In the battle to retain tech talent, businesses are rethinking what employees want and need.
Nearly two-thirds of IT employees reported the inability to work remotely is a job deal-breaker, according to a June Eden report, which surveyed 1,000 full-time U.S.-based employees in the technology industry.
Respondents that valued flexible work environments cited the ability to handle at-home and caretaking responsibilities as benefits, according to the report.
For tech employees, flex time and slack time provide the flexibility they crave. And for tech leaders, flexible work initiatives keep employees happy and productivity high.
Claire Rutkowski, SVP and CIO of infrastructure engineering software company Bentley Systems, is a big proponent of flexibility in the workplace. She described slack time as free time on a project schedule when another task is preventing someone from moving on to their next task.
This could occur when a team member finishes their part before others or is waiting on a teammate to finish so they can start.
“Traditional slack time in project management parlance is a little bit unpredictable as it depends on how the critical path tasks are progressing,” Rutkowski said in an email. “However, slack time can be planned by adding extra duration, so that project teams still have time to address unexpected delays or changes in other areas to meet the overall schedule.”
Flex time, on the other hand, allows team members to work when they want so long as the job gets done. While different, both strategies grant flexibility and optimize productivity.
“As a CIO, I have always allowed and encouraged flex time and planned slack time,” Rutkowski said. “The delivery of IT services without business interruption often requires evening and weekend work. Colleagues need to be able to flex their time to accommodate these after-hours demands without becoming seriously overworked and burned out.”
Flexibility in the workplace can come in many different forms. When Google went public in 2004, it introduced the world to its 20% time rule, which granted employees time to think about what would benefit the company most instead of doing day-to-day tasks. The company credited the initiative with beginning AdSense and Google News.
David Seidl, CIO and VP of IT at Miami University, has adopted a different kind of 20% rule to meetings. He said his job as a leader is sometimes to take his staff calendars and evaluate what they have going on that week or month.
“Almost everybody who works for me could have 20% less meetings,” he said.
This allows employees to have more time to think about the bigger picture and ways to innovate instead of being entrapped by unimportant calls.
CIOs and tech leaders looking for successful flexibility strategies need to have clear lines of communication and expectations for employees.
Amruth Laxman, a founding partner at 4Voice, a business phone solutions provider, found his employees are happier and “incredibly” productive since he implemented flex time, he said.
However, it's not a free-for-all. Laxman has expectations in place for his employees to complete 40-hour work weeks; communicate flex time schedules to managers and HR; and complete projects based on deadlines.
“I can tell you in leading a team with flex time that it’s hard to allow everyone a lot of flex time without experiencing a lot of chaos,” Laxman said in an email. “You simply must have some times when everyone is together to work or discuss a project.”
Coordinating team efforts can become taxing if everyone is on their own schedule. To combat this, Laxman set a more rigid schedule for the morning while allowing afternoons to be used for flex time. Some of his employees finish the day at home while others choose to work later in the evenings.
Employees use flex time to go to doctor appointments, children’s appointments and other personal tasks without needing to consult a manager.
For Rutkowski, flex time became crucial for her employees during the pandemic.
“When the pandemic hit and everyone was forced to work from home all the time, flex time was crucial to enable colleagues to balance work with the demands of family, whether that was taking care of sick loved ones, guiding children through learning from home or scheduling grocery trips for when no one else was there,” she said. “I simply asked that people do what they need to do for their own mental and physical health, and still get their jobs done.”
Rutkowski reported productivity and motivation increased significantly among her staff. Flex time not only allows for greater work/life balance but also shows employees that leaders trust them, according to Rutkowski.