Flex Hours: Joys & Pains of Working When You Want

on March 7 | in Individual Improvement | by | with Comments Off on Flex Hours: Joys & Pains of Working When You Want

About two weeks ago, I went into a flex hours schedule at my work. Today’s Lifehacker post about things to negotiate in your work agreement besides salary reminded me that I wrote I’d let you know how flex hours works out for me. So here it is. 🙂

I strongly encourage you to look at telecommuting, a business library, and now flex hours as essential staples of the happy workplace.

Let me start out by saying flex hours are great.
Overall, moving to a flex hours arrangement in your placement of employment is an awesome thing. It improves your individual life and improves your contribution at work if you’re the type of person that can get things done by yourself. But flex hours also raise new issues of personal responsibility, beyond those encountered in telecommuting, that might be a challenge for some people. I’m confident I can work out those challenges for myself, but keep in mind I’ve been working as a consultant and web developer for a very long time. Also, I come from a disciplined background of academia and am a veteran of cubicles. If you’re just starting into the workplace, you might not be ready for flex hours yet.

Let me also clarify what I mean by flex hours.
Before you read my list of benefits and concerns, you should understand my flex hours arrangement. It says that there’s a 50% overlap of time where everybody works at the same time (just as Remote: Office Not Required recommends and I said sounded good in my post about telecommuting) each business day, and that the rest of the time is up to me. There’s of course two completely sensical provisions: first, any time spent must be a minimum two-hour block because nobody’s ever successful nickel-and-diming their projects. Second, the time worked each week should be at or over 40 hours.

4 Benefits of Flex Hours

In just two weeks, I’ve immediately become a better father and husband, a more productive and motivated employee, and a happier person who doesn’t burn out nearly as frequently.

Benefit #1: I do more important things during the day.
When things come up during the day that are more important than work, you have the adult ability to attend to them. You can in the normal workhouse world by taking vacation or sick time, but I avoid taking vacation time like the plague (I want a big block of time off every year). You know what my biggest success out of flex hours from the last two weeks has been? I got to watch my two-year-old son take his karate classes that are in the late morning of business days for the first time.

Flex hours means that you can be there for the more important things, every week. Sometimes you have to fail on purpose in some things to succeed in others.

Benefit #2: I’m more motivated to complete projects.
In a salary position you aren’t guaranteed a 40 hour work week. If you don’t get your stuff done, you can work over. If you do get your stuff done, you can work under. Just how it works. But with flex hours in the way I’m working, there’s a system in place that translates overages into time off. That’s why the provision that my work time each week be at or over 40 hours is sensical; without it during slow weeks I wouldn’t need to be more than a part-timer (on account of the overlap time). Not that I can imagine what a slow week looks like.

The only caveat is that your projects have to get done. Get it done, your 40 hours means half days ahead. Don’t get it done and you destroy the benefits of flex hours. It’s additional pressure that results in additional focus.

Benefit #3: I’m less distracted for the period of work where I’m not obligated to be available.
Email’s off. Chat’s off. Leonard Cohen’s dancing to the end of love. People might want me, but too damn bad – my flex hours overlap time hasn’t started yet and I’m coding, utterly submersed in the flow.

You might think that’s just a plain and simple benefit of telecommuting, but you’re either fooling yourself or you’re the end supplier of a production line. When you provide customer service, manage projects, and in general act as team member interruptions arise frequently. Not as much as a traditional brick-and-mortar shop, for sure, but what I like to call “the pain of popularity” destroys focus even in distributed offices. Flex hours gives you a solid period of pure production work alongside a solid period of pure social work – and both are equally necessary for success in business.

Benefit #4: I start and stop work with my natural rhythms.
I get up at 4am in the morning most days. I blog, I meditate, and I occasionally exercise (I’m way behind in that last one, yet again). It used to be I was dialing into the customer service, sales, and coding frameworks at 8am regardless of when I finished my private morning routine. Now, when I finish my morning rituals I move right to work. Why not? With flex hours, the sooner I enter, the sooner I leave. Might as well dial it in and get it done.

Before I was doing flex hours, because of my early rising and depending on the intensity of the day I might run out of steam at 3pm. And then I’d keep pressing through, and by 5pm I’d be useless to everyone because I’d be burnt out. Now, if I start burning out I stop and go play with cars or draw with my son. And he’s ecstatic that Dad can play when there’s still light outside.

3 Concerns about Flex Hours

Of course there’s problems to be addressed with flex hours. I honestly believe they’re entirely surmountable, though.

Concern #1: Colleagues and clients want more availability.
Sometimes it is necessary that I be available outside of the overlap period, absolutely. Urgent requests happen. Customers specifically want me at a specific time. People need some high-level functionality built to continue a project and didn’t see it coming. 10-4, fully understood and expected.

The problem is that people don’t just stick to important requests outside of the overlapping flex hours. Some folks think they’re so important that they can’t possibly be confined to the overlap period – not specifically a callout on my colleagues, but certainly not excluding them. A question about a possible new feature for one project, of quality assurance indications on another – and I’m completely out of my flow. Bummer.

The answer? I don’t answer phone calls except during the overlap period. People need to text me if they want me outside of that, and most people don’t have my cell phone number. And even if they do text me, that’s not a commitment to be sucked in – I’m starting to make judgment calls on whether or not things can wait that are different than what people say. Is that bad customer service or collaboration? Possibly, but hey – it’s for the ultimate benefit of both myself and the company.

Concern #2: The call of overworking has a fresh angle.
It’s tempting to think about working massive bulk hours in a few days, just so that all the other days have a lower threshold. Sounds like pain now, gain later on the surface, right? But it’s not. Because you may need to be on an overdue project later, and then your intense investment is ultimately void. Because overworking one day ruins not just it, but the next day. Because high stress levels impact your health, and nobody can work into the 10th or 12th hour without having high stress and tempting illness.

But even though it’s completely not reasonable, I’m back to a place where the siren call of overworking arises in my mind again and again. Going to take some affirmations or mantra work to get that bad boy out, probably.

Concern #3: I think about work stuff more often.
One of the great tools for establishing a firm work-life separation (which you need for work-life balance) is having a clear start and stop time for work. Flex hours naturally completely destroys that tool, but that’s a sign that it’s outgrown its purpose.

In all cases, mental tools only enable you to a point and then they become a liability. It’s time for me to move beyond the tool of start and stop times. It’s time for me to acquire the ability to simply let go of work mentally.

Read On

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Have you managed to work under a flex hours arrangement, or are you thinking about it? If you’ve done it, what’s your experience with it been like? I’d love to know, drop me a comment below.

Keep on keeping on,

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