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Unified Communications Aug 13, 2020

Has the pandemic killed the nine to five working day?

By Ailbhe McDarby Head of Unified Communications & Contact Centre propositions, BT Ireland

As businesses embrace the digital workplace, it’s an opportunity to re-evaluate working hours to boost productivity and staff retention.

The pandemic has accelerated the ongoing revolution in the workplace, pushing more businesses than ever to implement remote working. Understandably, the focus has been on how to adopt cloud services to create a digital workplace as soon as possible. But will freeing people from the office also have an impact on the traditional working day?

Flexible working isn’t a new movement

Wanting to break free from the confines of nine to five working hours isn’t new. The flexible working movement has been campaigning for the ability to adjust working hours to fit the individual’s needs for decades now. Whether it’s flexi time, compressed working hours, term-time only working, part time working or variable start and finish times, research revealed that, even a couple of years back, 9 in 10 people in the UK already wanted to work flexibly1. And yet, employers weren’t responding as people had hoped; in 2019, more than half the workforce was still waiting to be able to work flexibly in at least one form that wasn’t available to them2. Will the remote working response to coronavirus change that?

Flexible working boosts staff retention and productivity

Now the work contract isn’t about showing up physically, should we scrap fixed working hours and free people up to work when they’re most productive? Although it’s healthy to have boundaries to stop work taking over life, the compartmentalisation of the nine to five day is something we’ve inherited from the manufacturing industry and might not be fit for purpose anymore.

It’s worth remembering that being able to work flexibly is a strong way of attracting and retaining skilled people. We know that 22 per cent of UK workers have changed company or department to find greater flexibility3 and that only 45 per cent of Irish workers currently work the hours that best suit them4. There’s significant scope for improving retention figures by introducing flexible hours. It’s good for business, and it’s good for productivity, too.

For many, being able to tailor their working hours around their body rhythms would boost their productivity. Night owls could start late and work into the evening when they feel most alert, and those who are most productive early in the day could start soon after waking, finishing as tiredness hits in the afternoon.

Productivity also shoots up with a lack of interruption. Cutting down on disruption can be as simple as being able to work when your surroundings are quiet. For homeworkers this can mean choosing times when others are out of the house, or when colleagues are less likely to be working at the same time. Dr Nicola Millard’s recent whitepaper included a study showing that, during an average (nine to five) working day, we’re interrupted an incredible once every three minutes. These interruptions pull our attention in all directions and we continually switch tasks in response, which affects both memory and knowledge retention, meaning it takes us longer to get things done.  

Is ‘work anytime’ viable for business?

However, scrapping the traditional nine to five might work for employees better than it would work for businesses. How would teams stay in touch and collaborate effectively if working hours were completely self-determined? How would meetings ever happen?

The answer might be for the business to set core hours that everyone works, leaving people free to complete their remaining hours whenever suits them best. This way provides a block of concentrated collaboration time where workers can get meetings and interactions done, knowing they can concentrate with fewer interruptions outside those hours.

Time to reimagine working hours with a digital workplace

The traditional nine to five may not be dead yet, but it is under threat as businesses reimagine how they work with a digital workplace. Smart businesses will look closely at how their people work best, to hold onto high-calibre workers and to prepare to thrive beyond the pandemic.

If you’d like to find out more about how your business can break free from the nine to five with a digital workplace, read our whitepaper.

1Gartner, The Timewise Flexible Jobs Index 2018, 2018.

2CIPD, Megatrends: Flexible Working Report, 2019.

3Aviva, Flexible Working Study, 2019.

4YouGov, Flexible Working Survey, 2018.