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At my small sized company (~10-15 people) I have always had a very liberal policy on work hours. My employees can choose their own hours as long as.

  • They are in the office from 11am-2pm
  • They average 8 hours a day during the week.

This means they can come in and leave when they want outside of those 'everyone in' hours and can also work fewer hours one day if they work more hours another etc. This policy has always been very popular, and I feel it works well. It has never caused any issues so far.

However as the company grows (expecting to double in the next year) and beyond, how can I ensure that this policy is kept to/isn't abused when extended to a larger and larger amount of people?

I don't 'distrust' any of my employees and I have no desire for them to 'clock' in or out. But I'm mindful that this system when put across a larger amount of people needs to be managed in some more formal way or eventually it will inevitably be misused.

Just to be clear, being in within certain hours isn't an issue and can be fairly easily ensured, its obvious if someone isn't in. What could be an issue is someone only working 6-7 hours everyday with no time made up.

I want to... Ensure the policy isn't abused.

Not... Ensure 100% all workers are at their desks for X hours a day/week.

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    Are you in Europe? You might not actually have a choice in the matter: politico.eu/article/… – nvoigt Jun 26 at 11:30
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    Are you actually concerned about employees putting in a certain amount of time, or do you care about what they actually get done? Do your employees have objectives and goals to reach? – Seth R Jun 26 at 15:19
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    Can I ask a question which no one seems to have asked yet? What do you consider to be 'abuse' of the policy? – Moo Jun 26 at 21:18
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    @sleske - "Well, the obvious solution to verify people work 40h a week is to have them clock in/out", that only verifies that they are in the office 40 hours a week, which is a different problem than verifying that they are actually giving you 40 hours of productive work. – Johnny Jun 26 at 21:46
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    @Johnny: True. However, I see no indication OP can verify "productive work" right now. – sleske Jun 26 at 22:14

12 Answers 12

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However as the company grows (expecting to double in the next year) and beyond, how can I ensure that this policy is kept to/isn't abused when extended to a larger and larger amount of people?

This is what middle management and company culture are all about.

As new employees join, make sure they understand your liberal company culture - what kind of trust they are entitled to, and what is expected of them in return.

Then, as your company grows, make sure all middle managers understand this too. They must hold folks on their teams accountable. If abuse starts to occur, the middle managers must talk to the relevant employee, remind them of the rules, and help get them back on track.

At some point your company will grow beyond the point where your personal span of control can be effective. So your challenge is to find and train middle managers to carry out your company's culture effectively.

Flexible work hours can be very appealing to current and potential employees. That's one perk that can help attract and retain great workers. You are right to be concerned that it might be abused - in my experience such abuse can ruin a great culture. But the way to avoid abuse is not by imposing formal control on an otherwise trusting culture.

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    +1, this is a great answer because it understands the reason for the current policy and aims to try to scale the benefits of that policy with the size of the company while also adding some advice on how this can be achieved and maintained. Thanks! – Sam Jun 26 at 11:44
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    @P.Hopkinson In the same way you would handle an employee who arrives too late or leaves early in a strict working hours policy. – Justin Lessard Jun 26 at 20:45
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    @Nelson that depends entirely on the work performed. If the employee is a test subject at a sleep clinic for example... – jwenting Jun 27 at 6:15
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    You might still want to monitor hours to check that a middle-manager isn't forcing their team to work extra hours. – Robin Bennett Jun 27 at 8:12
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    @P.Hopkinson The OP's policy clearly expects a total number of hours worked during the week. If anyone isn't working that many hours (and hasn't agreed an exception with their line manager to make it up next week) then it's up to their line manager how to proceed. This could be a warning, formal in/out times, or anything agreed between the manager and employee (and potentially HR) as appropriate. If there are reasons, it could even be an agreement to do a 32-hour working week with a 20% drop in salary. As Joe says, you can let managers manage without second-guessing them too much. – Graham Jun 27 at 10:24
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I work at a company with 800+ employees, that has flexible hours as one of the perks of working here. The way this is managed is by access control via RFIDs, but this doesn't mean that management is draconian about working 40 hours a week(although it's expected that you're being productive some amount of hours close to 40 each week).

The fact that access control is effectively clocking in/out from the workplace has almost no overlap with the flexible time and the trust between the company and its employees. We are a goal oriented company, so if you're reaching your goals consistently then it's assumed that you're not abusing the system. Whenever some performance issues are detected for an employee, we normally take a look at the logs from access control to find out if the performance issues are coming from actually not being in the office or by some other means. If the employee is not reaching their goals and has low hours in the office, a meeting is called in which the main focus is not the hours the employee is working, but the performance issues that have been noticed. This is accompanied by a suggestion to try to reach the expectation of 40 hours/week in order to get the performance back to normal.

Note that even if we have people clocking in and out to keep a record of their office hours, it never comes up as an issue until it is an issue(no one gets reprimanded for not reaching the expected hours; they get reprimanded for performance issues).

IMHO this kind of system works best when trying to manage flexible working hours for a growing employee population - it doesn't interfere with the freedom of flexibility and the hours rarely get mentioned as an issue. There's a lot of people that probably work around 35-40 hours a week but since productivity is what we measure, we don't consider that as an abuse of the policy.

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    This - you can let everyone clock in/out and still be flexible about work times. Clocking in/out does not enforce anything, it just gives you data. – sleske Jun 27 at 6:53
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    This is also done by at my work, 10K+ employees – AEonAX Jun 27 at 6:54
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    We (medium-sized company, 400+ employees) also do this. We can even work from home and clock in/out remotely. – sleske Jun 27 at 6:59
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    @NotTelling That's interesting, can you provide examples of some places where this would be the case? – Myles Jun 27 at 15:17
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    @NotTelling couldn't you just have people agree to use of that data as part of their onboarding paperwork? – jayce Jun 27 at 15:23
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I have a hard time seeing the correlation between enforcing 40 hours and not clocking people in - such a system is probably being "misused" as it is and you can't tell because of the scale.

You're either enforcing hours or you are not.

Mind that clocking people is not a mere nuisance or a sign of distrust, it is an administrative tool that gives you information to act upon when taking decisions.

How will you be able to tell if someone is even in the office until they are needed, and then you uncover that this person has in fact not been coming into the office for a while and been getting paid for it? If someone in a team needs someone present and they aren't there but there is no record of this?

You're going to have to choose whether a minor inconvenience of having to push a couple buttons compares to something more serious where you need proof and logs over "trust". There is no real way around it if the enforcement of those hours is important to your administration.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Mister Positive Jun 27 at 18:00
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    Nothing like that should be done without consideration for company culture. If OP is working to build a company culture contrary to this - one based on intrinsic motivation and responsible autonomy, say - he could bring it all crashing down at great cost with something like this, especially if it's done badly. Besides, how will your employee feel if he spends 12 hours visiting a customer or a week on a business trip only to find a great big zero against his name? – Alex Hayward Jun 27 at 19:02
  • @AlexHayward Trips and external affairs are obviously reported to and treated by the administration as working hours; rectification processes should always be a thing in the case there are slips. I'm not sure what you're imagining clocking is when it is about getting information, not some dystopian game of sorts to keep people miserable. – lucasgcb Jun 27 at 20:12
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Joe Strazzere has an excellent answer.

I will add this answer in case you find that your system doesn't scale.

I have no desire for them to 'clock' in or out

I will mention that clocking in/out is (to some people) a "factory" thing for low skilled workers that aren't trusted. I can see why this might be distasteful.

There are other methods of time accounting though.
Having a spot for them to write in the hours they work each day and give that to their manager weekly is pretty normal in my opinion - especially since they don't have a set schedule.

  • It lets you see when they say they worked, and...
  • It trusts them to fill it in (it is just them writing in numbers... isn't a time clock).
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    +1 This formalizes the process more, bringing in the ability to monitor times while keeping the trust in my employees in place. This also has the benefit that if a worker were to intentionally abuse the system they would have to lie in writing. Thanks! – Sam Jun 26 at 15:20
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    @Sam Further, it's ugly, but if they are abusing the system, ti makes them a bit easier to catch, because it forces them to commit to "I worked this many hours on this day" before anyone's raising any questions at all... rather than letting them wait until someone starts accusing them, and then coming up with the dodge that they'd somehow worked more hours on some other day that week. It also lets you have better control of how many hours are spent on which projects, once you become large enough that organizing that sort of thing is useful. – Ben Barden Jun 26 at 18:14
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    I have used both systems, and I prefer just clocking in /out. If it's well done, it's minimum hassle, and you never need to worry about whether you are meeting your hours. Keeping time sheets is a major PITA in my opinion. – sleske Jun 27 at 6:52
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    Please don't do this. I have this in my company, and it is incredibly annoying. It's not a way to show trust at all : You are basically asking them to confirm they are not abusing the system every single day. – Spectantibus Jun 27 at 9:53
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    +5 to @sleske comment. In fact, "does this employer require time clocking or time sheets" is actually on my list of things to judge a potential employer by. They are a huge nuisance, and I even got a reduced raise because of a negative review once when I was surpassing all real work expectations but I kept forgetting to do my timesheet. The manager at the time ignored my productivity (even though it was found to be excellent) and focused my review on the missed timesheets. I would take a small hit to salary just to do away with time sheets, and it does affect my employment decisions. – Aaron Jun 27 at 16:18
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It depends why you want it not to be abused.

If you're worried about employee not working enough you'll have to put in place performance indicator. Then it'll be another discussion if you let employee come and go as they want as long as performance target are met or not.

If you want employee to be on site around the same time and a minimum of time to promote team cohesion and have people available in case they're needed to answer questions or whatever, then you'll either have to trust them or put in place some device to ensure it. One way is clocking in. Another is to prevent entry after a specific time.

8

Trust, but verify.

Broadly speaking, you want to trust the people under you. If all of the work is getting done, and there are no complaints, there's NOTHING to investigate/look into. Might be worth asking about people's bandwidth, to see if there's a case of "I have very little to do" or "I'm about to burn out under this workload", but generally, if everything's getting done, there's no reason to look too hard - it will only cause problems.

That being said, if problems do start to emerge, it's worth (quietly) looking into. Perhaps a 1 on 1 meeting with the person involved ("Hey, we're not quite meeting all of our deadlines, what's going on?").

None of this requires knowing exactly what hours people are working - to take an extreme example, if someone's successfully automated their entire job, and they spend 5 minutes a day checking that their program is running and doing their 60 hours of work, you're getting the full value of what you pay that person out of the work they do - even though they're not spending the full time. (This is assuming a salaried position, instead of hourly, where wage fraud could be a factor - but you didn't mention this as a concern)

The last thing to be careful of is a morale/perception issue. If Joe thinks Bob is working half the hours and getting the same pay, it might not be obvious, but that's where talking with your team regularly comes in.

TL;DR: If the work's getting done, no need to dig into it. If it's not getting done, ask why, and try to figure it out.

7

How can I ensure that this policy is kept to/isn't abused

The simple is, you can't. You have to trust your employees, that's how the flexible working system tends to work.

I have no desire for them to 'clock' in or out

This is pretty much the only way to ensure that nobody is abusing the flexible working and that everybody is doing the time that they are supposed to. Although you trust the employees, it's really not going to cause them much inconvenience by doing something as simple as clocking in and out.

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    "This is pretty much the only way to ensure that nobody is abusing the flexible working" - My question doesn't seek 100% assurance, I just need a better system that can scale further once the company is over a handful of people I can roughly keep track of myself. – Sam Jun 26 at 10:22
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    @Sam But there isn't a better system, hence why companies clock in and out all over the world. It's well known, easily implemented and very effective. Another way of dealing with it is keeping staff happy and just hoping they respect the company enough to not mess with the rules. – Twyxz Jun 26 at 10:26
  • Companies that use time clocks are usually paying hourly. They need an accurate record to pay overtime. – Robin Bennett Jun 27 at 8:26
  • @RobinBennett, depends. In Spain, as of last month, every company with employees is required to log accurate hours so that the Ministry of Work can check that they're not making people work overtime. – Peter Taylor Jun 27 at 10:29
  • This is the correct answer. You have to decide what metric is most important and then measure that metric. If you want to evaluate employees on how long they kept the seats warm, then measure that. If you care more that they are completing 15 TSB Reports and 2 IYH Memoranda per week, then measure that. If what matters is that they are receiving favorable reviews from customers, then measure that. It's not rocket science, only brain surgery. – Robert Columbia Jun 28 at 12:33
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IMO the answers to this question and similar on workplace are missing a significant point – Health & Safety.

In the USA & UK, H&S regulations require that in the event of a site evacuation all personnel on site need to be accounted for. I assume many other countries have similar legislation.

Ref. USA OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) & OSHA - How to Plan for Workplace Emergencies and Evacuations(PDF) page 4 Quote “and: A system for accounting for personnel following an evacuation.”

Ref. UK Disappointingly I’m unable to find the actual UK regulation at the time of writing, but am 100% sure it exists. Edit. Following a discussion with @motosubatsu and my own research; the current UK regulations do not explicitly state that an employer needs to account for all personnel following an evacuation. However you may be liable to prosecution should an employee be injured/die as a result of you the employer not being able to account for all personnel after an evacuation.

The USA example above does not state how you have to account for all personnel; only that you have to. So in order to comply with these regulations, an employer would need to devise a robust system that records all employees, site visitors and contractors arriving and leaving the site: obviously this needs to include the time.

So regardless of trust, company culture, etc. You as an employer may:-

  • a)have a legal requirement to know which employee is onsite at any given time.
  • b)be liable to prosecution if in the event of an evacuation you cannot account for the whereabouts of all employees.

And on an ethical level you do have a duty of care to all your employees whichever country your business is based in.

Of course as an employer whatever else you would like to do with these records is up to you.

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My UK government employer has "flexitime" for all grades. Core time (when staff must be present) 10:00 AM to 3:30 PM, working week 37.5 hours (5 notional days of 7 hrs 24 min). Workplaces are open from 7:00 AM to 6:00 PM. At the end of each four-week period, staff are allowed to carry over three days "up" or two days "down", and may take accumulated "up" time, or borrow time from the future, as additional leave, in half or whole days. Attendance is recorded by staff personally on a custom Excel four-week spreadsheet, which shows accumulated credit or debit time day by day. At the end of the period, it is printed, signed off by the staff member's line manager, and kept in a folder for six months. The manager is expected to be alert enough to spot abuse. "Flexi abuse" is very rare and generally noticed by team-mates before management. They feel that the scheme is a privilege and a benefit and that they are being let down by abusers. It is this latter aspect that I feel helps the system to be self-policing to a large extent. Staff are happy to record their hours if, by so doing, they can accumulate extra leave days, or borrow them. The supervision is usually nominal and very light-touch, which makes people feel trusted and valued. If a manager was concerned about a particular individual, they could note his or her arrival and departure times, and everyone knows that. Bottom line, if people feel valued, trusted, and "looked after", they tend not to abuse the system.

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There are two issues you are facing.

One is how to check 40 hours a week and obligatory hours to be present in the office. This can be easily enforced by simply calculating time "logged in". It may of course require some more paper work on your side (depending on country and legislature) but it will just work as backup. Your company state "we trust you but if there will be some issues with deadlines or quality, time spend will be the first thing to look at".

Because, your second issue is: Does everyone in your company should be using this policy?
There are some departments that cannot have such luxury. Your IT would either need to be staffed to support people coming in at 8am but also leaving at 7pm or be set strict hours to be reliable.
Second sub-question - Does people really need to have clocked 40 hours a week, so be managed in time-table manner or should be switched to tasks? From personal experience, you cannot have task quality with time spend on-clock quantity.

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    The flexible nature of the hours is due to the nature of the work. It is not really dependent on any schedule at all which is why the policy is in place. People don't rely on each others work in small scales or concurrent time. This is apart from meetings which would occur during the 'always in time'. +1 good answer. – Sam Jun 26 at 11:48
  • @Abigail Working 4 day a week from home is not flexible work hours. – SZCZERZO KŁY Jun 26 at 12:47
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"Work from home" is also called "going to university". It's a natural extension of the workplace for people who have shown they can be trusted to produce without direct supervision.

As someone suggested, have middle managers monitor this; preferably those with experience managing remote teams. Just periodically review performance, and ensure they understand it is a privilege to be earned, not a right.

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    You might want to consider revising the first sentence. I was completely confused, didn't understand what you meant until after I read the answer multiple times over. At first I thought you meant that you were a student and doing employment work and school homework from home at the same time. Perhaps "Working from home is just like going to university. Home is a natural extension of the workplace for people who have shown they can be trusted to produce without direct supervision." – Aaron Jun 27 at 16:26
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Let's get it straight: not every person is able to work in "flex hours" environment. Sooner or later, you'd hire someone who will abuse the system. And the bigger the company is, the more of that "incompatible" people would be hired in. So, performance tracking is your #1 choice. If there are too many people do not match the tracking criteria, it is a big chance the criteria is incorrect. Otherwise, just use it as is (and tackle others who're not matching the criteria).

Next step: your company became big enough to have two brunches (in different cities, sic!). You can't physically be in both places same moment, quickly you'd be bored traveling between the cities daily basis, so let people just do their work. Performance tracking is still your #1 choice.

Next step: your company is big enough to step out of a single timezone (let say, 12h difference, so there is no any chance 100% all workers are at their desks within a same moment). What is your #1 choice still? You know the answer.

P.S. Several thousand people, multiple brunches around the globe, working environment still the same. Yes, it's possible.

protected by motosubatsu Jun 28 at 16:20

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