Thanks to technology flexible or compacted working weeks are becoming increasingly popular. Will South Africans soon be saying TGIT?
Plan: When offering employees non-traditional working hours, structure and accurate planning are important. Finalise schedules, workflow deadlines, meetings and reporting beforehand. Overlap schedules: Look at the bigger picture. There should always be people available to work. Be upfront about role reality: Some positions, such as a receptionist or administrative clerk, aren’t suitable for a four-day working week as you simply can’t greet someone from home. Some employees need to work traditional hours. It’s important to discuss role reality with staffers and make them aware of their role and how it affects the running of the office. Two-way street: For flexible schedules to work, it’s important that staffers are professional and understand when they need to be part of a conversation. Flexitime is a two-way street. Baby steps: Start small. Before you introduce a four-day week, start with one day off a month and see how it works.
Globally close on 43% companies offer four-day working weeks to some employees and 10% make them available to all or most employees, according to a Society for Human Resource Management study. The Netherlands have been leading the way with four-day working weeks for years now. Why? Because they positively affect the bottom line.
Global giant KPMG has seen positive results since changing its policy on working weeks. Another global company, Ryan, points out a drop in company turnover with revenue and profits almost doubled. Both companies share a common business philosophy: Flexibility is a strategic business tool and technology is used to spend less time working.
In South Africa the picture looks slightly different. Although the benefits of a shorter working week, such as improved morale and health, and the ability to attract talent are clear, a five-day working week may be so ingrained in our culture it can’t be changed. Ben Spies of industrial and counselling psychologists Ben Spies and Associates works closely with many prominent local companies and says a four-day working week is not as common in South Africa as abroad. Domestic companies that offer a four-day working week usually do so because of lower demand for their services or products. But it seems flexitime is becoming increasingly popular among employers.
For Ben, flexitime is imperative in his business. The positive impact is that unlike working for a company with fixed working hours, people can manage and prioritise their workload and responsibilities to suit them. Revenue and earnings are linked to the effectiveness of service delivery, customer satisfaction, product expansion, and retaining and increasing customers, so innovation and personal accountability for results are rewarded.
Digital agency ClicksCount CEO Kate Petersen says as a one-stop shop for all website-related needs, they cover every aspect linked to a website, from buying domain names and hosting websites on a dedicated server to designing logos and banners, writing copy for the site and maintaining social media sites.
She says ClicksCount staffers work flexitime up to a point. It all boils down to workload and employee needs. “Clients come first, so when there’s a huge workload we put in a lot more time than just the normal eight to five. But there needs to be a balance between work and family life. When employees need to cut hours that’s fine. Everything has been agreed upfront, so there are no surprises or unreasonable requests.
“I work half-day on Mondays and Fridays but always have my phone with me and access to email, so should the need arise I can step in. This allows me to spend time next to the sports field with my kids, but not let my clients down should a crisis arise. I then work Monday evenings to catch up on anything I’ve missed or need to manage,” she says.
Their office is based in Cape Town, which Kate shares with two developers. They are however not office bound. Sometimes they work at clients and sometimes from home. “I don’t need my employees to be in the office. They just need to be online and have their phones with them at all times,” Kate says.
With a design team based in a separate studio and two freelancers who work on a project-to-project basis, one from Los Angeles and one from Panama City, ClicksCount is the epitome of a company that uses compact working weeks and flexitime.
“We continue to work together when the need arises,” Kate says. “The bonus of working in different time zones is I can send work to them at the end of my day, and when I wake up the next morning it’s completed. This keeps clients happy and relieves the work pressure when we’re swamped.”
For Kate, the positives of a flexible work schedule outweigh any negatives. “Wasting time in traffic is the worst. I’m more than happy for my staff to arrive before or after the traffic, as long as whatever deadline has been agreed upon is met. I don’t have to micromanage anyone and I don’t feel guilty working half-day, while my staff put in a full day – I get my hours in at times that suit me. At the end of the day happy employees are way more productive. I see this as more valuable than having everyone sitting in an office from eight to five.”
Being tech savvy cuts working time
Many of today’s e-technologies can help you spend less time working. Think video calls, Skype, webinars, Google applications, Jibber Jobber, Freshdesk, Harvest and Git Hub.
To get the competitive advantage from technology, your technology infrastructure must be top notch. Ben says Dropbox and Google Docs make everything easier. As for meetings, Skype is the answer.
Kate also says Skype with its chat functionality is their main tech tool. Documents are easily shared and group chats are set up in advance with everyone who’s involved on a specific project. “It works well, and I have hardly any problems managing my workload with this medium,” she says.
Christo Spies, CEO of WineMS, a winery management solution that allows winery business management from block to bottle, relies heavily on technology for his business. Using the customer support software, Freshdesk, as their primary digital way of talking to customers, their time spent on queries and problems has been cut drastically.
The software works like a ticket lock system with ticket fields and workflows where each customer is given a tailor-made support experience. Tickets are automatically categorised, prioritised and assigned to the right agent or support group.
“Freshdesk helps us to score and define how important fast resolutions, first call resolutions and customer satisfaction ratings are to our business.”
Harvest is another tech tool that has helped Christo and his team immensely when it comes to time management. In layman’s terms Harvest is simple time tracking, fast online invoicing and powerful reporting software. “Harvest has simplified our lives tremendously,” he says. It basically helps your employees with timesheets and billing and makes time tracking easy, whether it’s on a laptop, iPhone or Android device. The simple and quick time entry means there’s no excuse not to time-track, and you have the data you need to bill accurately and budget wisely.
“Harvest has really changed our business,” Christo says. “The impact on effectiveness is amazing. And although there are costs involved using this software, we no longer need a fulltime admin person in our office. Everyone is connected and can work any time, from anywhere.”
Will flexitime work for you?
While the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, compressed working weeks and flexitime have their own challenges. There needs to be a balance between technology and interpersonal relationships. A computer can’t greet someone with a smile and human beings are social creatures at heart. Sitting down and having a face-to-face conversation is sometimes the best way to communicate a message clearly.
It’s important to be organised when you work with people you don’t see every day, Kate says. “Being surrounded by talented, hardworking staff who are committed to their role, and not just to doing a job is vital, as are being honest and upfront at all times.
For Ben it comes down to leadership and people. “You will always have those who need structure, direction and innovation. As a leader, you should know who they are and how to manage them. Value-based, solid team leadership is an absolute requirement to run your organisation successfully and make sure the company goals are in line with personal goals.”