The Workplace

Rethinking The Nine-To-Five

Why the office hours you keep might be holding you back – and how to make time work for you

Are you a lark or an owl? It’s often assumed that people will fall into one of the two camps, but the fact is most of us exist in the grey space in between: more of a pigeon, perhaps. Every individual has a unique rhythm, called a chronotype, that dictates their energy levels throughout the day – this rhythm is as distinctive as a fingerprint. Around 10 per cent of people qualify as larks with around 20 per cent being owls (leaving 70 per cent unaccounted for), but no matter what your chronotype, keeping regular office hours bulldozes all nuance. Research now shows that working against your natural biological rhythm can lead to disorders ranging from cancer to diabetes and depression. Instead of taking pride in functioning on four hours sleep, it could be time to reassess our routines. But what are the viable alternatives?

Find your rhythm

Rather than approaching the working day as an eight-hour block that has to be slogged through, divide it into numerous 90- to 120-minute sections, which is the limit the human brain can focus on any given task. Different time sections are suited to different tasks, so instead of becoming mired in emails in the morning when our brains are generally at their peak, this could be the best time to dedicate to complex challenges. Emails and internal meetings can then be slotted in after midday and before the natural 3.00pm slump, which is the best time to take a break or a nap. This mid-afternoon breather will allow you to extend your working day into the early evening when there is another natural peak in concentration around 6.00pm, or alternatively you can use this window for activities requiring coordination, such as hitting the gym.

Nap time

The humble nap is much maligned as a luxury of students and pensioners, but historical nappers range from Mr Leonardo da Vinci to Sir Winston Churchill, and contemporary converts include journalist and entrepreneur Ms Arianna Huffington. Recent research from Harvard University suggests that chronic sleep deprivation could cost the US economy $63.2bn a year, with 45 per cent of Americans affected by poor sleep on a weekly basis. Ms Huffington has already introduced nap rooms to her offices, claiming that they will be as commonplace as conference rooms in the near future. She is not alone: Google, Ben & Jerry’s and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) all offer napping facilities to their employees. One of the market leaders in this burgeoning sleep industry is MetroNaps, who make reclining chairs called EnergyPods that incorporate Nasa technology and claim to lead to a 30 per cent decline in attention failure.

Data crunching

Workplaces have always been closely monitored spaces, but the all controlling Big Brother mindset is now being replaced by more employee-centric systems of time management. The Quantified Self movement of Nike+ FuelBands and Jawbone UP bracelets has changed the way that many people engage with their own health, and a new wave of workplace tech promises to do the same for the office. Humanyze has created a “sociometric badge” that tracks everything from the wearer’s movements to speech patterns, posture and heartrate. This data is then cross-referenced with productivity and can begin to make suggestions on how best to optimise your day. Bank of America recently used Humanyze to change the working routines in one of their call centers and saw productivity jump 10 per cent. With startling research from the University of Virginia finding that a typical office-based worker spends as much as 80 per cent of their time in meetings, on the phone, dealing with emails or with colleagues, our working routines need to be better scrutinised.

Out of office

All this innovation might be for nought, however. The presenteeism that lies at the core of the nine-to-five office model is fundamentally at odds with the flexible, mobile practices of today’s knowledge worker. This conflict could spell the beginning of the end for the office as we know it. The right to flexible working hours is already beginning to replace traditional benefits such as holidays, pension or health contributions in contract negotiations. It’s even becoming more important than salary, with 2016 research from the UK’s Department for Business Innovation and Skills finding that a third of employees would choose the option of working out of office over a pay rise. Furthermore, The Work Foundation think tank projects that 2017 will see more than half of UK employers offer flexible working in an attempt to woo employees, rising to 70 per cent by 2020. If existing office structures cannot find the workplace rhythm we need, it looks like us workers are just going to create it ourselves.

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