In light of IAA’s recent campaign, ‘WorkToLiveToWork’, we explore the feasibility of the flexi timing policy, the various ways in which companies are implementing it and whether there are actual proven benefits of allowing employees to choose their work hours
9 am on a weekday at any Mumbai train station. The scene you are most likely to encounter is that of hordes of people jostling about for space, on the narrow platform. As soon as the train arrives, all hell breaks loose, as people shove each other to board or alight from the train. However, the struggle does not end there. Once inside the compartment, the fight continues, often resulting in a commuter managing to get barely a square cm of space to stand. Hundreds of people can be seen hanging out of the trains.
What is it that makes people take such extreme risks, simply to reach work on a daily basis? It is the constant pressure to reach their workplaces on time. The fear of losing out on a day’s salary, or in some cases, even their jobs, is probably what has overburdened what is often referred to as Mumbai’s lifeline.
While it is easy to talk about the need for better infrastructure for the city, the truth is, this is not a problem that can be tackled and resolved overnight. So, is there any alternative solution?
Suggesting a possible solution to ease the stress, the Indian Advertising Association (IAA) has come up with an initiative called ‘WorkToLiveToWork’. The brainchild of Nandini Dias, Managing Committee Member, IAA and CEO, Lodestar UM India, the initiative aims at urging CEOs and HR heads of organizations in Mumbai to implement flexible office timings for employees, to reduce the commuting stress which most office-goers undergo.
THE CASE FOR FLEXI TIMING
While flexible work timings - an arrangement under which organizations allow their employees the flexibility to choose their own working hours – as well as the work from home policy, have been around for some time now, the fact of the matter is that this hasn’t really helped resolve commuting woes. Statistics show that the daily rush hour results in the deaths of an average of nine people a day and over 3,200 annually.
While many organizations have implemented flexible timings for their employees, it is usually a mechanism to retain certain talent. However, what the initiative is suggesting is not only implementing flexible working hours but also doing it strategically. Dias explains, “Through the campaign, we are suggesting that employees be allowed to choose their opening hours every day, between 8 am and 11 am and closing hours between 4 pm and 7pm. The point is also to ensure that they are available at their workplaces at the core working hours, between 11 am to 4 pm.”
Explaining why IAA has decided to back the initiative, Ramesh Narayan, President, International Advertising Association India Chapter says, “IAA has always been committed to showing that communication has to be a force for good. I was having a chat with Nandini one day and we were bemoaning the fact that even a wellintentioned, rich government would not be able to put in place the infrastructural requirements soon enough. Nandini came up with this idea where she turned the entire infrastructural debate on its head and said why not have flexi timing instead. We said, why not, and let’s back it whole hog.”
Chairman & Co-Founder, TapRoot Dentsu India
“Initially the idea was to provoke, oversensationally if need be. Because here was a grave problem staring us in the face. While conceptualizing the campaign, the challenge was to maintain clarity about what needed to be done. Unlike conventional public service campaigns that stop at superficial soul cleansing or guilt overdose, through the ‘WorkToLiveToWork’ campaign, we wanted to present a doable, actionable, definite way out of the problem, without overlaying the blunt action point with self-indulgent creative execution.”
IMPLEMENTING FLEXI TIMING
At the crux of the flexi timing debate is an organization’s ability to capture and maintain a record of the timings at which each of its employees come in, to ensure that requisite hours are being clocked in and accounted for.
Flexi timing is usually afforded to a section of the workforce - new mothers, employees with disabilities, or people in sales and marketing roles. However, for a marked change to be brought about, flexi timing has to be provided to employees across the board. “To decongest rush hour, companies will need to make an additional effort to shift around 22-25% of the workforce out of the peak 8.45 am and 9.45 am slots. This will result in a significant reduction in the number of people hanging out of trains, thereby ensuring an easier travel hour for everybody,” says Dias.
The IAA’s ‘WorkToLiveToWork’ campaign has provided enough food for thought for a lot of companies, who have come on board to support the initiative.
Giving a thumbs up to the initiative, Pradeep Dwivedi, CEO, Sakal Media Group says, “Providing employees with the option of flexi hours is a way of showing that the company really cares about them in the true sense of the word; not just about their wellbeing and productivity inside the office, but also the environment that is in and around them in the city.”
However, is moving 20% of its workforce easily implementable? On its part, Sakal Media has initiated flexi timings at its five offices across Mumbai. And Dwivedi believes that the concept can be deployed in its other offices, like Pune, as well. “At an organization level, we have assessed that there are core hours of operations in all organizations. If we have an 8-hour work day, there are around 4-5 hours within that when everybody needs to be present. Doing a flexi in the morning and evening allows employees to manage their own time productively. This also takes away the pressure to be in office at a particular time. As long as interactivity and working amongst teams is concerned, the stipulated core time is enough to get the work done,” adds Dwivedi.
Even PR agency Weber Shandwick, India has recently implemented flexible work timings across its offices, where employees can choose a time band during the working day that is most suitable to them, including the option to work from home. Flexible work timings have given its employees the freedom to design their work day. Valerie Pinto, Chief Executive Officer, Weber Shandwick, India tells us that flexi timing has worked well for the company and has helped boost the morale of its employees. She says, “We are associated with a wide range of clients who are situated across different time zones. Our clients are our priority, and flexible timings allow us to work around their schedules, seamlessly. Working in a less rigid environment ensures that our employees are at their productive best. We have received positive feedback and are glad to see that this system is working for all.”
An area of concern for many is the interaction and collaboration among teams. However, the advancement of telecommunications and virtual connectivity has helped bridge this gap. “While collaboration is required, physical presence isn’t. It benefits the industry to bring in practices like flexi timing and work from home because it improves productivity and at times allows us to retain better talent in the workforce by offering them the flexibility to work from remote locations,” remarks Jitender Dabas, Chief Strategy Officer, McCann WorldGroup, India.
While a lot of companies are still figuring out how to introduce the concept of core working hours into their organization, there have been some early adopters. For example, Denstu Aegis Network has clearly put in place its core timings, explains Ashish Bhasin, Chairman India and CEO, South East Asia, Dentsu Aegis Network, with employees being given the option to schedule their daily routine around the core hours. “We have been following flexi timings since 2010-2011. There is a core timing between 10.30 am and 5 pm. Employees can choose to come in at 8.30 am, 9.30 am or 10.30 am and leave after logging in 8.5 hours. The HR tracks employee timings using biometrics. We were one of the early adopters of flexi timing and it has worked well for us.”
Likewise, employees at IDBI Federal Life Insurance can log in anytime between 8 am to 10.30 am and log out after clocking nine hours. This has aided employees in managing their long commute during peak hours, reducing the anxiety and stress involved in reaching office. “It also gives them the liberty to plan their day at work and in the interim have a work-life balance. They can also work from home once a fortnight. Over time, we have observed that giving people more control of their work tends to increase productivity, as well as their happiness quotient,” says Karthik Raman, CMO Head - Products & Strategy, IDBI Federal Life Insurance.
On its part, FCB India has experimented with work from home for certain profiles and is now planning to adopt core timings. “We have experimented with work from home for certain job roles like Analytics, Strategic Planning, IT, etc. We now plan to implement the 11 am to 4.00 pm flexi timing model. We will roll it out in one of our units first, see how it works, and then take it company-wide,” says Savita Mathai, Chief Talent Officer, FCB India.
Another early adopter of flexi timing is the FMCG major, Mondelez India, which has witnessed improved employee effectiveness, productivity and responsibility, after putting the policy in place. “Mondelez India has been providing facilities which aid working from remote locations, as per one’s convenience. In most cases, this has been a key enabler to the effectiveness of our colleagues – many of whom are in roles which involve connecting with colleagues across time zones and geographies. We leverage technology in providing work from home options and our collaboration platforms like YAMMER allow colleagues to share, learn and co-create seamlessly. This further enables communities like Mdlz Millennial Network, Women at Mdlz and MdlzDigital, where colleagues passionately share and learn, no matter where they are. Clarifying the responsibility which comes with the policy is also key to making it impactful,” remarks R Mahalakshmi, Director – Human Resources, Mondelez India.
A KEY TO RETAINING WOMEN TALENT
In addition to being a method of beating the rush hour, experts say that flexible work hours aid companies in retaining high performing women employees through phases in their careers when they need it. Rita Verma, Executive Vice President & Head HR, DDB Mudra Group remarks, “For women in the marketing communications industry, choosing between the growth of their families or their job profiles has been a harsh reality. During my tenure with the DDB Mudra Group, I have seen instances of women being given an option of not just retaining and maintaining their positions while working from home post their pregnancy, but also growing in ranks and responsibilities.”
Citing a personal example, Vinita Shrivastav, Senior Director – Strategy, Mindshare says, “I have a young child and I am always divided between giving him time and fulfilling my work commitments. The flexi work timings allow me to spend my mornings with him, reach office by 10.30-11.00 am and still complete my work commitments.”
Highlighting the case of a colleague, Tim Braswell, Head – Human Resources, PNB MetLife India Insurance Company Ltd shares, “My colleague, Moumita Tiwary, Senior Agency Development Manager, Kolkata, joined us in 2013 around the time her child enrolled in school. To manage both professional and family commitments, she opted for a flexi-time policy for two years and today with seven promotions during the course of her career, continues to be engaged with the brand and deliver high productivity in her assignments, thanks to the support and trust provided by the organization.”
However, offering a contrarian view is Kalli Purie, Vice Chairperson, India Today Group. While the Group offers flexible timings for its women employees both during and post pregnancy, Purie is against flexi work hours in general. She says, “I am not a big fan of flexi timings. I am of the opinion that people should all be in office at the same time. This allows for faster decision-making, because if I want to do something and the person whom I am working with has opted for flexi timings, we are unable to move forward.”
CHECKS AND BALANCES
While much has been said about the holistic advantages of flexible work hours for employees, ensuring a system of checks and balances is equally important. “Flexible timings require every employee to be crystal clear about what is required from them on any given day, to be available to their clients and their teams for all discussions, to be present for all scheduled meetings, and to deliver what is expected of them on time, every day. When you bring this degree of professionalism to the workplace, flexible timings become easy to implement,” states Kunal Jeswani, CEO, Ogilvy & Mather. From January 1, 2018, Ogilvy & Mather initiated a three-month pilot programme in Mumbai. All employees can now come in anytime between 8.30-11.00 am and work an eight-hour day.
Trust is at the core of flexi timings, and empowering employees to take responsibility of their time spent working, brings about better creative output. “I have always laid emphasis on the output rather than clocking into office on time. Our people are empowered, they work hard, we trust them with large client budgets, and we trust them to come up with ideas that can change the fortunes of a brand. So why can’t we trust them to manage their time? In all my working years – both in advertising and media – I have found people to be very responsible and not take advantage of flexible working hours,” remarks Tarun Rai, CEO, J Walter Thompson South Asia.
Some companies, while not having flexi hours per se, allow their employees a certain amount of grace time to come in to work beyond the scheduled time of commencing operations. The Social Street, for instance, provides employees a grace period of 30 minutes to reach office, considering the morning rush hour travel. Explains Pratap Bose, Founding Partner and Chairman, The Social Street, “We are not against flexible timing, but we do encourage our employees to complete a minimum number of hours required in a day, which typically falls within the core period. While this helps the company to gain productivity, efficiency and reduces absenteeism, it also encourages employees to manage a healthy balance between work and personal commitments.” Companies which have implemented a flexi time policy and defined clear core working hours have witnessed positive results over the years.
At Hansa Cequity, employee retention rate has gone up by 15% in the last one year, along with increased levels of productivity and a sense of belongingness to the company, after the organization introduced flexible work hours and a work from home option. Arpita Datta, Strategic People Director, Hansa Cequity explains, “In cities like Mumbai and Bangalore where daily commute is always a big challenge, at times work from home is seen as a big respite when one has to manage personal as well as professional commitments simultaneously in a given day.”
Notes Abhinav Chopra, Chief Human Resources Officer, Viacom18, “To put the effectiveness and acceptance of our work from home initiative into perspective, roughly 70% of our workforce has availed of it, without letting it affect the deliverables or the natural course of work. We believe that providing flexibility in all walks of life has empowered employees and made them accountable, responsible and much more engaged.”