When Does a Workplace Become Too Flexible?

Flexible workplaces are difficult to rein in once they’re implemented.
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Flex time, telecommuting, contract gigs, open workspaces and personal use of company computers can all lead to a more relaxed, productive work environment. Without proper supervision, however, nontraditional work arrangements can lead to missed deadlines, work that goes undone, decreased output and poor employee morale. Whether you're the boss or the employee, understanding the downsides of flexible work arrangements can help you make a nontraditional work situation more likely to succeed.

Flexible Workplaces

A traditional workplace requires all employees to work the same hours, from the same location, following the same employee policies and adhering to a dress code. This isn’t necessary for all businesses, and companies that relax their rules can attract better employees who value freedom more than a bit of extra pay. Examples of workplace flexibility include allowing employees to come and go an hour earlier or later to miss commuting traffic and working from home. Depending on a business’s need for computer security, it might allow employees to use their computers for personal email, Internet shopping, booking airfares or visiting social media sites during their breaks and lunches.


It’s human nature to get bored at work and want to take a break, whether it’s an extra trip to the water cooler or stopping by a coworker’s desk to chat. Allowing employees to work from home lets them work unsupervised, taking as many breaks as they wish. If a telecommuting employee has a specific quantity of work she’s required to finish each day, telecommuting shouldn’t be a problem, because as long as she finishes her daily workload, the company doesn’t care if she worked eight hours or six. If a salesperson reaches her quota each month, her boss doesn’t care how long it took to hit her number. But if an employee has a job that varies in its scope, a business can’t tell how productive she would have been if she had spent eight hours in the office, under supervision.


If the boss allows only a few employees to telecommute or have flexible hours, those who aren’t given this opportunity can begin to feel discriminated against. They don’t see that you are rewarding another employee, they see that you are not rewarding them. Men might be especially disgruntled with work-at-home moms. Even in situations where employees don’t have a problem working in your office, if you hire a telecommuting employee, your office staff might feel they are doing more work, based on most people’s natural tendency to take more breaks at home.


Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer caused a firestorm when she ended the company’s liberal telecommuting policy. One of the reasons for the switch was to increase face-to-face interaction among employees. Bouncing ideas off peers and getting instant feedback can help businesses innovate in ways they can’t when staff interact primarily by email.


A business should set goals for creating a flexible workplace, including benchmarks it can measure to determine if the policies are improving its operations or decreasing results. Measuring pre- and post-flextime productivity, where possible, can tell managers if a workplace has become too flexible. Monitoring employee website use lets employers know how much time their workers are spending surfing the net instead of working. Reviewing the reason for employees quitting or being fired will help determine if flexible work rules contributed to the problem.

Selling Flex Time to Your Boss

If you want to propose a flexible work arrangement with an employer, take away the company’s arguments. Let your manager know that by setting up a home office, you are more likely to turn on your computer after dinner or on the weekends and do more work. You’ll also eliminate hours of driving time each week. Offer to have teleconferencing capability on your phone and set up a webcam to attend office meetings on short notice. Ask your boss to consider testing the arrangement twice a week, giving her a reason why you need to do this and why it will benefit the company.

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