21st Century Productivity.
We think the end is nigh for the 9 to 5 office day.
Is working 35 hours a week the most efficient way to productively spend our working life?
In the UK, the 9-5 working day is ingrained so deeply that to even suggest it might be wrong is often viewed as heresy. Even in our world of digital agencies, nomads and co-working spaces adoption of truly flexible working have not yet gained universal adoption.
Modern-day working, shopping, consuming and socialising is so heavily anchored around these eight sacrosanct hours spent at the office. But, is working 35hrs a week the most efficient use of our time?
Famously, Henry Ford advocated (but didn’t invent) “Eight hours’ labour, Eight hours’ recreation, Eight hours’ rest”.
Created 150 years before the birth of the Internet, the eight-hour day was designed to improve working conditions and destroy child slavery. Born in the white-hot manufacturing heat of the Industrial Age, what’s to say this social reform from 1810 is still the best way to work, or even still relevant today?
The answer is, of course, NO. The 8 hour day can and should be consigned to the past.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Data (OECD) revealed that, in the years 1990-2012, people produced more work per hour when they were working fewer hours. So, that’s a classic less is more scenario.
Towards the end of the 20th Century, we saw the beginning of a change in workplace efficiency, a change so dramatic it will, in due course, liberate millions of cubicle and time-based workers across the world.
The Industrial Age had started to wane 50 years ago with the mass use of semiconductor transistors, and the world began a gentle, but significant, shift into the Information Age. The birth of the Internet sealed the deal; we’d never need to be tied to either an office or a working day.
We still slaved away, 9 to 5, in highly regulated and productionised environments (think offices, meetings, desks). Workers who perform tasks which are easily automated are being forced to adapt and compete in a global job market; many have had to down-skill to work in the lower end of the service industry as they are being replaced by computers that can do their jobs faster and more effectively.
In the last 30 years of the 20th Century, the West saw a six-fold increase in productivity in manufacturing and a huge swing to creative, or imagination-based jobs that place very different demands on the mind and body of the average worker.
It’s widely thought that no reasonable person can plan and deliver more than 4 or 5 hours of creative work in a day. We’re a digital agency, so we’re frequently asked to account and quote for resource hours – as a result, we’ve been recording tasks and work accurately for nearly two decades, and 4 to 5 hours a day is most definitely the sweet spot. Your maximum useful working work is therefore around 20 hours.
In fact, it estimated that a creative worker in 2015 is capable of being twice as productive per hour worked as they were in 1990. An 8 hour 1990 working day now takes about 4 hours to complete. But, as individuals, we’re not all delivering twice as much, or earning twice as much (RPI-adjusted salaries are broadly flat over the last two decades) or working half the week.
The burning question, then, is what do we do with all this wasted time? Sometimes we just pretend to be busy or carry out tasks so inefficiently that we’d be better off not doing anything. Sometimes we just skive.
Future of the 4hr working day
The reality is that most folks are only delivering four useful hours per day, so we need to adapt the working model to accommodate this. Throw into the mix the ability to work anywhere and the workplace is ripe for huge disruption.
If we don’t need to go into an office, or work fixed hours, then we do take control of our lives. Suddenly we lose the traditional tension between labour and leisure, with all the extra available time due to shorter working hours and zero commuting they can co-exist comfortably.
The free time can be used to expand personal, social and intellectual horizons in an orgy of self-actualization! Or, you can simply spend a lot more time with the kids.
Should I work harder?
God, no. Some take the view that if you are unable to complete your working week in 20 hours, then you’re in the wrong job. We’re not that draconian, but I can understand the viewpoint. As you start to clock more than five working hours in a day, your efficiency and quality start to nose-dive. Working harder is a recipe for incompetence and misery.
We take the view that there is little benefit, and often a high cost, of working 40hrs a week. Sometimes it may be required; life has occasional deadlines after all. But as a rule, for the 42 working weeks in the year, you should be aiming for 20 hours a week as a median number of working hours.
That does typically mean you need to earn more per hour, perhaps double what you make now to maintain your standard of living. It also suggests that with all the excess free time you’ll need to manage better your leisure time as you’ll have so much more – we advocate spending it on personal development, reading and independent learning.
Maybe one day, in the near future, you’ll get so efficient that you’ll be able to work for just an hour a day? That would be nice.