Over the past four years, hybrid work has entered the global vernacular.
Since the pandemic, workers who previously worked in an office five days a week are no longer keen to waste time and money commuting – now, because they know they are at least as productive when working remotely, they value the flexibility of being able to choose where they work.
But, despite what newspaper headlines might suggest, it is important to remember that workplace flexibility isn’t all about location – it is also about how and when you work.
Many commentators are calling for 2024 to be the year we move beyond talking about hybrid work, and instead embrace a more all-encompassing phrase: ‘flexible work’.
In this context, asynchronous work and collaboration is coming to the fore.
This is where teams have core hours where they need to be available for meetings and collaboration – beyond these hours, employees are trusted manage their workload according to their own preference.
The idea is to break out of the perspective that working a 9 to 5 is best for individuals’ productivity, and to provide quiet time (away from the constant pinging of messages and emails) to get deep work done.
It also works very well for the work-life balance of those who work in (and manage) international teams across multiple timelines. Brands like Dropbox and Canva have implemented this incredibly successfully over the past few years – of course, shift workers are quite used to asynchronous work, and not being able to communicate with their colleagues throughout their working day.
But there is growing discussion about taking asynchronous work one step further, and embracing so-called ‘chronoworking’; this is where people’s work schedules are tailored to their circadian rhythms or body clocks.
Is this just the latest HR buzzword – like ‘Quiet Quitting’, ‘Bare Minimum Mondays’ or ‘Rage Applying’? Or is it something that employers should take seriously, and consider implementing, to attract and retain talent now and into the future?
UNLEASH sat down with some HR experts to find out.
The pros and cons of chronoworking
The concept behind chronoworking is that our circadian rhythm shapes our energy levels throughout the day.
By “tailoring working schedules to employees’ natural energy highs and lows has the potential to enhance productivity, job satisfaction and overall wellbeing”, in the words of Ciphr chief people and operations officer Claire Williams.
Bill Catlette, partner at Content Cow Partners, a workforce advisory company, agrees on the “anticipated payoff” here.
He also reminds us that throughout history human work schedules have been completely transformed.
Just a century ago, workers were working six days a week, until Henry Ford came along and disrupted when work got done (in a five day, 40 hour week) – the world needs to, once again, break out of the perspective that nothing should change because “that’s the way we’ve always done it”.
“Just as much of our modern work can be parted out across the globe, there is not always a rational argument for forcing workers into…fixed daily work schedules”, continues Catlette.
However, this doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges to figuring out if chronoworking is right for your organization.
Implementing chronoworking – or actually any type of asynchronous work – often requires a mindset and culture shift.
There can be no micromanaging, trust and autonomy need to king – plus leaders need to clearly communicate their expectations with employees.
In addition, employees need to be self-starters and have the discipline to work even without supervision.
Technology can really help teams with asynchronous communication that needs to come alongside chronoworking – this will help HR to “manage talent, maintain comms, enable collaboration, and track performance and productivity”, according to Ciphr’s Williams.
What’s interesting about this chronoworking concept is that it isn’t necessarily something that only works for desk-based workers.
This makes it stand out from most of the remote work discussions, which have largely excluded the frontline workforce – you can’t work from home if you work in a shop or a hospital, or you drive a truck for a living, for instance.
Given deskless workers are often less tied to the 9 to 5, because they are more shift-based, it may be easier for them to shift their schedules to better suit not just their preferences, but their body clock.
Ultimately, productivity is the North Star for all businesses. If you’re struggling to achieve it in 2024, now may be the time to think outside the box, and experiment with radical approaches like asynchronous communication or chronoworking.
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