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The Right Way to Start Summer Hours at The Office

Poor Michael Scott.

There weren’t a lot of reasons to pity the ridiculously pompous regional manager of Dunder Mifflin Inc. during the nine-season run of The Office. But even real life managers had to feel a pang of sympathy when, in one episode, Michael’s staff moved the office clocks ahead to 4:50 p.m. so they could leave work super early.

Michael could have avoided that prank if, 1) he hadn’t eaten an entire chicken pot-pie for lunch and fallen asleep or 2) he’d just embraced flexible summer work hours. It’s a growing corporate trend…the flex time, not the post-pie nap. In fact, 78 per cent of the firms on the 2014 Best Companies to Work For list offered some form of flexible schedule such as summer hours.

In a 2012 poll by Corporate Executive Board, 30 per cent of U.S. companies planned to offer employees some sort of summer flex hours; that’s double the 15 per cent who said they’d actually implemented such a plan in 2011. And in a recent Canadian study nearly half (48 per cent) of employers in this country were offering some type of flex plan for the summer months.

Why are companies warming up to summer flex time? Well, a lot of workers want it. When OfficeTeam asked U.S. employees what type of summer benefits they desired most in 2012, flexible scheduling grabbed the top spot with 41 per cent of responses. Only 11 per cent craved an office picnic or potluck.

Besides employee demand there are other reasons to implement summer flex time. It can boost morale and job satisfaction among your staff, give them a greater sense of control over their work environment, reduce the number of vacation or personal days they take and demonstrate your trust in them. A 2011 study by the University of Minnesota suggests flexible work scheduling can help reduce staff turnover by 45 per cent. Consider it as a cost neutral tool for recruiting and retention.

So how can you go about it? Some Canadian firms allow employees to work extra hours between Victoria Day and Labor Day. By starting earlier, working later or taking shorter lunches four days per week, employees can earn a half or full day off per week. That usually ends up being a Friday to make for some extra weekend time off.

Another option for flexible summer hours is to let staff work from home on occasion if this isn't already part of the corporate policy. Or adjust their work hours (8 a.m. – 4 p.m. or 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.), which may allow for more opportunities outside of the office to plan get togethers, family outings or soak up some summer sun while it's still nice outside.

Before dipping your toe into the flexible hours pool, get ready by reading these tips first:

  • Survey staff about what type of flexibility they want. It's important they are part of the process.
  • Assess the potential impact on customers.
  • Make sure your business’s busiest periods won’t be compromised.
  • Get staff to submit their summer hours requests as early in the year as possible.
  • Spell out the date and time periods when flex hours are allowed, who can take them and what type of permission or notification you require from staff.
  • Try it on a trial basis for just one summer before making it permanent.
  • To eliminate staffing headaches, consider simply closing down the business for one full or half day every Friday in the summer so every worker gets the same perk. If you choose this option, notify customers and vendors with out-of-office alerts and a quick email or phone call to key contacts.

And of course, harness technology. Put the summer flex schedule in an online collaboration document that is available for everyone to view. This way you and fellow employees can easily spot potential date or staffing conflicts. If your summer flex plan allows people to work from home then staff should make use of mobile devices, videoconferencing and collaboration apps to stay productive and connected to the office.

Michael Scott ran out of time to get on board with summer hours, but don't miss out like the "World's Best Boss" did. It’s never too late for your business to add more flexibility to summer.

Have a creative summer flex time solution? Let us know in the comments below.

 

Christine Wong

Christine Wong is a journalist based in Toronto who has covered a wide range of startups and technology issues. A former staff writer with ITBusiness.ca, she has also worked as a reporter for the Canadian Economic Press and in broadcast roles at SliceTV and the CBC.

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