Remote work options, as well as flexible hours and 4 day workweeks, were created to address pressing concerns. People were finding that the distractions of an office actually reduced their productivity, and they could get more done and live more flexible, attuned lives with those changes.
While remote work, flexible hours, and 4 day workweeks all have generated the resulting improvements in productivity according to many studies, there is something lost when your entire team is distributed to different locations. One of the factors that seems most at risk is the idea of innovation: the kind of water-cooler chat or in-person brainstorming that might yield a true million-dollar idea may become flatter and more streamlined when conducted with some or all members joining the meeting remotely.
So how can you get the benefits of flexible and remote work without losing the innovation and camaraderie generated by your company's organic interactions in-office? One strategy that has companies excited is known as Core Hours.
What is a Core Hours Strategy?
A core hours strategy is simple: your company decides on a small amount of hours, usually less than half the total working requirements of the employees, when everyone will be expected to work in-office. Most companies try to concentrate these hours to only a couple of days, for the sake of commuting, and to a time when most people work fairly well - one great example would be the core hours of Monday and Wednesday, 10am to 2pm.
What makes Core Hours so exciting is that it keeps many of the benefits of remote, flexible work: workers can wake early and get much of their work done before the Core Hours, or they can wake late and come straight to work, taking the rest of their hours in the afternoon or evening.
At the same time, chats that would be tedious or time-consuming via email or video chat can be scheduled for the Core Hours, getting all those in-person items out of the way. Meeting with clients, brainstorming new initiatives, and exchanging ideas about revising a strategy are all much faster and easier with the combination of clear body language and in-person collaboration tools, like using the same computer.
Employees still can schedule appointments, reduce commuting time, and enjoy productivity gains in their home offices or co-working spaces. The company, long-term, may opt to share their office with other companies to save money, offsetting their Core Hours so that no one feels like their space is being stepped on.
How to Implement Core Hours
- Implementing Core Hours requires some research first. Send out a survey to your employees that discusses what their preferences would be for the amount of hours, the schedule of hours, and the way these hours will be used. Make sure that employees realize that the hours will be scheduled based on company concerns primarily and employee concerns secondarily. If clients are happy with morning and early afternoon hours, for instance, the company might also opt to end Core Hours with plenty of time for parents to see children when they get home from school, but not if those afterschool hours are the ideal time for meetings.
- Convene your management team to evaluate the data and discuss. One problem that some managers face is the temptation to have too many Core Hours. It is a slippery slope to getting everyone back on a rigid schedule if you make Core Hours a large percentage of the person's work. Of course, a modified Core Hours schedule may be essential for your company, if you need people in the office for 4 days a week no matter what, or something similar. Basically, though, a real Core Hours strategy won't use these hours as a way to police and ensure people are working; they should be attuned to how much face-time employees really need.
- Implement a pilot program for Core Hours. Have a department or team transition to the Core Hours model to work out some of the kinks first. As you learn what the bottlenecks are, make small modifications, and then roll out the program to the entire staff, if you have a larger, multi-department company.
- Set a plan for revising the Core Hours strategy in the future. This could involve changing your hours, but it could also involve taking greater advantage of the affordances of the model, such as getting a sub-leasing tenant to use your space on days that your employees do not use it.
Benefits of Using Core Hours
While the benefits above are clear, here are just a few more benefits of the Core Hours model.
- Understanding your employees and managing them well is truly easier when one-on-one in-person meetings are possible, since so much of good management is relational. This strategy allows your workers who are happily remote to know they still get 50-80% of their time to be productive at home, but with in-person managerial support.
- Fewer conflicts in the workplace over interpersonal squabbles and differences; people will live through annoying habits of their peers if they only handle them briefly each week between meetings rather than constantly, 40 hours a week.
- Efficient scheduling is encouraged by the perception of scarce in-person time. Employees who might let a half-hour meeting drag on to an hour will not do so if they need to make every minute of the Core Hours count.
- Basic savings, like lower utility bills, can be used for bonuses or other improvements that benefit the employees, increasing satisfaction.
- If you choose to keep your office open as a potential location during non-core hours, the subset of employees who struggle with focus at home can have a free, comfortable place to work without having to invest in their own separate co-working space or office.
Core Hours can create excellent synergy for teams that work staggered shifts in addition to those who set their own full-time work week schedules or those who work only a few days a week. The flexibility of it allows you to make it fit your company the way you want, as opposed to feeling like you must choose from all-or-nothing models of employment.