone to work the same eight-hour shift. Indeed, with much work now email-based and most companies using cloud computing, it’s infinitely easier for employees to perform tasks at all hours of the day, without the need for a physical office. In other words, employers have begun to realize that simply working for eight hours straight does not guarantee productivity.The Government to Canada has even echoed this sentiment and vocalized a commitment “to amending the Canada Labour Code (Code) to provide workers in federally regulated enterprises with a right to request flexible work arrangements from their employers.”

 

Flexible Work Hours vs. Telecommuting

With the nine-to-five quickly becoming obsolete, many alternatives have popped up to meet the changing demands of the modern workplace. These include ad hoc remote days, flexible working hours, summer hours, job-sharing, full-time remote work, a compressed workweek, and even compressed days. Of these many alternatives, flexible work hours and telecommuting are by far the most popular.

Flexible Work Hours

Just as the name suggests, flexible work hours (also known as “flextime”) are flexible. This means that employees are allowed to deviate from the traditional nine-to-five, Monday to Friday work schedule. In other words, employees can customize their schedule to fit their specific needs. This could mean starting work early and leaving early, starting later in the day and leaving late, or even working on different days of the week. According to The Conference Board of Canada, this is the most common type of flexible working arrangement in Canada.

Telecommuting

In contrast, telecommuting means working in the office part-time and working outside of the office part-time—be that at home, a coffee shop, a co-working space, or somewhere else. While it was once unheard-of for employees to carry out their work remotely, the advent of computers, mobile phones, and the Internet, has made it possible for many employees to fulfill their responsibilities and stay connected without even stepping foot outside of their home.

 

The Benefits for Employees

Whether it is flextime or telecommuting, there are a number of benefits that employees can gain from the ability to choose a more flexible schedule, including:

● Enhanced Efficiency: By scheduling their work around the hours they’re most productive, employees can execute tasks more effectively and produce higher quality work. In fact, a study by Stanford University found that employees were 13.5% more productive when working from home.

● Distraction-Free: When common office distractions such as noise, lengthy meetings, and chit-chat are removed, employees are able to stay fully present and better concentrate on the tasks at hand.

● Improved Health and Wellness: Without the pressure to be in the office for eight hours at a time, five days a week, employees are better able to deal with physical and mental health concerns.

● Better Time-Management: By helping employees reduce or eliminate their daily commute (potentially several hours out of each day), more time is free to spend on task completion and meeting deadlines.

● Improved Engagement: With the extra time and energy that comes from flexing their hours, employees can engage more fully with their work.

● Promoting Work-Life Balance: By giving employees more time to tackle the responsibilities and demands of their personal lives, they’ll be more dedicated and productive in their professional lives.

● Higher Job Satisfaction: According to Stats Canada, “79% of employees with a flexible work schedule reported that they were satisfied or very satisfied with their work,” meaning those who have some control over their work hours are more likely to be be happier in their job.

 

The Benefits for Employers

However, flexible working arrangements are not just beneficial for employees. Employers can also benefit from:

● Meet Employee Demand: The next generation of workers have come to expect some degree of flexibility in the workplace and offering flextime or telecommuting helps employers stay competitive. In the case of PwC, a survey of its Millennial employees found that a whopping 64% wanted to occasionally work from home and 66% wanted to shift their hours.

● Retain Top Talent: By adapting to the changing needs of employees, employers can prevent them from leaving for other job opportunities that offer more flexibility.

● Tech-Savvy: Allowing employees to work remotely employers will be more likely to make use of the latest technology to keep teams better connected and on top of their responsibilities.

● The Bottom Line: In addition to the profits that come from happier and more productive employees, companies can also save a great deal of money due to lower overhead, reduced absenteeism, and less turnover. In fact, a A WORKshift Canada report, The Bottom Line on Telework, demonstrated employers can save over $10,000 per year for every employee that telecommutes only two days each week.

 

Considering all of the benefits that come from flexible work arrangements, it can be tempting to shoot a quick email to your team telling them to choose the schedule that works best for them. But before you send that company-wide update, take the time to make a plan for rolling out flexible work arrangements. Whether it’s purchasing a new chat software to keep your team connected or creating guidelines for remote work days, it’s important to set out clear workplace boundaries and expectations from the outset.