Stop The Clock


If it’s ‘Ugh’, it’s not starting well. Maybe it should start another time?


Stop the Clock

Chronobiology is a fascinating thing.

To distill the idea and what it means for the workplace is important so we can understand how to get the best out of people. We each have specific times during our daily rhythms, our body clocks, when we feel ‘peak’ and can operate effectively. If we fail to recognize when these windows of opportunity happen, we are neglecting to work at our best.

If you need to use an alarm to wake up for work, then you’re already falling short.

This is your ‘chronotype’, one of many different biological factors that may mean you excel at certain times, while at other times you’d be more effective asleep than contributing in a semi-woken state. Significantly, studies indicate that up to 80% of us have working schedules that simply do not agree with what our internal clocks are telling us.

What to do?

It comes down to simple personal questions:

Are you a ‘morning person’, fully recharged and articulate first thing?

 Or, does that articulation first require a gallon of coffee?

 Alternatively, does the grey matter really start to jive late in the evening?

 If you are a night owl, a nocturnal being…then are you being forced to work at your worst times in terms of personal capability?

Where work life is concerned, both employees and employers may adopt a ‘turn up and clock on’

mentality based on the premise that we work effectively in groups and need to be together for the magic to happen. While there’s much to be said for face-to-face ‘real-time’ contact, it’s also relevant to note that we now tend to communicate digitally, constantly, in so many forms, that we are adapting to remote interactions just as effectively.

When approached thoughtfully, we can work apart and at differing times to each other.

Many companies already expect their people to function 24/7. Always within contact, switched on, and ready. So, it’s fair to ask how workers necessarily need to work. Can you go fully remote? Do you need to stick to a rigid schedule? Or, are you able to blend things up and operate according to what your body is telling you, respecting your sleep cycles and defining when you are in the best frame of mind to work?

Perhaps most importantly, what does this mean for the way we design our workplaces?

Flex It Up

 It means figuring out flexibility. Creating spaces that work for people.

Designing for less permanent use firstly means that the idea of assigned desk space can be fully removed from your plan. A more infrequent rhythm of people coming in and out to focus on core hours or meetings means no bums on seats for 8 hours straight, while the need for spaces that can be configured for different uses increases.

Rip out that uniform grid of linear desktop and consider a mix of table sizes to accommodate the differing needs of quicker, more agile meetings. Stand-up bars work for a 5-minute recap chat, whereas a circular table for 6 provides a democratic hub for small group work. Traditional conference room facilities can be retained for larger group use, relevant for deep sessions that fall under the ‘we don’t leave till we solve this’ problem set.

If such uses are infrequent, consider ditching the traditional meeting room altogether and recoup that space for wider use.

Setting aside quiet nooks or using soundproofed booths allows individuals to split off from the group when solo focus is required. Interior plantings provide natural screening and acoustic baffling for such activity while averting the need for traditional screens or physical walls.

The Math Works

The basic premise here is that if a higher percentage of the workforce chooses to work outside of the workplace to find concentration, then the time chosen to physically be in the office is the time to touch base, converse, discuss, and interact with the group energy. Of course, there are those who will wish to only work out of the office, so more consideration can be given to creating spaces where they can always find calm.

This is possible because of the simple maths of flexibility. Without the need to plan for a set number of desks, you plan for 20-30% fewer physical seats. This means you cannot actually accommodate your entire workforce if they are all present. It sounds risky, but when flexibility kicks in the need to be seated decreases as meeting and task fluidity increases. The net result is more bodies converging and dispersing in quicker cycles in specific areas, while the rest of the space is more open, relaxed, and conducive to productive focus.


Vive La Revolution?

 Not really.

The seismic shift here is all about how companies begin to appraise the people they employ for the talent they bring to the table. It’s purely a human concern that, when addressed, can help trigger the whole process.

Moving away from the ‘over the shoulder’ management mentality to place less emphasis on when you are visibly present to what you are actually producing is key. For example, a 2014 study indicated a distinct employer bias towards early starting workers, a view that predominates over the actual output quality of the employee.

If the remotely worked results speak for themselves and the task was completed in good time, then it becomes more difficult to justify keeping a workforce physically present, every day, in a single space. Working to an employee’s specific chronotype doesn’t necessarily mean they will be working at 3am, either. It can entail simple shifts in cultural expectations so that not seeing someone at their seat at 9am does not mean they are unreliable, unproductive, or un-anything.

Time for Change

 Waking in an unhurried fashion, eating that most important meal of the day well, or digesting the news in-depth so you can weave your learnings into your day. There are many ways a pressured day can start that result in stress being brought into the workplace. Better to ease into the day by providing the conditions for less drama.

It’s better for the person in question, as well as their colleagues.

However, there can be issues. The individual who shows up the earliest may simply function best when they have zero distraction. They could, just as equally, be wasting time surfing the web and caffeinating when nobody is there to see.

It’s not revolutionary, more a sense of approaching the way we work with the rationale of the commons in mind, that when we get into a group flow the shared resources and expectations will develop more effectively. Some would argue that this creates the ‘tragedy of the commons’, that individuals will instinctively abuse shared resources or situations for individual benefit. However, such conduct is easily monitored in the (remote) workplace and managers can place greater emphasis on nurturing individual talent through technological means.

The important takeaway here is that assessing people via their individual biological characteristics is a helpful way to envisage how they might function better. The process may entail ‘undesigning’ your workspace, but it’s also an opportunity for democratic outreach to gauge employee sentiment.

And that helps people feel valued, something that fosters a sense of belonging, loyalty, and inclusion.

 So it makes sense not to waste it. For your people and your business. (photo via Unsplash)