Image: Christine Hume

Flex time, flexitime or flexible hours. It’s often one of the things that draws freelancers to self-employment in the first place, and especially since the pandemic, has become increasingly common among larger companies, too. It refers to the ability (as the name suggests) to be flexible in how you manage your time. It offers some important benefits.

Studies have shown, for example, that flextime decreases work-related stress, boosts job satisfaction, and leads to a greater work-life balance. This is because it can often be difficult to deal with domestic responsibilities like caring for your home, looking after children, and attending to health concerns if your working hours are cast in stone. A little flexibility, however, makes it easier to stay on top of your different commitments. If you’re an employer, there are advantages for you, too, such as increasing productivity and reducing absenteeism and employee turnover.

Let’s take a closer look at what flex time means, and answer some of your questions. What are the pros? Are there any cons? And how can you make a flexible working arrangement part of your business?

Table of Contents

What is Flex Time?

Flex time (or flexitime, as it’s sometimes called) refers to . It means that you largely decide when your workday starts and ends, rather than your employer or supervisor. Usually, you still have to work a set number of hours a week or deliver certain outputs. But when you actually do this work is up to you. 

Flex time challenges the idea that working between 9am and 5pm is the only — or the best — time to work. (Curious about the origins of the eight-hour workday? Our blog on time management tips explores it in detail.) Instead, flex time acknowledges that you might be more productive earlier in the morning or late at night. Or that you might have other responsibilities to work around.

Types of flexible arrangements

Flex time is just one type of flexible working arrangement, however — there are others. If your company has a flexible approach, it might adopt one of the following:

  • Remote work: This means that you don’t need to be in a physical office to do your work. Instead, you work elsewhere: from your home, perhaps, a co-working space, or (if you’re lucky) a beach in Bali. Remote working is often used interchangeably with telecommuting. This means that, rather than commuting to work in person, you’re doing so virtually.
  • Hybrid work: Here, you might work on-site some days and remotely on others. This model gives you the freedom to choose the option that works best for you. It could vary depending on your personal circumstances or preferences. Maybe you’d rather undertake your deep work away from the distractions of the office, for example.
  • Part-time work: If you work part-time, it means that you don’t work a full eight-hour day or 40-hour week. Instead, you only work for a portion of that time. Some people work for a company part-time and freelance during their remaining hours, or do other, unpaid work.
  • Job sharing: Here, two people work part time to do the work that would otherwise be done by someone full time. This gives each person the freedom to take on other responsibilities.
  • Shift work: Organizations that operate 24-hours a day, seven days a week (like call centers and mines) often opt for shift work. In terms of this, employees will work for different periods throughout the day and night. This means their working hours could change from day to day, or from week to week.

Image: Campaign Creators

Flex time itself can vary depending on the arrangement you have with your company. You might:

  • Work eight set hours a day, but not necessarily 9am to 5pm. You might work from 7am to 3pm, for example, or from 11am to 7pm.
  • Work from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Wednesday, but 10am to 6pm on Thursdays and Fridays.
  • Work a split shift — from 8am to 12pm, and then from 3pm to 7pm.
  • Work any hours you choose, as long as your billable hours equal a certain amount, or you finish certain projects. 

The Pros and Cons of Flex Time

A recently published McKinsey report revealed a number of interesting facts about flex time. The study found that flexitime is so popular among employees that, if given the choice, almost everyone would agree to it. What’s more, flex time is a priority for job seekers — it ranks third after better pay and better career opportunities. 

On the whole, flextime is attributed to an important shift in what businesses prioritize at work. Increasingly, it’s less about the time people spend sitting at a desk, and more about whether they’re producing good work. 

Let’s explore the pros (and a few cons) of flextime in a bit more detail. 

The benefits of flex time

These are some of the advantages that flex time offers freelancers and employees:

  • Better work-life balance: Neither your work nor your personal life sticks to a strict schedule. Sometimes you need to go to the doctor in the middle of a workday, or work late into the night to meet a deadline. Being able to adjust your calendar based on the day’s priorities can help you to maintain a better work-life balance.
  • Increased job satisfaction: Research found that both low and high-wage employees felt more satisfied in their work when they were allowed to work flexibly. 
  • Improved health, wellness and happiness: Work is such a huge part of our daily lives, that if we’re experiencing a sense of balance and satisfaction, we’re also likely to feel happier. Better balance means that we’re likely to have time to prioritize our physical, mental and emotional health, too.
  • Reduced commuting time and costs: If there’s one thing no one wants, it’s to sit on a jam-packed highway in rush-hour traffic. The time and cost-savings of not having to commute are major drawcards. (Of course, employees spending less time on the road has important environmental benefits for businesses, too.)

Image: Aleksandr Popov

And for employers? Well, if you’re interested in introducing flex time in your company, you could expect:

  • Increased productivity: A recent Gartner survey revealed that 43% of people feel they’re more productive because their working hours are flexible. Not commuting every day is a contributing factor here. But flex time also allows people to work when they feel most productive, rather than the hours they “should” work.
  • Reduced absenteeism: Imagine your team members didn’t have to take time off because they had to apply for a visa. Now, they run these sorts of errands in their workday, and make up the lost time at a later stage. It’s a win-win situation, and helps to reduce absenteeism.
  • Improved employee retention: Employees who feel that their personal lives and individual schedules are important are also more likely to stay. Flex time can help to improve loyalty and boost company morale. 
  • Attractive to new employees: As the McKinsey research shows, people are increasingly expecting companies to offer flexitime. If your business doesn’t, you could lose out on recruiting top talent. 

The shortcomings of flex time

Flextime isn’t without its drawbacks, however. It’s worth considering some of the cons before you decide to adopt it.

  • It isn’t for every industry: Some sectors require people to do their work in person on site. There’s no way around it. This is changing as technology evolves, however. Even sectors that we once thought would never be remote (like education and healthcare) now offer increasingly flexible options.
  • It reduces face-to-face interaction: Sometimes the best part of working is the people you work with. People who work flexibly often spend more time working from home, which can be quite isolating. Decide if this suits you, and maybe mix it up by either working at a co-working space (if you’re a freelancer) or adopting a hybrid model (if you work for a company). 
  • There can be communication and collaboration challenges: If your business adopts a flexible approach, you’ve got to have the right tools in place. Your team members have to be able to communicate and collaborate effectively, even if they’re working from different places. This is a hindrance if it’s not set up properly.
  • You’ve got to keep track of everyone’s hours: This is only a con if you don’t have a reliable and automatic time-tracking solution (like Timing) in place. If you do, you’ll be able to stay on top of everyone’s hours with no trouble at all. Of course, this also applies if you’re a freelancer — everyone needs to stay on top of their hours if they want to work productively and profitably.

Implementing Flex Time Successfully: A Step-by-Step Guide for Employers

When flexitime works well, it benefits everyone involved: you, your employees, your clients — everyone. But to get it right, there are a few steps you should follow. 

Step 1: Speak openly to your employees

Begin by asking your employees for their input. Do they want a flexible arrangement? What would this look like to them? Do they have any concerns they’d like to raise? Call a meeting, set up an online survey, or encourage them to talk to their managers. Do what works best for your business to gather all the information you need. This will help you to plot a way forward.

(It’s worth adding that speaking to your employees should be an ongoing part of the process. Encourage them to be proactively involved in the decision-making, so that you can address any issues as they come up.)

Image: Antenna

Step 2: Set clear guidelines

Assuming that they do want to go ahead, the next step involves establishing clear expectations and guidelines. You probably won’t be able to meet everyone’s flexitime preferences, but aim for the common consensus. Provided it will still help you to meet your business goals, of course. Then set up guidelines to help your employees know what’s expected of them, and where the boundaries are.

Step 3: Make sure you have all the right tools in place

If your company defaulted to the old ways of working in the wake of Covid — or if your business is brand new and still finding its feet — make sure you equip yourself with the right tools. Will your team members find it easy to communicate if they’re not all in the office? How will they stay on top of projects? Are there collaboration tools you should incorporate?

Be careful of SaaS sprawl, which is when you invest in too many tools without properly vetting them. Instead, do your research, and gather the most important resources you need one at a time. And most importantly of all, make sure that they have a great time-tracking tool on hand. 

Step 4: Track everyone’s time

This one’s so important, it gets its own step.

Your employees can’t quite know how much time they’re spending on different clients unless they’ve got an accurate log of their hours. The same goes for their productivity. Were they really conducting in-depth research for four hours this morning, or did they get distracted and caught up in time sinks?

Make sure that they have the tools in place to monitor their time effectively. If they do, they’ll be able to see exactly where their hours are going every day, and whether there are opportunities to work more efficiently

With Timing, for example, they’ll be able to identify every single app, document and website they visit by simply referring to the “Activities” tab. This ensures that nothing gets forgotten and will help you allocate your time correctly when you invoice. It’s useful to note that even time spent in meetings and on phone calls is captured, which is especially useful if your team’s time is flexible — a work-related call could happen at any moment. All of this is recorded automatically so they don’t need to worry about starting and stopping timers. 

What’s more, the “Stats” tab offers a useful overview on how time has been spent over any given period. It can help your team members to identify gaps and opportunities where they could be more productive.

Timing is also ideally designed to help you, as a business owner or team leader, manage your teams’ time. The insight it gives respects your employees’ privacy while still giving you enough information to see what they’re working on, and whether their contribution could be improved.

Step 5: Observe and refine

Figuring out whether a new way of working is succeeding can be tricky. You need to decide which metrics to measure (time should be one) and you probably won’t see results overnight. In these early days, make sure you’re constantly observing how your process is working. Are your people doing good quality work? Are they enjoying it? Are there any issues you need to address — from your company’s finances to staff morale?

Make small adjustments as time goes on. The whole point of a flexible arrangement is that it’s flexible! The system itself can change as you gather new information.

Flex Time: The Bottom Line

Flextime is changing the way people work in real and important ways — and it’s likely here to stay. It offers considerable benefits for freelancers, employers and employees, and many of the downsides can be mitigated relatively easily. 

Adapting to this exciting way of working might take some practice, but the rewards are enormously worthwhile. Start by tracking your time (Timing offers a free, 30-day trial) so that you know exactly where your hours and minutes are going. Then, work when it suits you. Monitor your productivity and performance. And soak up your newfound flexibility and freedom.

Flex Time FAQs

What is meant by flex time?

Flex time is all about determining your own work schedule, and when your workday starts and ends. It can range from being somewhat flexible (you might still have to work 40 hours a week, for example), to being completely free. Perhaps you don’t need to work a set number of hours at all, as long as the work gets done.

What is an example of flex time?

If your time is flexible, you likely won’t always work during traditional working hours. You might work more at certain times of the day, such as in the mornings, or more on one day than another.

What are flex time benefits?

Some of the benefits of flexitime include better work-life balance, increased job satisfaction, a greater sense of health and well-being, and less time commuting. For employers, it can help to boost productivity, and reduce absenteeism and turnover.

Is flex time a good idea?

It depends on the work you do, and how you like to structure your working time. Some people love the freedom of being in control of their time, while others prefer a more rigid environment (though both benefit from a powerful automatic time-tracking tool). Either way, it’s worth considering as many employees are starting to expect companies to have a flexible approach.

Is flex time the future of work?

Our world is changing so fast that it can be difficult to know what the future holds. But yes, it certainly seems that flex time is the future of employment. Regardless, tracking your time with Timing can help you to monitor your time, boost your productivity, and increase your bottom line.