Fellow 1MFWF Supporter Emily Klein recently stopped by the Robin office to talk about the role technology plays in the modern workplace. Our discussion centered around the topic of work flexibility and what the future will be. At one point, Emily made a simple but profound statement: “Flextime isn’t about time flexibility…it’s about place flexibility. We need to be asking ourselves, ‘Where will I be the most productive?’”

This concept is not about splitting semantic hairs. It’s a crucially important difference in perspective. The Harvard Business Review recently published findings from a research study that demonstrated that negative stereotypes exist for people who choose flexible work hours versus following the traditional 9-to-5 workday. The study found that stigmas are attached to the reasons people use flextime, which could lead to lower performance ratings even if the employee’s productivity remained high: Managers might look upon flextime favorably when they perceive a worker is using it to achieve higher productivity, and unfavorably when they perceive it being used to accommodate personal-life demands.

Why Flextime Might Hurt Performance Reviews

Managers often see flextime as way for employees to work around their personal schedule, leading to lower levels of productivity. They think employees are not focused on the job and instead using the extra time to get more things done in their personal life. While this might be true for working parents who are balancing dropping off the kids at school and preparing for a meeting, it’s certainly not true for everyone.

This is why we must change how we speak about flextime because it’s not actually about time. It’s about working smarter. Changing the conventionally accepted definition will change attitudes towards people who chose to work different schedules.

Why Flextime Makes Us Better Workers

What if we could wake up each morning, look at the day’s activities, and decide on a place where productivity is high and distractions are low. Depending on what you have to get done, working from home might be the best and most frequent option. But some days it could be from the coffee shop down the street so you’re not distracted by the doorbell, the mail, or the dog. Maybe it’s at a coworking space so you’re surrounded by inspiring and interesting people. Of course, let’s not rule out that the office might be the place to get stuff done because you need a decision on a project due later that day.

Most people assume the office is the only place where productivity happens. But if our tasks change daily, why should we remain in the same place?

Change the Conversation: Flextime Benefits Employers, too!

Time AND place flexibility has been shown to increase productivity, to lead to higher job engagement and satisfaction, and improve employee retention. Yet, it’s still a new concept for most employers. Changing the perception of flextime as a way to reduce work to a perception of increasing personal productivity and value to the company will help managers embrace the concept. If you have an opportunity to sit down with your boss and talk openly about how working smarter can benefit both you and the company, this is a good place to start.

The mistake I see most people make when talking about flextime is that they try to connect their productivity to hours saved. Instead, talk about the places that can provide greater value to your job or tasks. For example, say a developer is trying to help her team build a new database but wants to write it in a new language. Instead of asking for course training, she might work a few days a week at a local coworking space that happens to have a community of developers working on similar projects. This gives her more flexibility while adding value to the company. She is working smarter.

Shifting from ‘Flextime’ to ‘Working Smarter’

The shift from flextime to working smarter must be made in order for increased adoption, particularly with more slow-moving companies. That’s not to say that a discussion of flextime should not include a mention of a work-life balance. But I believe starting with how flextime will make you (and your company) smarter is more likely to have a positive outcome in the long term.

As more team leaders see flextime as just another way to conduct business, the less of an issue it will be—just like relaxed vacation policies and open offices have started to become commonplace.

I’d love to hear what you have experienced. Have you seen better results when talking about ‘flextime’ as ‘working smarter’? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

photo credit: thinkstockphotos.com