clock is ticking

Are Working Hours Outdated?

December 27, 2021 Collaboration and Productivity
Kaya Ismail
By Kaya Ismail

Working professionals are very familiar with the 40-hour workweek. The 9-to-5, Monday-to-Friday schedule has been the American standard since the Industrial Revolution and remains the common practice to this day. However, as an increasing number of companies shift to remote work and broaden their hiring practices across different time zones — and in some cases, across continents — the concept of what constitutes a standard workweek is evolving. 

According to a 2021 study by data intelligence company Morning Consult, 40 percent of American adults say they would prefer a 4-day workweek made up of 10 hours a day, rather than five days of eight hours. Perhaps not surprising, but those findings raise a different question: Is a focus on hours worked still relevant in today's environment, particularly in those companies with teams spread out across locations?

To Track or Not to Track Working Hours

Many companies with remote workforces have evolved beyond the traditional workweek, allowing employees to work at the time and place they find most conducive to their work. Those companies often report that such flexibility on the part of the employer benefits employees — and thus, the company — in the long run.

One of the reasons is that it can incentivize employees to complete tasks faster to free up more time for hobbies and loved ones, something the traditional model forces them to cram into very narrow windows of time. In turn, this can increase productivity, raise overall well-being and foster loyalty, in addition to giving companies access to a much broader pool of talent. 

"At our company, everyone works remotely, and most of the employees are not based in the same area," said Marcin Wyszynski, CEO of Redwood City, Calif.-based software firm Spacelift. "With some employees joining from Poland, Scotland and different parts of the US, it eliminates the chance of having a typical 9-to-5."  

Spacelift isn't the only company to have reaped the benefits of shifting away from the traditional workweek toward an asynchronous working model. Craig Hewitt, founder and CEO of podcast hosting platform Castos in Florida said doing so had given the company a more flexible approach to team-building and onboarding.

"We can recruit from around the world and acquire a diverse team of talents," he said.

Related Article: How to Practice Ethical Employee Monitoring 

The Case for an Asynchronous Work Model

Even in a remote setting, many companies continue to impose the traditional work schedule to bring everyone online simultaneously. In other words, while the place of work has changed, the strict schedule remains the same. While such a synchronous work model may seemingly allow employers to maintain order, it can be limiting, particularly in terms of productivity.  

An asynchronous work model allows team members determine the schedules that work for them, using the days and times with the least amount of distractions and when they are likely to be at their most productive. They are entrusted to work autonomously to meet deadlines and achieve results. Trust is a major component of the asynchronous model, and it's important to note that the right leadership style must be in place for the model to succeed. 

There are several benefits to moving toward an asynchronous model. One is that many members of the younger workforce are asking for it. If a company isn't enabling employees to have freedom and flexibility in their careers, its ability to attract and retain talent is likely to become a significant obstacle to success. What's more, competition in the hiring space is now coming from across the country and around the globe, with companies from every corner of the world hoping to tap into various work pools, including in the US.

Here are some other advantages of the asynchronous model to consider:

Better Company Output

Companies with employees distributed across time zones have the ability to seamlessly deliver on large projects by extending the workday, without putting the burden on one particular individual or team.

"You'll broaden your coverage, as employees on different time models can often cover support on projects in a pinch and, if structured correctly, you can use an asynchronous model to get more than eight hours worth of work on a critical project without anyone doing overtime," said Dragos Badea, CEO of Romania-based space management and work planning tool Yarooms.

Deep Work

When everyone is online simultaneously, it can lead to a greater number and frequency of distractions. Think instant messages, constant email notifications, impromptu meetings and calls. The list of interruptions in a traditional workday can sometimes seem endless. Under an asynchronous model, employees have more uninterrupted time to do deep work.

"We have found that the asynchronous work model promotes deep work, by which I mean that team members are able to work on projects for long periods without interruptions or distractions," said Castos' Hewitt. 

Work-Life Balance

The traditional workweek can lead to overwork and burnout by not allowing employees to stop and start when they are at their best. Removing the burden of having to be online at precise times and allowing employees to focus on getting their tasks done when the moment is right — assuming that deadlines are respected — can help improve work-life balance. This, in turn, creates a happier, more loyal and more productive workforce overall.

Related Article: Digital Workplace Flexibility Is Far From Being a Done Deal

Facilitating Asynchronous Work

The benefits of adopting asynchronous work are clear. But it can seem easier said than done. Here are tools companies have used to facilitate the transition: 

  • Communication Tools: Instant messaging tools such as Slack or Microsoft Teams enable teams to communicate easily, particularly when working as a team on a project. Plus, most of these tools now provide options for employees to set their working hours so they are not disturbed when away from the computer. 
  • Project Management Tools: ClickUp, Trello and Asana are some examples of tools used to coordinate projects and deadlines. They track who's working on what, which helps minimize accidental interruptions by team members looking for updates.
  • Brainstorming Tools: Some companies have mentioned that one drawback of remote work is the lack of free-flowing creativity that can come from sharing a physical space. But in today's digital age, there's no reason for that to be a barrier. Whiteboarding tools like Miro can recreate the "office" experience and provide visual collaboration in a remote setting. 

With the current state of remote work and the ever-increasing number of digital tools made available to help both employers and employees get the job done, the asynchronous model is a no-brainer, at least for those sectors that can have their workforce working from anywhere. Done right, the workforce will thank them for their trust and increased flexibility.


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