As previously published on 1/22/21 in Mediapost 

by Scott Gillum
Estimated read time: 5 Minutes

With the rollout of the Covid vaccine, companies are predicting that employees will begin returning to offices in mass during late spring or early summer; but will they? 

Due to office modifications required for greater distance between desks, along with other adaptations for protection, workers expect that their office schedule will alternate to allow for capacity constraints. The expectation is that they will be in the office every other day, with many hoping for 3 days at home and 2 days in the office, according to a recent survey in the Wall Street Journal. 

This schedule may appeal to convenient wisdom but it seems to ignore what we learned about how employees really want to work. 

Covid flipped the script on the work environment. Once, remote working was the exception and it has now become the rule, with the added challenge for many of online schooling for children. Houses were, and 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, in particular, how they are balancing work with the new demands of being remote, especially, those who are working parents.

Our Workday Study, completed in December, provided unique insights into how people got work done in “new normal.” Our model uses independent talent (contractors, freelancers, etc.), which gives our talent the autonomy to make their own hours.  

As a result, 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 on productivity. 

Survey participants were asked to record their time using a color coded system. Green indicated time dedicated to their personal time, red to their professional, and yellow a blending of the two. 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. The second insight was that our days are long (17.5 hrs), with 6.4 hours dedicated to work, 6 hours to “life” and the remaining 5 hours to blending the two. 

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 am to 12 pm and 1pm to 3:30 pm. What was interesting is how it varied by working parent based on the age of their children. 

Parents with children under 10 started their work days later in the morning. Parents of children over 10, tended to 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, lacrosse, 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 efficiency benefits of allowing workers to shorten commute times by avoiding rush hour, with the additional benefit of a schedule that meets the personal needs as parents. 

By 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.

If we’ve learned anything from the last year it’s that we need to be adaptable. Flexibility, adaptability and perseverance were, and are, critical to getting through this difficult time. 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 a person’s work schedule is as unique as they are. It’s now time to use these insights to advance how we think about productivity, the environment that enables it and how it aligns to the needs of the employee. This is an opportunity to evolve the workplace, and our traditional view of a workday, and workweek. 

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