Scheduling for ‘real life’
Manchester firm reaps benefits of flexibility
The average employee schedule at Image 4, a Manchester company specializing in the design and installation of branded spaces, may look a little unusual.
One employee, recovering from an operation, is working from home with a portable system purchased for her. The accountant works from home two days a week to take care of his dogs. The project manager is stepping out early to attend his child’s concert, but he came in at 6 a.m. to get ahead on his project. A medical appointment could cause an employee to come in late, but he may decide to stay even later to finish his work.
This flexibility is the product of Image 4’s alternative scheduling system, developed in the early 1990s and still proving its effectiveness today. CEO Jeff Baker says the “flex schedule” environment was developed when the company realized that it would lose good employees if it didn’t adapt to their everyday needs.
“It kind of forced us to change our thinking about the work [they] did and how we were managing it,” he said.
At Image 4, there is no adhesion to the typical, rigid work schedule. Employees have the ability to form their work week based on their own personal necessities.
The key to a successful transition to flex scheduling is to change from what Baker calls “task-oriented” management to “outcome-oriented” management.
Using outcome-oriented metrics, an employee is given only a project and a deadline, but no details about how the deadline should be met. This makes people feel empowered, allowing them to take control of their work life and their workflow.
The system requires a lot of trust to work effectively, and occasional problems still arise due to the complexities in each employee’s life. Sometimes, too many staff members take a flex day or a home day at the same time, potentially hurting productivity or the ability to meet a deadline. In that situation, it will be up to the employees first to work out a reasonable solution.
To minimize such situations, Image 4 adopted an Outlook scheduling system, in which all employees must post which days they are taking off. In Baker’s view, trusting employees to manage their time is both an outcome of flex scheduling and an input. Image 4 has to hire employees who are worthy of that level of trust.
Overall, the benefits of flex scheduling far outweigh the occasional difficulties, he said. After adopting the system, Baker said Image 4 reduced its overtime cost and smoothed vacation coverage. Employee satisfaction also soared, while stress levels dropped, he said.
“I’m 100 percent sure that we have some of our staff members today because of the flexibility that we can show,” Baker said. “This is real life. Real life happens whether we can plan it or not. What we have to be able to do is manage around it.”
The “Just One Thing” Campaign is an 18-month effort of New Hampshire Businesses for Social Responsibility. Its purpose is to challenge businesses to consider incorporating a sustainability initiative into their operations. Companies can celebrate their achievements and inspire others by sharing their stories on the campaign’s webpage. To submit your story or read others, visit nhbsr.org/jot.