What is ‘chronoworking’ and can it replace the longstanding 9-5 tradition?

Unlocking the full potential of workers may involve granting them the autonomy to perform their tasks at times that suit them best.

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The 9-5 workday has been the standard for many office workers for over a century, but it may not be the best fit for everyone. Some people are more productive in the morning, some in the evening, and some have irregular patterns of energy and alertness throughout the day. These variations are influenced by our circadian rhythms or the natural cycles of sleep and wakefulness that regulate our body and brain functions.

The facts

According to experts, there are four main types of circadian rhythms, or chronotypes, that determine when we feel most awake and productive. These are:

• The lion: This type prefers to wake up early, around 5 or 6 am, and get most of their work done before noon. They tend to have a dip in energy in the afternoon and go to bed early, around 9 or 10 pm.

• The bear: This type follows the sun, waking up around 7 or 8 am and going to bed around 10 or 11 pm. They are most productive in the mid-morning and mid-afternoon, with a slump around noon and in the evening.

• The wolf: This type is a night owl, waking up around 9 or 10 am and going to bed around midnight or later. They are most productive in the late afternoon and evening, with a peak around 8 or 9 pm.

• The dolphin: This type has a more erratic and unpredictable pattern of sleep and wakefulness, often suffering from insomnia or poor sleep quality. They may have bursts of energy and creativity at different times of the day but also struggle with focus and concentration.

The arguments

The problem with the 9-to-5 workday is that it does not accommodate the diversity of chronotypes, forcing many people to work against their natural rhythms and compromising their performance and well-being.

For example, a lion may feel bored and restless in the afternoon, while a wolf may feel groggy and unmotivated in the morning. A dolphin may have difficulty sticking to a regular schedule and meeting deadlines, while a bear may feel frustrated by the lack of flexibility and autonomy.

This is where chronoworking comes in. Chronoworking is a new trend that allows workers to choose their own hours based on their chronotypes, rather than following a fixed and rigid schedule.

The term was coined by journalist Ellen C Scott, who advocates for a more personalised and adaptive approach to work that respects our biological differences and preferences.

One of the key principles of chronoworking is asynchronous communication, which enables employees to collaborate and communicate without being confined to the same time zone or schedule. This means that team members can work at their own pace, leveraging technology such as email, instant messaging, and project management tools to stay connected and informed.

But the benefits of chronoworking go beyond just flexibility. By allowing employees to work when they’re most productive, whether it’s early in the morning or late at night, organizations can tap into their full potential and maximize efficiency.

This can lead to higher levels of job satisfaction, creativity, and innovation, as employees feel empowered to take ownership of their work and schedule.

Furthermore, chronoworking has the potential to level the playing field for individuals with diverse lifestyles and responsibilities. Whether it’s parents juggling childcare, students pursuing higher education, or freelancers balancing multiple projects, chronoworking offers a more inclusive and accommodating approach to work.

However, transitioning to a chronoworking model is not without its challenges. For many organisations, it requires a shift in mindset and culture, as well as investment in the right tools and technologies to support remote collaboration and communication. Leaders must also be willing to trust their employees and focus on outcomes rather than micromanaging their time.

Despite these challenges, the benefits of chronoworking are clear. By breaking free from the constraints of the traditional 9-5 workday, organisations can unlock new levels of productivity, creativity, and flexibility. In an increasingly digital and interconnected world, embracing chronoworking may just be the key to staying competitive and thriving in the future of work.

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