Jan 20, 2021 - Economy

Work-wherever turns to work-whenever

Illustration of a broken clock.

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The pandemic killed the 9-to-5 workday for many.

The big picture: So much of our society — from after-school child care programs to the most coveted time slots for television shows — is structured around working from 9 to 5. But our countrywide experiment in remote work has demonstrated that the hours we are logged on don't matter as long as the work gets done.

Why it matters: Dismantling the 9-to-5 workday adds a great deal of flexibility that could benefit working parents, caretakers, part-time students and more.

  • "It becomes increasingly clear in a remote setting, especially with colleagues traveling or relocating to varying time zones, that trying to retain a rigid work schedule makes little sense for many jobs," says Darren Murph, head of remote work at GitLab, the world's largest all-remote company.
  • "One of the key perks of remote work done well is flexibility. This includes flexibility of schedule."

And it's not just white-collar office jobs that are becoming more untethered.

  • With the rise of gig work, millions of Americans are making money based on how many rides they complete or groceries they deliver instead of how many hours they work.
  • Yes, but: That model adds to the precariousness of the gig economy and is a big driver behind the movement to give gig workers full-employee status.

The upside: Setting hours independently gives workers the ability to tailor each workday to their specific preferences, Murph says. Companies that embrace work-whenever should also learn to communicate with emails and documents rather than scheduled meetings to allow employees to truly plan their own days, he says.

  • Parents can take a break in the middle of the day to play with their kids and then catch up on work after dinner.
  • Trips to the gym can be scheduled for the afternoon, between meetings, instead of at the crack of dawn.
  • If you're more productive in the mornings, you can begin the day before your colleagues. And the same goes for night owls.

The downside: Despite its perks, work-whenever — which means there is no clear time to log on or log off — has the potential to fray work-life balance.

But, but, but: Most companies are still used to the 9-to-5 workday and communicating through meetings, which require employees to be logged on at roughly the same hours.

  • Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom has been surveying remote workers throughout the pandemic, and the majority say their pandemic hours and pre-pandemic hours still have about 80% overlap.
  • So there's a chance work-whenever is "mostly a short-run pandemic phenomenon," Bloom says.

The bottom line: Whether it's allowing employees to telecommute or letting them set their own hours, companies will ultimately decide how much workplace flexibility they'll bring into the post-pandemic world.

  • And employees will likely make decisions on where they want to work based on those company polices.

Go deeper: Work-from-home is turning into work-from-anywhere

Go deeper