The 9-to-5 working week structure has been in place for a long time, since about the 1920s. However, the notion of an eight-hour working day was a social justice movement well before then, in response to the dire 10-16 hour working days (often 6 days a week) of factory employees since the Industrial Revolution.
The 40-hour working week really gained momentum when major industrialists such as Henry Ford, the founder of the Ford Motor Company, implemented a 9-to-5 working week in 1926. Back then, a set 9-to-5 structure made sense, because factory work required employees to be together in the same place during the same hours, in order to form assembly lines and complete repetitive tasks. But is this structure relevant today?
Almost a hundred years later, robots have taken over a large number of the menial tasks previously requiring factory workers. With technology advancements and the increased automation of factory work, a greater number of jobs are now done by people using computers.
Until the pandemic saw a dramatic increase in employees working remotely, many of us were expected to sit for around 40 hours a week in offices, under fluorescent lights with no fresh air and often no view of outside. For many of us this was in addition to long commutes to and from our workplace.
Moving forward, the question of whether we should be expected to work from a shared office space from 9-to-5 Monday till Friday is significant. Countless workplaces had already evolved to have more flexible working hours prior to COVID, although it wasn’t the standard. Will flexible work schedules be the new norm as a result of the pandemic?
In the past we didn’t have the capacity for most workers to do their jobs remotely. Now, technology affords many of us this opportunity. A huge number of jobs no longer require us to be physically together, as we can connect virtually. Staff can communicate over video conferencing, email and phone calls, so it makes sense to re-evaluate how we structure our working lives.
Do flexible working hours increase productivity?
Studies have shown that employees perform better when they have some control over their schedules. It makes sense that we’re happier when we have autonomy over our work timetable. It allows us to manage our work alongside other responsibilities and interests such as health, fitness and caring for family members. For example, if you’re not up against pressing work deadlines and you suddenly have an urgent task to attend to in your personal life, why shouldn’t you be allowed to take a couple of hours out of your day (which you could then make up at night or on the weekend)?
It’s also intuitively true that we are more productive and happier when we can cater our space to our needs. Few of us would opt for a bland office space with artificial air and light if given the choice!
With lockdowns and working from home, many of us have had the opportunity to reflect on how we want our lives to look in future. This of course includes our jobs. As a result, most employees now desire greater flexibility in terms of working hours and at least two days working from home per week.
Companies that are better able to adapt and offer flexible work schedules are going to be more appealing workplaces and will be able to attract the best talent. There will still be a benefit and need for shared spaces in which people can physically come together. However, the old model of a regimented 9-to-5 working day seems increasingly less relevant to our times.