By Cecile Alper-Leroux
The pandemic and the massive shift to remote work have forced an evolution in where, when and how employees work. Organizations have had to embrace new ways of working, including more flexible work dynamics that bridge the gap between work and life.
More flexible working styles are being tested in various offices around the world. In Spain, companies introduced a 32-hour workweek in September. In Japan, the government recommended in July that companies adopt a four-day workweek, following an experiment by Microsoft Japan indicating that employee productivity increased a whopping 40%. Meanwhile, organizations in the U.S. are experimenting with five-hour workdays to improve the happiness and productivity of employees.
These are all major steps in the right direction. However, shortening the workweek doesn’t necessarily make it more flexible. The true culmination of our workplace revolution is the concept of intermittent productivity — the reality that employees are going to be more or less productive at different times depending on their unique working styles or circumstances. It’s past time for leaders to understand and embrace this idea for the health of their businesses and, crucially, their employees.
What Is Intermittent Productivity?
Workplaces have historically had an unhealthy and unrealistic relationship to productivity. Teams and employees are constantly pushed to increase productivity as the benchmark of success. But productivity is more complex than that.
People are not machines that can produce consistently hour after hour. At some point we tire, lose focus and make mistakes — it’s in our human nature. Most of us experience a range of peaks and dips in a typical workday affecting our energy and cognitive functions such as attention, learning and memory. This is why it’s important to provide the autonomy for people to work whenever they feel most productive.
There are a total of 168 hours in the week, yet employees are expected to work within a specified eight-hour window on only five out of seven days. Why limit people to strict day and time durations? Some employees may feel sharpest during the very early morning hours, while night owls might actually be more productive late at night. There may even be people who prefer to work a few hours on the weekends. Physical health, mental health, caretaker status and other circumstances also impact when employees are most productive.
The workforce is a fragile ecosystem of interdependencies in pursuit of common goals. If even a small percentage of people feel subpar or worse, overall organizational health declines.
There are added benefits of intermittent productivity. For example, U.S. multinational and global organizations operating across different time zones can leverage night owls to communicate with colleagues and customers in Australia or India. Employees who work best in the morning can attend to the same needs in Western Europe.
Moreover, by aligning work to the current stage of each employee’s life-work journey, people can feel further inspired, engaged and fulfilled in their work-life experience.
Putting It Into Practice Requires Cultural Shifts
Accepting the idea of intermittent productivity is the first step, but incorporating it into an existing work structure can be much harder. While the end result will look different at every organization, there are a few key cultural changes that will lay the foundation.
For starters, HR must help business leaders accept and respect that everyone’s body clock is different. The goal is to support employees in aligning their optimal work times with the work they have before them. This allows people to successfully complete their work while they feel super-productive, and everyone wins.
It’s important to acknowledge there will likely be significant discomfort that the organization needs to overcome — but the benefits are worth it. Leaders and teams alike need to approach this with tolerance and open-mindedness. There has long been a stigma associated with those who wish to work outside of what are considered “normal” structures. That will take time to overcome.
Organizations can enact new policies that empower people to communicate with teams and managers about what their preferred working style is. This will only work if employees feel safe and supported in asking for what they need. This needs to be modeled from the top down — and it needs to become the norm, not the exception.
The Future Is Flexible
The massive shift brought on by Covid-19 forced traditional workplaces to become more flexible and empathetic — a shift many welcomed. As organizations plan their next phase — fully remote, returning to the office or a hybrid setup — we must not go backward. Employees will expect continued flexibility and support from organizations.
With intermittent productivity, employees are given the autonomy to move through their work environment when it serves them and their employers, all while being respectful of the need to physically and virtually connect and interact with others. By implementing this human-centric flexibility, organizations can generate greater workforce adaptability, agility and resilience, along with higher employee engagement, well-being and productivity.
Priority Management is a worldwide training company with 55 offices in 15 countries. We have successfully trained more than two million graduates in Priority workshops. Our programs help companies and people be more effective and manage their workflow in and out of the office by providing tools, processes and discipline. Simply put – A Better Way To Work! Clients range from Fortune 500 companies, small-to-medium businesses and government/military employees.
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