Commitment, Working Hours and Flexibility
The topic of commitment, working hours and flexibility includes the process of how working hours are set, what commitment a person is expected to provide and how organizations respond to changing demands.
A New Perspective
In traditional hierarchies, working hours are specified in an employment contract. There is often an underlying fear that people will not work the hours they are paid for without monitoring, especially at the lower levels in an organization.
When people have the freedom to choose and agree their own working hours, an environment of trust is created that motivates people to be fully responsible for their work.
When an organization isn’t ready for self-management, self-set working hours can be a good first step. This approach starts to build greater trust and collaboration between boss and subordinate when it works well.
When colleagues work in a culture where it is normal and necessary to share other commitments in their lives, authenticity and being whole at work are embraced. Openness about personal commitments can develop stronger relationships amongst colleagues and result in a culture where colleagues support each other.
In times of need or crisis, for example in high season, it is common in Teal organizations for workers, to voluntarily work longer hours to complete a task with motivation and pride, supporting their colleagues and working towards the purpose of the organization. Every historical stage has given birth to a distinct perspective on commitment, working hours and flexibility, and to very different practices:
In Red organizations, the boss determines working hours for each person. There is no formal process of setting and/or monitoring working hours. People belong to the organization and are expected to be available when needed.
In Amber Organizations, working hours are determined by senior leaders and specified in an employment contract. They decide what work is to be carried out and how working hours will be monitored.
In Orange organizations, people generally fall into one of two camps. There are those (often in manual roles) who work a fixed set of hours clocking in and clocking out, and those (often in management positions), who are expected to get their work done regardless of the hours stated in their contract.
In Green organizations, there is typically a culture of co-operation where people are empowered to work the hours they choose albeit within a defined structure. Flex-time is often used for lower-level workers in order to allow people to fit work in with the rest of their life. Working from home is a realistic option for those whose role allows it.
On the surface, Teal organizations may not look so different from Green ones relative to commitment, working hours and flexibility. The difference is in maturity and coherence. Whereas a Green organization might make the practices outlines above available to specific populations, a Teal organization would make these practices widely available as a normal part of the way they operate.
Teal organizations often exhibit the following general measures:
- Working hours are not controlled or decided by anyone
- People are trusted to set their own goals and work until they reach them.
- There is a shared understanding that at times, individuals may need to vary their commitment to work. These situations are shared and openly discussed so that the task in hand can be completed with everyone’s support.
Teal organizations start from the premise that even for routine work, people have a sense of pride and want to do a good job. People are systematically considered to be reliable, self-motivated, trustworthy and intelligent.
In most traditional organizations, there is an unspoken assumption that people in managerial positions should put their commitment to work above any other commitment in their lives. Few colleagues would cancel an important meeting for their child’s school play or because a good friend needs help. In self-managing organizations, speaking up about other important commitments in one's life is considered necessary to be authentic and whole at work. There is no need for the pretence that work will always come first. Teal organizations hold meetings at regular intervals in which colleagues can discuss how much time and energy, at that moment in their lives, they want to commit to the organization. Because colleagues discuss their other commitments openly, solutions can be found to provide support and get the task done.
In Teal organizations people are trusted to work the hours they need to achieve their own goals. There is no requirement for monitoring of working hours, or clocking in and out, or flex-time. In some Teal organizations such as FAVI and Sun Hydraulics, the working day is still divided into shifts, which is roughly the time colleagues are expected to spend on the shop floor, but it is not uncommon to see an operator stay on during the following shift to finish a job because he/she knows it needs to be done.
In times of need
Balancing the needs of the individual with those of the organization is not always easy. For example, Morning Star has a high season for tomato processing when all hands need to be on deck. If someone wants to reduce their working hours during very busy times, they are expected to find a solution to uphold the commitments they have made. This expectation is the flip side of having no HR or planning function. An individual cannot simply file a request and let someone else worry about solving this issue. He/she has full liberty to find a solution, but until they have found one, they are bound to their previous commitments.
Working hours and Teal in the future
In the future, it is likely that the more people commit to ‘personal purpose’ in their lives, the more flexible their arrangements with the organization will be. Accommodating personal commitments to self-employment, part time work, or volunteering work will be normal. There will be no need for approval. A person will simply find a way to meet or transfer his/her commitments to another colleague and/or explore with colleagues what new roles and commitments he/she could take on that would add value to the organization.
Frequently Asked Questions
The regular meeting held to share personal commitments provides the forum for this to be aired with colleagues. If someone wants to reduce their working hours they are expected to find a solution to uphold the commitments they have made. He/she has full liberty to find a solution, but until they have found one, they are bound to their previous commitments. If a colleague continually needs to work fewer hours over a longer period of time, then this may well be raised by that person or other colleagues as part of a regular peer-based compensation and self-set salary process.
Concrete cases for inspiration
At Fitzii, coworkers have freedom to work anywhere there is internet connection and responsibility to achieve the benefits of in-person connections.
In considering working hours and location, Fitzii “manages a polarity” between freedom and responsibility. Coworkers can work anywhere there is internet connection (freedom). Flexibility is greatly enjoyed by individuals who are productive working from home or have occasional needs, ex. one coworker spent a week working in Miami in order to visit a sick relative. In practice, coworkers work primarily from two offices – one in Oakville, Ontario and the other in Toronto, Ontario. In an effort to spend time together in person – the CEO is often heard saying “you can’t build community unless you waste time together” – coworkers make every effort to work from Oakville on Tuesdays and from Toronto on Thursdays (responsibility). Monthly in-person team meetings rotate between the two locations; an annual in-person team retreat provides quality structured and unstructured interaction.
HolacracyOne uses a regular meeting practice for colleagues to share and discuss commitment.
During these meetings, colleagues discuss how much time and energy, at that moment in their lives, they want to commit to the organization’s purpose. The rationale behind this regular meeting is for each person to make a conscious choice about how much time and energy they are willing to commit. At the same time, the meeting practice gives all colleagues a conscious way of holding and recognizing that as humans, everyone has multiple endeavors that interest and enliven them, and that each person is choosing how much time and energy they want to give to any particular purpose.
Each colleague at Morning Star has a work schedule commitment.
The work schedule commitment captures how many hours a person can commit to work during low and high season (when the tomatoes are harvested and processed), providing a clear basis on which colleagues can discuss and manage their time collectively whilst still fulfilling the organization’s purpose. The work schedule commitment is captured in Morning Star’s colleague letter of understanding or CLOU, which also includes a personal mission statement and detailed information about the roles a person currently commits to, as well as improvements they hope to make. This more formal way of capturing commitment plays to Morning Star's need for continuous improvement to increase efficiency as it is essentially a low-margin, commodity business.
At Buurtzorg, the structure of small, self-managing teams helps in providing flexibility.
If a nurse wants to reduce her working hours, perhaps because she has a sick parent to take care of for instance, the team can for example re-shuffle existing clients. The nurse will discuss her other commitments with her team and together they will find a solution such as temporarily taking on fewer new clients or moving the care of a patient to another nurse or team if needed.
At Favi, no one clocks in and out but workers still work in shift patterns and are expected to spend roughly this time on the shop floor.
An operator at Favi who was having a house built, brought the topic up with his team. To be on site with the builders, he wanted to switch to the night shift. He asked if a colleague would be willing to swap shifts for a four month period. An arrangement was quickly found without the need for a formal HR approval process of management approval.
People have complete control over hours
“People know what their responsibilities are”, explains Henry Stewart, the co-founder. “They don’t need anybody else to tell them whether they need to be in the office or not.”
“I remember before the pandemic I was showing somebody around the office; he commented that only 5 out of our 25 staff members were in the office and asked where the others were. ‘I have no idea,’ I commented. People are judged by the results they deliver, not the amount of time they spend in the office.”
There are a range of flexible hours. Some work part-time. Some work compressed hours (eg, the full week in 4 days). There are no set hours, people work when they want around their responsibilities.
Around 2000 the leadership became aware that our admin team of 9 people wanted to work more flexibly. So they set out the terms, that there was a need for two more people in the office from 9 to 5.30 each day to answer the phone. People then decided between themselves when they would work, with some coming in at 6am (to avoid the London commute) and not many people working on Friday afternoons!
Nowadays it wouldn’t be the leadership who would set out the requirement; the team would do it by itself.
Decisions to be made on when people are in, and what meetings are for, are now all made within the team.
Freedom & trust – just make a positive impact
Reddico operates as a completely self-managed company, where individuals are accountable for how, when, and where they work best. The following applies:
- No set number of days holiday each year. Everyone has to take a MINIMUM of 28 days (including Bank Holidays), but outside of that it’s up to the individual.
- Choose where you work. This could be 100% remote, 100% in the office, or a hybrid of the two. Reddico also supports individuals who want to move abroad permanently or temporarily.
- Choose the hours you work. There are no core hours, and team members are able to decide the best times for them. It could be 6am or 11pm – whatever works for you.
- Pay all sick days. Reddico trusts the team to be open and honest. If you’re sick, take time off to get back to 100%.
The only caveat to all of this is ‘you must make a positive impact’.
Notes and references
Laloux, Frederic. Reinventing Organizations. Nelson Parker (2014), page 182 ↩︎
Laloux, Frederic. Reinventing Organizations. Nelson Parker (2014), page 182-183 ↩︎
Laloux, Frederic. Reinventing Organizations. Nelson Parker (2014), page 183 ↩︎
Laloux, Frederic. Reinventing Organizations. Nelson Parker (2014), page 183 ↩︎