It snowed in Vancouver last week, which means two things: first, my wellbeing suffers a little because I can’t commute on my bike; second, everything is an emergency and we’re all going to die! Because of the snowy weather I commuted to work by public transit and once by car. This brought to my attention the utter absurdity of everyone trying to get from outlying areas to a few hubs where people work at the same time. Like many white collar professionals, I work from about 9am until 5pm, Monday-to-Friday and commuting with tens of thousands of other folks who spend pretty much the same hours in an office, store or worksite highlighted the ineffectiveness of how we’re organized to work. People are arguing that the modern work week needs to be “blown up” and they’re right. Here’s why the 9-5 work week must change.
9-5 creates gridlock
There are probably enough roads, cars and spaces on public transit in your community to accommodate the number of people who need to use them. Except when we’re travelling to work for a 9am start and after work finishes at 5pm. If you live in Vancouver there’s a good chance that you lose 87 hours per year during your commute. Imagine if workdays started and ended along a longer continuum that 9am and 5pm. For example, when I start my workday between 7:30am and 8am I rarely pass a line-up of cars en route to the office (via safe and healthy bike lane). When I arrive between 9am and 9:30am I pass hundreds of cars squished together wherever lanes reduce from four to three to two (or one). It is ridiculous that a key reason people waste time in traffic jams or huddled at bus stops is because of the inertia and the history of a 9am start to the workday. So, think about ending the 8-hour workday altogether, embracing (or expanding) telecommuting, and/or letting people start earlier or later based on their lifestyle and hours peak performance.
People are diverse
One of my teammates does her best work between 3pm and 2am. I know because she sends me emails with thoughtful and strategic ideas early in the morning. She also has a great home office and isn’t the most physically agile human being, which are two reasons why commuting via public transit for about two hours doesn’t enhance her enthusiasm, productivity or wellbeing when she has to do it five days a week. Canada’s HR Council for non-profits has a toolkit for employers interested in expanding their offerings of flexible work arrangements, which includes flexible/compressed schedules, telecommuting or alternative work locations.
We’ve all cringed because a package was delivered to our home while we were at work, but got rained-on or re-directed to a central pickup location 45-minutes away that’s open from, you guessed it, 9-to-friggin-5pm, Monday-to-Friday. Thankfully, many organizations are trending away from service hours mirroring when kids are in school and parents are working. Everything is happening all the time around the world and your organization can be as heavily or infinitesimally engaged with trillions of customer touchpoints as you want. It always boggled my mind that the majority of university student services are open Monday-to-Friday, which is when students have classes, exams and dozens of other commitments. Investing in a six or seven days-per-week schedule – and staffing it with folks who would love a Monday or Friday off to run errands and manage elusive and expensive daycare – is a simple example of how re-imagining the modern work week is a win/win scenario that is long overdue.