The routine of a typical 9-to-5 work schedule is just that. Typical. Yet both employees and employers are beginning to acknowledge that it can also be inconvenient, monotonous, and stifling. While a consistent and predictable pattern does have some benefits, research shows there may be better ways for all involved to use their time.
People with adaptable work environments tend to have healthier habits and may be more productive and efficient when they work. They have time to devote to self-improvement and health as well as to being present for family and friends.
A 2010 review of scientific literature looked at 10 studies related to workers' control over their hours and health. The review found that people with ability to determine their own schedules had better mental health, healthier blood pressure and better sleep habits than those on fixed or involuntary schedules.
Preferences for when to go to bed, when to wake, when to exercise and even when to eat can vary significantly from person to person. Many people do just fine on an office-hours routine, but others may find themselves waking too early to function or getting too tired to focus by the end of the day. Sleeping well, cooking at home, working out and other aspects of health can get pushed aside by schedules that just don't mesh.
Other research has looked at more subjective areas affected by schedule flexibility, including people's happiness and satisfaction. It makes sense that when people can choose to do things like take their kids to school, sleep in or help their spouse, that they'll have better relationships, a better quality of life and more happiness with their employment.
The Sloan Center on Aging and Work at the Boston College cites additional benefits of flexible work environments, which include less stress and burnout as well as improved work-life balance and work-family balance, including less negative spillover from work to home--and from home to work.
The convergence of people being both healthier and happier means a company's workforce is probably more efficient and feels more loyal to their employers.
Determining which types of flexibility are appropriate for the workplace is also important. Leadership needs to look at the company's needs. Questions to ask include: Is it necessary that every worker be present during a certain time period or certain days? Would it be possible to do this job off-site some days using tools like chat and conferencing? Can earlier starting hours or later closing hours work here? Can teams cover for one member's temporary absence? What types of flexibility would attract the right talent?
Telecommuting remains one of the more controversial aspects of flexibility. Some companies are reluctant to allow employees to work from home due to potential for reduced productivity and lack of supervision, but research may show the opposite.
The most significant challenges to implementing flexibility or to utilizing existing flexibility options are actually workplace culture and management. Work environments that place a premium on facetime and a first-in, last-out environment may make employees reluctant to ask for flexibility. Managers who perceive it as drawback, who aren't aware of the policies or who don't feel equipped to manage flexible teams may also be uncomfortable with the idea.
The great thing about flexibility is that there are many ways to adapt it to meet the needs of both the company and the workforce. Key aspects of good leadership involve listening to your employees and enacting change when needed. See what types of scheduling conflicts are most common in your environment to get an idea of where to focus efforts. Instituting flexibility on a trial basis or starting with one department could be helpful for identifying the right balance and which policies to establish.
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This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com. Minor edits have been done by the Entrepreneur.com.ph editor.