COVID flipped the script on the work environment. Once, remote working was the exception but has now become the rule, with the added challenge for many of online schooling for children. Houses continue to be packed with family -- and for many, chaos rules the day.,
At the end of 2020, we set out to figure out how COVID had impacted the lives of our talent network -- and, in particular, how they were balancing work with the new demands of being remote, especially, those who are working parents.
Our model uses independent talent (contractors, freelancers, etc.), which gives them the autonomy to make their own hours. They could openly share how they work, in a large part because they don’t have to worry about business norms regarding a standard work week, or meeting a manager's expectations.
Survey participants were asked to record their time using a color-coded system (green, personal time; red, professional time; and yellow, a blend). All time was captured in a shared document enabling us to view how their days compared with others.
The first finding was that there is no such thing as a typical workday. No two people worked identical days.
What may be most interesting is what we termed the “power hours”: the time blocks that fully focus on work.
Two segments of the day were consistent across the group -- 9:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. What was interesting was how it varied by working parents based on the age of their children.
Parents with children under 10 started their workdays later in the morning. Parents of children over 10 tended to start and wrap up their days earlier. Drilling down, we found parents of elementary school children needed time to get them ready for the day (off to daycare, set up for online classes, etc.). Parents with older children were often transporting their children to lessons (music, dance, etc) or practices (soccer, etc.).
This insight presents an opportunity to create different office hours. Instead of alternating days, organizations could alternate “power hour” shifts during the day. This could provide the efficiency benefits of allowing workers to shorten commute times by avoiding rush hour, with the additional benefit of a schedule that meets their personal needs as parents.
Offering mornings shifts for parents of older children, and afternoons for parents of young children, can not only control for capacity issues, but also provide better work-life balance for employees.
The pandemic gave us a glimpse into work from a different perspective. We gained insight into how people balance life and work, instead of the other way around.
We’ve also learned that someone's work schedule is as unique as they are. It’s now time to use these insights to advance how we think about productivity and the environment that enables it to evolve the workplace, and our traditional view of a workday and work week.