Still Working Nine to Five? Why?

Rethinking the Traditional Work Day

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Darryl Ohrt
Darryl Ohrt
As summer winds down and we all return to regular hours from our "summer" work schedules, our agency is thinking that it may be time for a new approach to the office work schedule.

Entrepreneurs, senior executives and serious career employees have known for a long time that the "work day" is all day -- and all night. (And if you're doing what you love, it isn't work at all.) Meanwhile, the tools that we have been afforded have allowed the boundaries between work and play to become effortlessly intertwined.

We bring our personal lives into the workplace and our work into our personal lives thanks to smart phones, internet everywhere and teams spread across time zones. At our agency, we openly encourage employees to spend time on Facebook, Twitter and other personal social networks while at work, and they're answering emails from home at night. This is the workplace of 2009.

So if we're all working at all hours, and playing at all hours, why do most firms still maintain an office schedule around nine to five?

What if employees were required to be at the office from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., but the rest of the schedule was left to their personal preference? Meetings could be scheduled, clients could make contact and collaborations could continue to flourish during the core part of the day. But otherwise, morning people could be morning people, and night owls could be night owls. A morning person might come in at 8 a.m. and leave at 5 p.m. A late sleeper might come in at 10 a.m. and leave at 7 p.m.

Executives and senior creatives are already working with open schedules, as management trusts that employees at this level have dedicated themselves to a career, and are going to work day and night anyway. Freelancers and independents also enjoy a schedule of their choosing. Naturally, some agencies require a 12-hour work day for all employees, and can't even enter the discussion.

But what about the average knowledge worker? The people that fill your agency not because it's their calling, but because it's the job they love. The people without the fancy offices or fat salaries. Fixed schedules seem to be kept for clients (a good idea) and for fear or distrust of employees (a bad idea). Management wants to avoid the potential predicament of "awesome ... I'll only work 3 hours a day," and embraces the structure of a fixed schedule as a safety net instead.

Do these employees really need that structure anymore? How would they perform in a flexible-schedule environment? They're already more connected to the workplace than any employees in modern history. If they're needed, bosses, clients and friends know how to get to them, fast. Couldn't we relax our schedules a bit for all employees.

We're about to find out.

This won't work for all firms, or all positions (a receptionist comes to mind), but we're curious to see how it works in the small agency environment. So curious, that we're considering giving it a try.

What about your agency? Do you require employees to keep to a schedule? Is it 9-to-5ish? Could you be more flexible?

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