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Say no to 9-5: Is 'work your own hours' the next big HR trend?

Seeing results from the WFH setting for more than a year where productivity has been good, there is some talk around letting employees work as per their own convenience on a daily basis, as long as the set tasks are completed on time.

July 10, 2021 / 09:26 AM IST

What if you could take a break in the middle of a working day and go out for a quick run or swim? Or say, begin work (remote/in-person) at say 8 am or 9 am and wrap up by 12:30-1 pm?

Sounds impossible in a regular work setting, right? Well, no.

Taking a cue from the work-from-home (WFH) setting that has been running successfully for more than 15 months globally, there is a silent move towards exploring the "work your own hours" model.

The logic here is simple. Instead of a regular 9-5 job where you would possibly taking smoke breaks, mini-chat breaks or checking social media on your phone, one would be able to choose either a smaller work duration where you don't take these breaks or, have a staggered workday.

For instance, Deloitte in Australia has reportedly introduced a new policy where staff can set their own work hours. This means that as long as the daily work routine is completed on time, an employee can decide how they plan their workday.

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So, you could potentially come to work at 9 am, then go catch a two-hour movie at 11 am and come back refreshed to the office. The only catch? You plan it in advance.

At a time when companies are finding it tough to get back employees to offices after COVID-19, having flexible work hours could be a potential tool of attraction.

Some experiments have been conducted on having concepts like a five-hour workday.

In 2019, it was reported a Germany-based company Digital Enabler has a five-hour working day policy, where employees could start work at 8 am and finish by 1 pm.

But there to ensure productivity, the company does not allow usage of phones and small talk. Meetings are also 15 minutes or shorter. This could work well for companies with small team sizes of 50 or below.

Another company Tower Paddle Boards offered a similar five-hour workday in 2018. However, it was later reported that this policy was rolled back due to a rise in attrition and productivity dips.

In India, formal policies haven't been constituted among large corporates to choose one's own working hours. This is because, in collaborative work settings which involve meetings and team projects, it isn't possible to have one employee working from 8 am-1 pm while the other works for two hours and then takes a long break to log in post 8 pm.

Many companies don't have formal policies but allow employees to have flexible work hours on special occasions like birthdays, anniversaries or sports day/PTA meetings of children among others.

Primary reasons for not having formal policies on "work your own hours" include fear of productivity loss, reduction in team bonding and lack of equity among others.

For instance, a programmer can work all night and code an application for a bank's website and log in to work only at 4 pm but a branch banking executive is required to be physically present in the workplace for the set eight to nine hours.

How does one bring equity in this work setting? If one employee gets to choose their work hours, what incentives would be given to the ones who cannot choose purely because of the nature of their job? Could cash incentives be good enough? There is no clear answer yet.

Again, this wouldn't be feasible in work settings that require physical presence at fixed hours due to compliance reasons. Examples include medical professionals, government cleaning workers, police personnel, regulatory officials, investment officials among others.

But, one thing has changed for sure. The perception about remote working has undergone a sea-change amidst the pandemic. Employees have been far more productive when working from home and in fact, also working longer hours than usual.

So, will corporates be open to taking a step forward and making it "work from own hours"? Word is, the work has begun, but time will tell if it becomes mainstream.
M Saraswathy is a business journalist with 10 years of reporting experience. Based in Mumbai, she covers consumer durables, insurance, education and human resources beat for Moneycontrol.
first published: Jul 10, 2021 09:26 am

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