The workplace is undoubtedly changing. With a rise in remote jobs and shared workplaces, employees have a new outlook on what the workday should look like. The shift is certainly related to company costs, but what are the health implications of having more flexibility in employee work schedule and location? Shifting away from the typical nine to five schedule provide opportunities for greater flexibility, increased leisure time, and a decrease in workplace-related stress. This leads to employees that can address personal health, growth, and development leading to a supercharged work performance.
Think about all the little stressors that run through your mind as you attempt to get ready for work in the working. It actually starts the night before as you think about waking up on time to get everything done and to get into work on time. Instead of resting soundly, you wake up every couple of hours in a tizzy hoping that you didn’t oversleep. When the alarm finally sounds, you smack the snooze button wishing you had another hour to get better quality sleep.
You then have an hour or so to do everything you need to get done. Shower, eat, personal care, breakfast and lunch, all get rushed through as your mind is buzzing and you pound your first cup of coffee. Your adrenals already hate you and your body is ramping up into fight or flight mode. Not only do you have to take care of everything for yourself, but the dog needs to be fed and walked as well. You rush through a quick walk with Fido then come home a give him a delicious, nutritious raw meal that is probably better than your own breakfast. None of these stressors are overwhelmingly terrible, but they certainly add up. All this and we didn’t even mention those of you that have kids to take care of in the morning!
You’ve been awake for maybe an hour and your mind has not had the opportunity to relax and gradually wake. Someone might as well have thrown a bucket of cold water on you and started shouting at you like a drill sergeant. You grab your second cup of coffee and finally get out the door. You are a couple of minutes late so your heart rate ramps up as you begin your commute. You push though yellow lights, tailgate a couple of people, and maybe make a questionably illegal move or two so you can make it to work on time. You pull into the parking lot right on time then head into your office. You sit down at your desk and then…
You stop. You can finally take a moment to exhale. While your breathing is returning to normal, you think about how much you just stressed out just to get to work on time. Now you have to settle into work and somehow figure out a way to get focused on what needs to get done today. The worst part is, despite all the stressing and rushing (I got stressed just writing that!) it really didn’t matter whether you got to work on time or strolled in 15 minutes late. Sure your boss might have noticed and it might look bad, but it didn’t change anything that you needed to do with your work day.
This is the typical employee morning. It does not leave time for self-improvement or personal care. It does not lead to laser focus and productivity. Instead, it leads to a whole slew of unnecessary stressors. Had Johnny America been able to work on his own schedule, that morning routine would look a whole lot different.
Johnny would wake up at a time that is natural for his body and he would wake up feeling rested/ready to take on the day. All the little morning stressors can be put aside while Johnny does some creative writing, reading, or possibly some meditation. Feeling balanced and refreshed, he now takes on the morning challenges, but he is not in a crunch against time. He can be present while he walks the dog and takes care of the kids.
If Johnny is working from home, there are no commute stressors. He can simply find the place where he knows he will be most productive and get to work right away. If Johnny has a commute but has flexible scheduling, it is much more laidback and relaxed because, again, there is no time factor. Sure he doesn’t want to take six hours to get to work, and he might still get a little pissed off when that old lady cuts him off, but there is generally less of a push to get to work. Think of how much safer our roads would be if no one was late to work!
By simply eliminating the factors of location and time, employers can completely change the quality of their employee’s lives. Our modern times have left us more stressed than ever and we are seeing the effects of these stressors more and more everyday. Employers have the opportunity to provide for their employees, all while boosting productivity!
As mentioned before, sleep is imperative to having a productive day at work. We’ve all tried to push through a day at work after getting less than ideal sleep. Maybe you were out on a binger all night, maybe your baby was up crying. The source of less sleep isn’t important, but the effects of the low quality sleep are. A lack of sleep can lead to imbalanced hormones, which leads to lower motivation and willpower at work, as well as a decrease in focus and attention.
Even if you got to bed at a normal hour but don’t sleep in a time frame that is best for you, you can face the negative effects of low quality sleep. Michael Breus, PhD, is revolutionizing the sleep world with his book The Power of When. He discusses that not everyone is meant to get the same amount of sleep at the same time. We all have internal clocks that decide when it is most advantageous to sleep and when to work.
When you think about it, it makes sense. We all know someone who is up before his or her alarm at 5:00 a.m., gets a workout in, and has energy all day long. We know someone else that stays up until 2:00 a.m. and sleeps until 10:00 a.m. Figuring out what your sleep chronotype is can be a game changer in your life. It can be the difference between waking up rested and waking up with an immediate need for caffeine.
Dr. Breus explains that people generally fall into four categories: bear, dolphin, lion, and wolf. The vast majority of people are bears in that they rise and fall with the sun. These are the people who probably do fairly well with the nine to five schedule, but can certainly benefit from flexibility in location. The category that stands out, however, is that of the lion.
If your sleep chronotype is lion, you are an early riser. These people are the ones who get up early and attack. When you think of the typical entrepreneurial spirit, this is what comes to mind. The problem with the lion chronotype is that only about 15% of the population are actually lions. For those people that are not lions but are following a lion schedule, the effects can be catastrophic.
Buying into the entrepreneurial hype, getting up at 4:40 a.m. to mediate, workout, etc. is great in theory, but it is most likely a major misuse of your time. Sure the practices are important, but imagine how much better suited they would be if you were doing them at an appropriate time after a well rested sleep!
Finding and taking advantage of sleep chronotypes has created significant changes in the world’s elite. Famed biohacker Dave Asprey has acknowledged the importance of Dr. Breus’s work and how it has helped him on his journey from 300 pound man to astute biohacker. Asprey shares that he now sleeps until 9:00 a.m. daily and gets high quality work done well into the night, many times until about 3:00 a.m. He does not do this to boast about how hard he works or to have others follow suit, rather to express the power of finding your ideal sleep window. When you are well rested, you open yourself up to an environment of focus.
If you had to choose between completing a major project in a room by yourself or in a room surrounded by fifty people, which would you go with? Many employers make the choice for us and stick us in rows of cubicles where Susan can walk by at any time to tell you about her cat Fufu. Talk about completely derailing your workflow.
Working remote allows employees to choose where they will be most productive. This is something that, in the past, employers felt they had to take care of. But the truth of the matter is, it’s not all that effective. How many hours of manpower go into making sure employees are not on Facebook or personal email during work? Sites are blocked, protocols are put into place, and meetings are held to remind employees to stay on task.
What if, instead, employees were simply told what they need to get done and when to get it done by? Wouldn’t that be an interesting concept? This makes life a lot easier for the employers. Bob was on Facebook for 6 hours, but he created the best presentation for our clients that we’ve seen all year. Cool! Janie spent 6 hours on Facebook too, but she only got 2 out of her 6 assignments for the week done. It’s time for a meeting with Janie.
In your meeting, you can now pull hard data that shows Janie’s productivity (or lack thereof). Instead of allowing a mediocre employee to sneak along and hide, she is quickly exposed with the facts. If the lack of output continues with Janie, Janie doesn’t hang around the company much longer! It might sound harsh, but it is a reality. At the end of the day, you want employees that are self-motivated and are responsible enough to get the work done, not ones that you have to monitor and babysit. If you have to do that, what is that saying about your job and your productivity?
More and more resources are becoming available to track employee work assignments and productivity. These applications allow for team and group communication as well as transparency in what is getting done. If you are an employer looking to boost productivity, it may be time to start investing in programs, such as Monday.com, that can boost employee performance.
As with anything, there are certainly pushbacks in regards to working remotely and giving employees flexible scheduling. With the rise in technology, one of the major concerns is that of social interaction. We are much more likely to comment on a friend’s Instagram post than we are to pick up the phone and have a conversation. The social landscape is radically changing and it is impacting the workplace as well. The rise in remote work has been thought to further exasperate the situation. The thought process is essentially that if you work on your own you will transform into a hermit and lose all your social skills.
Working remote and flexible scheduling have the ability to increase your social skills. By working a schedule that is best for you, you have the opportunity to get the most amount of high quality work done in the least amount of time. This leaves more time for leisure, family, and friends. You may not have as much social interaction at work, but your social life outside of work will take off and you will have the chance to deepen meaningful relationships.
Isn’t that the whole point, really? We work to have the means to provide for our families and ourselves. We work so we can have money to enjoy what we want to enjoy. Work is not a social place; it is work! I don’t know about you, but I would much rather spend time with my family and friends than spend time with Susan talking about Fufu!
Another pushback that the remote and flexible schedule workplaces face is that not all jobs can take advantage of these practices. This one is true. Not every job can be done at home or in a shared workplace, nor can every job be done when best suited for someone’s sleep needs. Police officers need to patrol at 4:00 a.m., factory workers need to be on the line while the machines are running, and teachers need to be there when the kids are.
What all jobs can do, however, is be mindful of individual needs and how the workday affects their employees lives. How would the health and lives of police officers look if Dr. Breus’s chronotype quiz was given prior to hiring? Instead of rotating nights, police forces could be employed with officers that work specific shifts. Wouldn’t it be comforting knowing that the officers patrolling your neighborhood at night were ones that thrive in the late hours?
Other professions, like teaching, can use the science and data to their advantage as well. We force the “early bird gets the worm” mentality on our children and they suffer. Students, specifically teens and those in high school, generally perform better when they start later in the morning. Because of bus schedules and other factors, high schools students are the ones who start earliest. Think of how much more effective teachers would be if they were working with students who were alert and attentive! What would that do to the statistics on students classified with ADHD and other learning disorders?
So yes, not every job is suited for remote work and flexible scheduling. However, every job can use the science and data to some form of advantage in order to boost employee productivity and effectiveness.
The 21st century is moving faster than any other time in our existence. Every facet of our lives is changing at the blink of an eye and our work lives are certainly a part of this change. Employers have an opportunity to be part of a major change that not only increases the bottom line of their companies, but significantly shifts the personal lives of their employees as well. Unnecessary, mandated hours can be turned into a focus on quality work output. This will leave more time for leisure, family, friends, and improved quality of life.