September 21 2020 - Working nine to five started during the agricultural revolution to coincide with daylight hours, and this
structure gained real traction during the industrial revolution when factory work exploded and repeatable, predictable tasks became the way people
worked. It's unquestionably been adopted in the digital revolution with little backlash, until now.
Nine to five doesn't really work in the modern world of professional work and we all know that it's not uncommon to start earlier and
finish later. We've found that prolonged use of our brains with minimal breaks in the same environment either leads eventually to low quality work,
or to burnout. It's bad for individual's brains, bodies and ultimately companies.
Yet moving away from nine to five feels immensely difficult for a business. Any change from the status quo is challenging, but this
one is particularly so because there are many barriers to overcome. For one all of our employment legal contracts are drafted with the nine to five
working day in mind. Stock markets are set to a set number of hours, schools similarly coincide with it too. Moving away from this rhythm takes energy
on the part of both the individual and the company.
Whilst the starting at nine and finishing at five might on the face of it sound convenient, it fails to take into account that as human
beings we are highly individual. We accept, even insist on a personalised experience for our online clothes shopping, but fail to insist on customising
our working schedule to suit us for fear of rocking the boat.
In 2017 HSBC found that 89 percent of professionals prioritise flexibility over money and a recent study showed that 86 percent of
people would forego benefits if they had flexibility. That tells us that overwhelmingly people are craving a taste of freedom.
Understandably this is a difficult transition for companies to make but it's a necessary step with some exciting rewards too:
- Research conducted by Sapio for the Global Workplace Revolution report found that 70 percent of women working in the UK tech sector
would stay in their current role for at least another year, if they could do it from anywhere, and 57 percent think flexibility in more important than
- A recent report from Mercer found that 94 percent of employers surveyed said that productivity while operating a flexible model due
to Covid19 was the same (67 percent) or higher (27 percent)
- A 2019 study by Wildgoose found that 39 percent of those surveyed who were currently working flexibly noticed an improvement in their
mental health and 43 percent of people whose employers didn't offer flexible working felt it would improve their mental health.
Flexible working is not about adding complexity to your organisation, it's quite the opposite. It is not about managing multiple people
on different schedules in various time zones; it's about encouraging self management. It's about insisting on the next level of performance. Once that
is reframed in your mind, it becomes easier to work through the checklist. This is a list we have put together from years of working with over 40,000
flexible professionals and understanding what it takes for them to be successful in the companies they choose to work for.
- Prioritise planning. It can seem counterintuitive for smaller companies to do this and there is definitely such a thing as
overplanning! But setting goals is critical if you're to manage people on outcome (Google's OKR framework is a great one for high performing,
- Don't have many rules and policies. Have one flexible working policy and no more than 4 fixed appointments in any week (standups,
planning meetings, one-to-ones). These meetings should be run efficiently and honoured religiously by everyone attending. By keeping the "rules"
light, people will respect the ones that do exist.
- Start from a position of trust. Mistrusting is your guarantee that the working relationship will fail. Someone might let you down
if you extend them trust, more likely they'll perform. They'll definitely fail if you don't trust them and micromanage however.
- Spend time together, ideally once per month. And prioritise the social aspect when you do. This doesn't have to involve alcohol,
and take it in turns to organise this. It will stretch people's organisational skills. If it's one social appointment per month, most people can
- Work together to get your systems joined up - in particular your project management software. Make sure people use it and get people
into the habit of storing things in a centralised place rather than on their own device. This level of collaboration is table stakes with high
performance organisations, because it speeds things up so much.
- Communicate regularly, consistently, honestly and positively. That seems like a lot but it's very easy to manage in just one update
email COB Friday with a roundup of what's going on, what's been delivered, who needs recognition and how the company is performing. Transparency in
a written format like this builds trust and keeps everyone in the loop.
There are countless opportunities for businesses and for employees when you can offer a more flexible schedule. The pandemic has
created limiting factors in how businesses can operate for a while, but it's providing new ways of working and time to learn as you go. So wave
goodbye to nine to five, and give your team flexibility.