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Fixed working hours are an outdated concept: 71% of HR leaders agree

· 6 min read
Jens Langhammer

Face it, it is difficult to write about high tech, IT-based, computer-centric jobs without feeling that a bit of privilege exists in this space. Many of us in the software industry have employers who are sympathetic to, or even promote, the concept of “flex-time” and other enticing perks.

It is a major perk, even a luxury, to not have to clock in at a specific hour and then somehow miraculously wrap up your work and clock out in exactly eight hours. An act as simple as stopping at a pastry shop before work, or taking an extra long morning walk, without fretting about the exact minutes on your watch, is a privilege… but one that IT workers are increasingly insisted on having.

**71% of HR leaders believe the Monday-Friday, 9-to-5 workweek is outdated, according to a 2022 survey.

It’s true that software companies in some countries are less amenable to flexible schedules and other relatively recents practices such as remote work or job-sharing, but the fact is that flexible working hours are still happening, a lot, even at the hard-core, old-school, corporate-style companies. And there’s a reason for this; being human.

“I’ve got this!”

Humans prefer, inherently, to rely on our own instincts and analyses. When we feel empowered and trusted to work in the way that we feel is the most pragmatic, we tend to embrace the tasks in front of us with more enthusiasm and confidence (resulting in higher productivity). The opposite sensation, one of micro-management and lack of trust, freezes us in our tracks… and reduces productivity. Understandably, being dictated to about exactly when one must do ones' various tasks implies a lack of trust.

Indeed, HR organizations are realizing that strict work hours are a deterrent, and that the vast majority of employees will reject jobs that require a very specific start and end time.

Finishing a big project is rewarding, and when that goal is achieved, we are rewarded with a sense of accomplishment and self-approval (and hopefully recognition from your team and leadership). That feeling of success is what keeps us motivated; we value outcomes, the tangible deliverables, but we do not derive enjoyment from the actual time it took to complete the task. That is, we don’t celebrate the hours and weeks of work, but rather the outcome.

We know that employees are happier and feel more valued when their managers measure performance based on outcomes, instead of the amount of time spent on a project or task, so it makes sense that so many companies are promoting a policy flexible working hours.

Efficiency of cognitive optimization

Software developers, and many others in this field, rely on brain-power, brain-fitness, brain-agility, and frankly, on the willingness of our brains to cooperate with the task at hand. In reality, we are mostly at the mercy of our brains, and what they feel up to working on at any given moment.

Cognition is dynamic.

However, that dynamism can be harnessed and used to optimize our cognitive work. Being aware of what state our brains are in at the moment allows us to select tasks that are appropriate for the current cognitive “mood”. Feeling super-alert and deeply technical? Go ahead and dive deep to pump out a chunk of code for a new feature, or script a test plan, or refactor to solve a longstanding bug. Or, if you are feeling mentally exhausted but have excess energy, use that energy to do rote tasks that don’t require much brain work. Or, as is sometimes the case with work that demands highly functioning cognitive effort, perhaps you are simply burnt out and unable to focus at all. Take a long walk, play a quick game, step away from your work and brew a second cup of coffee… log in late, log off early, and get back to it when your brain is ready.

While this might seem to be verging on irresponsible, using a flexible work schedule to your advantage can be a huge benefit, for both employee and employer. By playing into, and working collaboratively, with our own brains we can actually increase productivity, creativity, and innovation.

This skill of optimizing for when you work on what type of tasks can be considered as the antidote to the downsides and churn of intense multi-tasking. Recent studies have shown that doing too much multitasking at work can be counter-productive, because of the high “switching costs”. If, instead of forcing our brains to frequently switch contexts and start the next task on the list, we first assess the current cognitive “mood” of our brains and then work on the types of tasks that align well with that mood, we can increase our productivity (and happiness).

Reality of life

It’s a welcome cliche nowadays to acknowledge that everyone has, at some point or another, “something stressful going on in their life”. This awareness of the reality of life challenges is yet another reason why flexible work schedules are considered humane perks, and why employers are wise to pragmatically acknowledge this and adjust their expectations.

“Peak productivity doesn’t always align with traditional business hours.” (source)

Life isn’t neat. There are school obligations, family needs, personal care, doctor’s appointments, and the list goes on. The reality of office hours, and daylight hours, is inflexible. Work hours, however can be flexible.

Global team distribution

Here at Authentik Security, we are globally distributed with three different time zones in the US and two in Europe. Many companies, including large international companies, have worked with even more extreme time zone spread, for decades, so this model is proven.

This model of wide-spread working hours across teams is yet another pragmatic reason for implementing flexible working hours. Allowing European-based team members flexibility in choosing to start their work-day later in order to collaborate with US-based colleagues means that the European employees can have calm mornings focused on family or personal needs, while the US-based employees can start earlier and log off mid-afternoon. Or another alternative is implementing “split hours” where an employee works some hours in the morning, and some later in the day, with a longer break in the middle.

Ultimately, the ability of the employee to choose how best to get their work done, and when to work on what tasks, is both a luxurious perk and a pragmatic necessity, at least in the somewhat privileged world of software.