person running through an empty hall with briefcase in hand
PHOTO: Andy Beales

The familiar pattern of working Monday to Friday, from 9 to 5, is a relic of the industrial era. Many workplaces remain loyal to the 40-hour week structure, meaning employees often adopt a marathon mind-set at work. They view working in a similar way that long distance runners do: a long process to undergo until they can retire. In running terms, it is similar to running until you finish the race or your body runs out of energy.

However, businesses are waking up to the idea that the 9 to 5 pattern doesn’t suit everyone. The rise of freelancers, the gig economy and flexible working has disrupted the standard structure as employees realize they do not have to fit into the 9 to 5 week when it doesn't suit them. These workers take a more dynamic outlook and view their career as a series of sprints: bursts of high octane and super-productive work to earn money, use their time well and allow for valuable free time to rest, recharge and think of their next move. As in the running world, both styles of work are valuable, but experts often regard the sprinters as valuable assets in the workplace who need to be catered to most by employers. 

So how will businesses be able to successfully engage star workers with the fluid schedules they desire, while also retaining an element of structure to keep their business thriving?  

Trust Enables Productivity 

A flexible schedule can only flourish when employees are engaged and trusted to manage their own time and workload, something that internal communications can help facilitate. If a leader trusts their team, their employee’s location no longer matters, nor does when they arrive or leave the office. Many of today’s great leaders have been on a steep learning curve of trusting that their team may be busy working on a complex project and can only check in with them as time allows. This may be difficult for some, but those who learn to embrace it cultivate a core culture of trust, as employees are judged by the quality of their work and the value of their ideas —not by how long they sit at a desk.    

It has been proven that high levels of trust in the workplace go hand in hand with productivity. Productivity is the word on the lips of every business leader today. Businesses search for the right kind of talent; agile workers who use every hour of their working day to the maximum to innovate, achieve results and add value. We are seeing workplaces invest time and money developing new structures and discovering how to get the most out of their workforce. For many, the first step is breaking the pattern of working nine to five into a more dynamic schedule so workers can choose their schedule based on when they are most active and likely to get their work done. 

Related Article: Are Collaboration and Productivity at Odds in the Workplace?

Intelligent Reduction

A recent McKinsey report found employees only spend 40% of their time on role-specific tasks — the things they were employed to do. Other studies show that pointless emails, meetings and lack of good processes are the main reason why productivity is low. 

The new pattern of work as a series of sprints has been shown to increase productivity as elements of the routine 9 to 5 day are removed, such as unnecessary meetings. We are at our best — our most creative and innovative — when we are freed from information overload. "Intelligent reduction" will become a phrase we hear of more in the future. Give employees direction and guidance without overcrowding them with information and trusting them to make the right decisions to reach the goal. 

Related Article: Information Overload Is Nothing New

How Does the Digital Workplace Fit In?

A sprinter's mind-set needs the right tools to succeed. It is imperative the digital workplace provides these. The next generation of intranet provides targeted and relevant content and tools personalized to employees so they are able to remain productive wherever they are located. This also removes the tedious hustle of spending hours scouring through software they are unfamiliar with when working from home. Quite simply, if you are able to quickly and efficiently access what you need, people work faster.

Employees who feel comfortable in the workplace are more likely to share opinions and insights, which provide valuable feedback to the business as they share successes and learnings with their peers. This is particularly important for those who regularly work on a project basis, such as freelancers, who are often drafted in for short periods to provide help and expertise. If they are supplied with smart technology from the very start to communicate and quickly understand the values of a company, they will provide the positive output they are paid for and will feel included and welcomed from the outset.

In addition, a digital workplace should be integral to a company culture. Experts predict the future office will no longer exist as it is today, a physical space employees go to every day. The digital workspace will become more important as people communicate online, follow company news and collaborate with their team through the intranet. Ultimately, the most successful companies see the value in creating a digital workplace to complement the fast-paced mindset of those who view work as a series of sprints, rather than a marathon.