Small Business

Human resources and handling the nontraditional | Business News


Whether it’s a four-day workweek, remote work opportunities or alternative schedules, many businesses and organizations must now address these growing trends to find and retain talented employees. And for employers who are looking at shifting from the traditional workweek model to something more flexible, human resources professionals say they should think first about the work culture they want — especially when it comes to being in the office. 

HR experts say job applicants are looking for flexible working environments, so businesses must consider whether and to what level that flexibility is possible. 

And once a company makes that decision, it needs to be clear and intentional in explaining the workweek.

“I think embracing flexibility and thinking outside the box when it comes to schedule and work-life balance is imperative,” says Erin Johnson, HR manager at DSoft Technology. “And I don’t think that companies who discount that entirely and don’t find some way of doing that will be successful long term.”

In Johnson’s role, she says “occasionally we need to connect with recruiters, … and when we start with a traditional structure of having to be in the office, they will tell you right off that your talent pool decreases significantly.”  

Changes to the workweek were already on the horizon leading up to the COVID pandemic shutdown in 2020, when many industries moved to online technologies and platforms. The shutdown “created an opportunity to reassess what our working schedule and work environment looks like,” Johnson says.

But determining the “normal” workplace post-COVID has been a bit of a guessing game, and local employers are grappling with redefining longstanding traditions. 

“It’s like a pendulum swing,” Johnson says. “You’ve got the completely in-office, traditional structure and then it swings all the way to the completely remote can’t-go-in-the-office structure. And ultimately, it lands in the middle. That’s exactly what’s happening. The pendulum swing is now landing in the middle, and that’s where you’re getting a surge of hybrid options.”

You’re getting a surge of hybrid options. — Erin Johnson

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to these changes. Some industries need people who are in-person throughout the week, and not all roles can be filled in a four-day workweek or remotely. Yet the traditional, entirely-in-office, five-days-a-week model is losing favor with employees, especially younger generations who want flexibility at the heart of their jobs.  

According to Forbes Advisor, 65 percent of workers want to be fully remote, with 32 percent favoring a hybrid schedule. And 57 percent of remote workers surveyed said that if their current employer stopped offering remote work, they would consider leaving.

Colorado is a leading state for fully remote work, according to Axios Denver. In fact, Boulder leads the nation in remote work with 32 percent of the workforce working from home in 2022. Denver follows at 24 percent and Colorado Springs at 18 percent. The national average sits at 12.7 percent, according to Forbes Advisor.

The four-day workweek, however, has less of a hold in Colorado, though it’s gaining traction through pilot initiatives this year. In Golden, the city began a pilot program in July that will run through the end of the year that moved all police department employees to a four-day workweek by reducing hours from 40 to 32 without a reduction in pay. 

Clear Creek County has done something similar with their administrative, planning and other non-emergent walk-in services. To achieve this goal, county offices extended their Monday-Thursday hours to give the public more access during those days, with Fridays closed for employees. The county will assess the success of the changes and decide whether they will become permanent. 

Jen DeFranco is an HR consultant at the Southern Regional Office of Employers Council. She regularly works with local industries and poses questions to businesses grappling with alternative work options. Asking the right questions can help employers be intentional with their framework. “What’s the goal here?” she says. “Are you just answering to employees’ rumblings? Or is there a strategy?”

It’s important to be “very strategic with it and not just, ‘Oh, it’s a trend,’ because that sometimes can fall flat,” DeFranco says. “I’ll chat with an HR professional, and the leadership does want folks in the office. They feel that that’s the best way to accomplish the culture that they’re seeking.”

And for employees, some people really want to be in-person and work more effectively that way. “We have had applicants who have expressed that they wanted to work in person. And I don’t think that that should be lost,” says George Russo, director of the Southern Regional Office of Employers Council. “There are certain people who do want to go in.”

Even within the traditional framework, though, it’s possible to create flexible schedules for employees. For Johnson, “it’s about working smarter, not harder,” she says. If the challenge is related to availability and accessibility, then employers can establish parameters to help mitigate those issues. For instance, needing to respond to mobile messages or emails within a certain amount of time.

At DSoft Technology, for example, “we have what we call core hours that we’ve defined as 9 [a.m.] to 3 [p.m.],” Johnson says. “So that obviously doesn’t encompass the entire work schedule, but what we say is that as a general rule, if people can be available between those business hours of 9 and 3 — whether they’re remote or in-person — that helps to establish reachability and accountability for when people can count on getting things done,” she says.

“For some industries, flexibility is going to look differently,” says Russo. “A lot of what you hear is that remote work makes it more difficult to have culture. And that might be true.”

But through careful examination and asking the right questions, businesses can find some solutions. “What does flexibility mean? And are we going to be able to get the work done? Is [flexibility going to benefit] our culture? Or is this going to have a detriment on our culture?” Russo says.

Some HR experts point out that a flexible work schedule doesn’t just favor employees. Work-from-home options can benefit businesses in a few ways, too. Businesses may be able to downsize and save money on a physical location, and may not need a physical location at all. Research also shows that it improves employee retention, engagement and productivity. It can also expand the labor pool, Russo says.

No matter the model, employers should weigh their options and be intentional when moving forward.