Flexible Working

What are core hours, and how might they work for you?

What are core hours, and how might they work for you?

The traditional 9-to-5 work model may work for some, but it’s not for everyone. Many people simply do not do their best work if they feel as though they’re chained to their desks.

Flexible and remote work models are becoming the norm in the UK workplace, and are starting to become an expectation rather than a nice perk.

Flexible work arrangements take a lot of forms and can look like many different things. On one extreme there is the fully-remote model where everyone in the organisation works from their laptop, full-time, and is not bound to an office or a set schedule of any kind.

Core hours, meanwhile, exist as a happy medium between an in-office role and a fully remote role. Core hours designate certain periods or hours of the day when all employees are expected to be at their laptops and responsive, regardless of their working schedules.

Charlie used to have core hours, but I found that they defeated the purpose of remote work. They impose structure and fit remote employees into a box where they might not necessarily fit. They are, however, an option you can consider as you experiment with remote work arrangements.

I’ll explore what core hours are and why you might use them, and argue why flexible hours may be a better fit for your team instead.

What Are Core Hours?

Core hours are times during the workday when your employees are expected to be present and at their laptops working. They are usually set by you as the employer during the busiest or most productive hour of the day.

Having core work hours as part of your flexible working arrangement. Structuring your business schedule like this is intended to help employees balance their work and life commitments.

The thinking is that core hours provide a certain level of structure within the flexibility of remote work, letting employees enjoy the freedom of remote work while still being held to their job responsibilities.

When and How You Should Implement Core Hours

Using core hours as part of your remote work model is not a one-size-fits-all arrangement. That said, having a set of core hours could make sense for you and your company depending on the situation.

There are some pros and cons to consider here.

Pros for Core Hours

  • Increased Productivity and Collaboration: Everyone is online at the same time, they have an overlapping time window to exchange messages and coordinate
  • Better Employee Experience: Employees may produce better quality work if they set their schedules around when they’re most productive
  • Improved Customer Satisfaction: If you have a customer-based business, having your employees online at the same time makes your organisation responsive during peak hours

Cons for Core Hours

  • Reduced Employee Engagement: Having a rigid schedule of core hours could backfire on you if the expectations are too rigid and work against your employee work-life balance
  • Potential Schedule Conflict: Confusion regarding hours can easily happen if they’re not communicated
  • Limited Talent Pool: Setting rules for core hours can exclude talented and qualified job candidates who live in different time zones or have different remote work preferences
  • Employee Burnout: Depending on when you set your schedule, core hours can make your employees have extended work hours and have them running on fumes

Flexible Hours vs. Core Hours

Charlie used to have core hours at one point in time, but then later we reverted to flexible hours. In my view, what’s the point of allowing your employees to work remotely if you’re going to chain them to their laptops regardless? It defeats the purpose.

You may feel differently, and certainly if and how you implement a remote work policy should depend on your company culture and the needs of your organisation.

Here’s why you might favour one or the other.

Core Hours

Core hours are part of a hybrid remote work model that has a semi-traditional schedule but allows for the flexibility many employees want.

Core Hours Benefits

  • Predictability and Collaboration: Running on core hours means there is a consistent period where everyone is available for meetings or projects, which reduces scheduling conflicts and makes collaboration easier
  • Balance: Employees can work around their fixed core hours to have potentially better work-life balance, be less stressed out and more engaged with their work

Core Hours Drawbacks

  • Limited Flexibility: Although core hours offer a degree of flexibility, they require employees to run on a set schedule. That might not accommodate everyone’s needs equally, and it may be challenging for employees with diverse needs like single mothers and disabled employees to follow that schedule
  • Potential for Burnout: Requiring employees to be available during core hours in addition to their personal work schedule can lead to longer working hours and be a slippery slope to burnout

Flexible Hours

Having flexible hours gives your employees more autonomy and complete ownership over their objectives and schedules. Employees are free to work when they are most productive. As long as they follow through on their obligations and meet their deadlines, it shouldn’t matter when or how they do it.

Flexible Hours Benefits

  • Enhanced Autonomy and Satisfaction: Employees who fully control their work schedules often have higher levels of job satisfaction and more ownership over their work.
  • Increased Productivity: Employees can work when they are most alert and motivated, and bring their full selves to work

Flexible Hours Drawbacks

  • Difficulties in Coordination: Without a set schedule, coordinating meetings can be tricky and lead to delays or miscommunication
  • Risk of Isolation: Employees who work their own schedule may feel disconnected from their team members, especially if there isn’t much overlap in their work schedules

Set Your Core Hours for Your Business Success

Flexible hours are more adaptable to a range of work environments and employee needs. Regardless, you may decide to go with setting core hours if you think your team could benefit from a bit more structure and clear expectations.

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