Do core hours matter?

Core hours are a sensible safety valve on flexible workplace policies. Although virtual work options are stronger than ever, by bringing employees together for a fixed, predictable amount of time every week or month, you ensure creative workplaces can be stated simply: although virtual work technologies are very sophisticated, core hours strengthen bonds between employees and elevate productivity overall.

Core hours can ask for employees to spend all but eight to 12 hours per week in the office, or, on the other extreme, allow workers to choose their own schedule and work environment the majority of the time. The most pragmatic reason for keeping them around is to simply keep everyone from perceiving themselves as a free agent.

“Culture is very difficult to control if you have a virtual workforce that never comes together,” says Lynda Zugec, managing director of The Workforce Consultants.

The case against is pretty simple, too: they can be a meaningless, middle-of-the-road compromise for companies who can’t decide what they want their work environment to be. Read on to see how organizations can develop work plans that are guided by strategies which fit their needs, not by convention or conservatism.

Trusting your contributors

Content agency Fixate succeeds with a loose core hours approach governed by a predictable monthly rhythm, where content plans are established at the start of the month and all materials are due by month’s end. Apart from a monthly standing meeting and a few other administrative gatherings, the company’s core full-time staff is not required to be in the office for any particular length of time.

“We’re a results-driven organization where it’s all about deliverables,” says Chris Riley, Fixate principal. “If I have to question my employees’ use of time, that’s usually the sign of another problem, and it will become very obvious very quickly and there will be changes made.

Riley advocates for a Montessori-inspired model where employees naturally demonstrate how they best need to be developed and held accountable. “There isn’t a system that will work equally well for all individuals, but everybody on a team knows their natural ways of being productive,” he says. “If you’re hiring talented people and want them to use that talent, they should know how to manage that talent—you shouldn’t have to.”

Simple tests for a core hours scheme

If you’re struggling to articulate the value of your own core hours arrangement, put the value proposition to the test. If you’re asking people to work together, or at least work in close proximity, but can’t explain how the outcome is better than it would have been working apart, the core hours plan could stand adjustment. “The whole point is that core hours happen at a time that is vital to the success of the business,” Zugec says.

To delve into the actual value of shared time in the office, think about ways to thank on-site employees for their contributions to meetings and to highlight how their presence elevated and enhanced the discussion. If you aren’t confident in your ability to articulate those benefits, that’s another clue. “Highlighting the direct benefit of your core hours, on a continual basis, is helpful,” she says.

Core hours alternatives

Absent labor contracts to the contrary, core hours don’t have to apply equally to everyone. In particular, it may be valuable to hold new hires more accountable to in-office hours so that you can properly onboard and indoctrinate them, then ease up on the leash over time. “You can always shorten core hours as new hires come to understand the culture and are familiar with their colleagues,” Zugec says.

Another alternative is to have a very loose approach to core hours, with mandatory on-sites on short notice. With a sufficiently local and mobile workforce (think big cities with rich public transportation and small towns with quiet roads), you can apply this “Bat-Signal” approach, which allows employees to be free-range until a crucial situation arises.

Roger Camp, founder and chief creative officer of agency Camp + King, feels that if your crucial moments are spread that far apart, you’re probably not doing enough to recognize your creative synergies. “An offhand comment by an account manager can get you thinking differently, or you’ll get new information from a client or media partner,” he says. “It will change hour to hour how best to solve a problem.”

Despite the success some creative agencies have with core hours, Camp is a strong proponent for an all-hands-on-site mentality, cushioned with liberal vacation policies. “As soon as people start to get away from the communal campfire, it’s easier to start using words like ‘they’ and to point fingers,” he says. “We’re answering emails at 11 at night. We’re skipping out of a 9-to-5 job to see a school play. But having people together to feed off each other’s ideas is super important for solving problems creatively.”

Post by Jason Compton

Jason Compton is a writer with over 15 years of experience covering marketing, sales, and service. Based in Madison, WI, he is a regular contributor to Direct Marketing News, previously served as executive editor of CRM Magazine, and has been published in over 50 outlets.