Gone are the days where upon hiring an employee you can just expect them to show up at 9am. In fact, the office hours you set for your business may contribute directly to which employees you can hire and which you can keep. It’s an important decision that hinges on a number of different factors.
The office hours you choose for your organisation should only ever serve as guidelines. While they have to appear in the contract of employment you draw up with each of your employees, you should make sure that you caveat them with phrases like “at times employees may be expected to work outside of normal office hours.” This is not to force your employees into devoting unlimited man-hours to your business but rather a reflection of reality. In general, employees will be expected in the office at a certain time, but there will be certain lee-way from both sides. No one’s getting fired for turning up late and no one is going to quit for having to support on some urgent work outside of their usual working hours. People shouldn’t be annoyed if they have to come in early for a meeting, or if they have to work the odd evening because of exceptional circumstances. Start-ups and small businesses especially will have limited resources so employees should expect to occasionally have to go above and beyond.
When establishing the regular work office hours for your team, have a think about the journeys your colleagues have to make to get in to the office on time. This is easier to do when you have a smaller team and can have a company-wide discussion on the matter. As a general rule, if someone has to commute for more than an hour and a half, don’t force everyone to be in by 8.30. Bear travel times in mind and find a reasonable start and finish time for the whole of your team. After all, if employees miss out on sleep and are always tired, they won’t be doing their best work.
Another factor to bear in mind is the stage in life that your employees find themselves at. If you and the majority of the team have recently started families or already have kids, avoid office hours that would make it impossible to drop kids off at school or that go on too late in the evening. If the team is a lot younger, it’s likely that they will have more flexibility and be willing to start late and then go out in the evenings, maybe not coming in until 10 or 10.30 the next day. While company office hours are an important way of guaranteeing regular positive contributions from your team, they work best when they fit in with the other priorities in your colleagues’ lives.
The final consideration to think about is your duty of care to customers. If your clients expect you to be fully responsive from 9am or if you notice that customers send the majority of their queries after 5pm, then adapt your office hours to suit your business needs. Ultimately, your company will be defined by how well you supply to your customers’ demands.
Once the above factors have been taken into account and you have a clear sense of the times you need the most hands on deck, you have to think about how you want to package your office hours. There are three different alternatives:
Having set periods of 7, 8, 9 hours is the traditional way that employers will institute working hours in a company. Be in at 9 and go home at 5, or come in for 10 and leave by 6.30, nothing more complicated than that. Though set, regular office hours are somewhat going out of fashion they still have the virtue of being undeniably clear and offer a stable basis from which to run your business operations. You know where staff will be and when and you can plan and manage accordingly. Set hours are easier for you the employer but their rigidity may not necessarily bring the best out of your team. Beware of presenteeism!
Another option, and an office hours package deployed by startups like CharlieHR, is the core hours principle. While employees are still meant to work their full 40 hour week and meet all expectations as if they were in the office full-time, there is a reduced set of hours during which they have to be visible in the office. For instance those could be 10-3 or 11-5, whatever works best. Outside of those hours, employees can choose to be in the office or take time to themselves to catch up on again at another time. Maybe someone works well late at night and would appreciate having the whole evening to themselves before logging back in to complete some work at 10pm. Core hours offer a compromise between the benefits of both employee flexibility and hands-on management.
The most controversial but potentially most employee-friendly and future-gazing approach would be to adopt full flexibility when it comes to office hours. Outside of pre-arranged, essential, in-person meetings, employees are not expected to come in to the office unless they choose to. This means they can work when and where they want, providing they get the job done. Flexible working is also a pretty nebulous term that can mean different things for different organisations.
On top of this, the possibility of full flexibility really depends both on the type of business you run and the sort of roles your team members have. For example, a tech team working according to weekly sprints can perform small improvements at any time of day so long as the work is completed by the end of the week. However, if your business development team are regularly planning and preparing pitches, they should probably be in the same room.
Many employees will assume that flexible office hours will allow them to enjoy a better work-life balance but when there is no clear limits on when or where to work, it can also be an overwhelming task to manage your own time so comprehensively every day.