It’s no secret that traditional 9-to-5 working hours are on their way out. A 2018 study found that just 6% of UK workers put in what you’d consider regular 9-to-5 hours. 58% would happily start work early if they could leave before 5 PM. Over a third also said that their preferred hours are 8 AM-4 PM, indicating a variety of productivity patterns among employees.
This trend gained even more momentum owing to COVID-19. As we work from home (WFH), there is nothing stopping us from initiating our workday at a time of our own convenience – be it 7 AM (which is the preferred starting line for 21% of employees) or at 10 AM.
For industries that mandate on-premise work, split shifts are a smarter alternative to 9-to-5 hours. For healthcare, retail, public sector, and other such essential services providing organizations, split shifts are a good way to minimize contact between employees – thereby, reducing the risk of COVID-19 spread.
No matter how you look at it, therefore, the days of 9-to-5 are drawing to a close.
Does this mean employees will get an absolutely free reign as to their work hours? Not quite; as WFH becomes the new normal, companies would put in place fresh structures to formalize flexibility. For example, you may be able to log-in at 7 AM, but you might have to stay available for a mandatory 10-to-3 collaborative work period. Working from home in split shifts could be particularly beneficial for sales, contact centres, marketing, and other customer-facing functions, giving your business a 24/7 availability.
Already, the UK government is mulling over policies that will define split timings – with shifts starting at 7 AM, 10 AM, and 1 PM respectively. A similar recommendation is suggested in Singapore as well.
However, the 9-to-5 workday is deeply ingrained in the employee psyche, with its origins dating back to as early as the 1800s. At that time, 9-to-5 was believed to be most conducive to industrial productivity.
Times have no changed. In several jobs, employees aren’t paid overtime if they stay beyond the stipulated 9-to-5 hours, rendering this construct largely irrelevant. And faced with COVID-19, it makes little sense to hold onto a working model that relies on massive groups of employees congregating at the same time.
So, are there any cons to flexible working?
In the beginning, some companies might run into teething troubles as they transition. Employees might struggle with choosing the right shifts, and there could be confusion around availability if there is no clear communication on work hours. There is a high risk of poor work-life balance if employees don’t disconnect after their shift is over.
All of these challenges relate to our mindset, one that is used to decades of highly structured work hours. The trend of flexibility was already gaining momentum – it is now time to take it to the next level via institutionalization (on a policy level), and enablement (on a technology level).