It’s so rare for a business to fundamentally change how it operates overnight. Even more rare? Every other business changing how it operates too.
The global pandemic was a turning point. It exposed bad habits and longstanding, inefficient practices for what they were: remnants of an outdated way of working. The companies that survived this challenging period took this opportunity to evolve.
In Unito’s case, after much iteration and reflection, one fundamental truth became clear: How people work is so much more important than where or when they work.
Here’s a breakdown of all of the changes Unito made during the pandemic and why we’ve decided to make them permanent.
Flexible schedules lead to greater engagement
As our employees dealt with the new stresses of a pandemic — from isolation to boredom and the presence of screaming children — we knew they needed the ability to adapt their schedule to their reality.
We allowed parents to work whatever hours made sense early on and encouraged them to work shorter days if needed. We quickly expanded that to the rest of the team. We wanted people to be able to take walks or naps during the day, to find their peak productivity hours, and to generally take the time they needed to feel okay.
These changes started as temporary solutions to a problem we were all facing, but our team was so appreciative. And we noticed that people seemed more engaged during the times they chose to be working — often outside of the traditional nine to five.
By the summer, we knew we wanted to make more permanent changes to introduce greater scheduling flexibility. We came up with three initiatives that we rolled out to the Unito team.
Availability hours vs. working hours
One of the hurdles with introducing greater flexibility is that you still need employees to collaborate on projects, participate in meetings, and be available for crises. To counter this, we replaced traditional working hours with availability hours.
Essentially what this means is between nine and five on days that they work, employees are expected to be available for meetings or emergencies. Otherwise, they’re welcome to work in the middle of the night if they choose.
Focusing on availability allowed us to introduce flexibility without losing those important touchpoints that enable us to work together as a team.
We don’t see any reason to revert back to the old way of doing things when the office reopens.
Weekend swap days
The Monday to Friday thing starts to make a lot less sense when you spend seven days a week, every week, trapped in your home. During the pandemic, we had employees approach us expressing a desire to have a day free of meetings where they could go into focus mode on specific tasks. Some of their coworkers were trying to juggle childcare and family obligations during the week and needed a way to split time with their partners.
We filled this need by allowing employees to swap one of their weekdays for a weekend day. This initiative isn’t for one-time swaps — Unito’s employees can always take a personal day when needed — but for building new, long-term schedules.
A few of our employees jumped at the opportunity. It quickly became clear that this switch wouldn’t just allow them to be just as productive as before; often they were even more productive.
How many initiatives can you name that make people happier and more productive? And who would let such an initiative go?
Optional four-day weeks
This was definitely the most ambitious initiative of the bunch. As winter turned to spring and the pandemic dragged on, one of our employees approached us and expressed a need to work four day weeks. This isn’t something we’d planned for, but we took the request seriously.
Four-day weeks represent a significant change to the status quo. It involves a reduction of available resources which means a potential impact on your team’s ability to deliver projects. At the same time, stress and burnout, and anxiety also negatively impact project delivery.
We took a step back to give this some thought. In the end, a four-day week has a positive impact on employee happiness and retention that outweighs our concerns about production.
So, we opened up optional four-day weeks to employees. Anyone working four days is doing so at 80% of their salary and benefits, while retaining full health coverage. We didn’t want our employees to choose between health care and a healthier work-life balance.
The results? A handful of employees decided that they wanted to work four days. This meant the overall impact was very manageable for the organization. In the end, this is a positive experiment that we see no reason to end post-pandemic.
Want to make this happen at your workplace?
We recently released the Better Workplace Toolkit, which includes templates and resources we used for remote work and flexible scheduling.
Breaking the old work week
The Monday to Friday, nine to five work week isn’t dead at Unito. It’s just optional. Those who like it can continue to follow it.
Ultimately that’s what we learned throughout this pandemic. Evolution isn’t about changing from one rigidly defined system to another. We needed to be more flexible to keep our team happy and give them the ability to achieve the work-life balance they need. We needed to break the confines of that old system and hand over the tools to our employees, so they could rebuild it in their image.
We’ve opened up the floodgates to a better way of working. Our employees dove in headfirst and they’re happier for it.
Pandemic or no pandemic, the way we work has forever changed for the better.