Revisiting the 9-to-5 Working World

The pandemic has had a profound effect on the world and our business life. It redefined the setting of work for many. But that’s only the beginning.


The first few bars are unmistakable to music fans. Pound, pound, pound goes the keyboard in a catchy rhythmic pattern. Soon what sounds like the clicking of a typewriter (what’s a typewriter?) joins in. Then Dolly Parton croons:

Well, I tumble outta bed and stumble to the kitchen
Pour myself a cup of ambition
Yawn and stretch and try to come to life

Jump in the shower and the blood starts pumping
Out on the street, the traffic starts jumping
With folks like me on the job from 9 to 5.

That’s the opening to a 1981 #1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 and soundtrack to the movie of the same name — 9 to 5. NPR proclaimed: “A Cup of Ambition and Endurance: ‘9 To 5’ Unites Workers Across Decades.” The thrust of that message about the daily grind may be true, but what about those hours? Does this traditional schedule align with the ebb and flow of the business community today and, more so, going forward? Is it time to adjust the 9-to-5 work clock?

The rejiggering is underway. Although movement began on a modest scale about five years ago, a monumental disruption created the impetus for change. That factor — the pandemic — has had a profound effect on the world and our business life. It redefined the setting of work for many. But that’s only the beginning.

The Influence of COVID-19

“The pandemic has been a wake-up call,” declares a post in Forbes. “It has shaken us out of our complacency. We have started seriously looking into the way we lead our lives.” That comment segues into a discussion about remote work, which “has proven to be an undisputed success.” This outcome fostered a “new mindset” which “has also shifted to other areas of our work lives. The standard 9-to-5 workweek is now up for change.” It’s in this spirit the title of this piece advises “Working 9-To-5 Is an Antiquated Relic From the Past and Should Be Stopped Right Now.

The 9-To-5 Schedule Should Be the Next Pillar of Work to Fall” agrees. It reports that marquee companies, such as General Motors, Meta and PepsiCo, “have incorporated remote work into their corporate cultures.” But rather than an endpoint, this repositioning is a steppingstone. That’s because “in a truly flexible workplace, people would control not just where they work but also when.”

Variations of the word “flexibility” keep coming up in these forums. The New York Times post referenced directly above notes that: “recent pandemic upheavals could open the door for new kinds of workplace flexibility.” An informed source quoted here shares a lesson that business owners learned during COVID-19. At first, they considered “work from home” as “the hill I would die on” because “I absolutely knew my company could never do it.” Then guess what? “My people proved me wrong in three weeks.” The takeaway? “What this tells us is that there is no assumption about how we work that should not be open to challenge.”

Accompanying Factors

Pandemic aside, we were getting into position to reconsider 9-to-5 anyway. The paradigm has been around for about 100 years. “In 1926, Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company, started the concept of a five-day, 40-hour workweek for his assembly line workers — down from much longer hours. The 9-to-5 workday was created to serve the needs of business titans who ran manufacturing plants that relied upon lots of people standing on assembly lines.”

Since then, the fabric of our economy has shifted from a manufacturing base to service. So has the composition of the workforce. “Rethinking 9-to-5: The Rise of Flexible Work Hours and Telecommuting” explains. “Today, work has changed dramatically and the corporate landscape looks nothing like it did in the days of Henry Ford. With the decline of manufacturing, the rise of women in the workplace and, more recently, the acceleration of new technology, it has become less necessary for everyone to work the same eight-hour shift.”

Let’s focus on the point about technology to underscore its significance. CNBC.com reports that the World Economic Forum says that we have arrived at the Fourth Industrial Revolution. In short: “The first two revolutions were about mass production. The third turned us into knowledge workers bound in offices. This revolution is about breaking free of geography. It is being driven by the technology to help us do that.” There’s more. Email, cloud computing and a growing legion of other high tech tools enables workers to attend to their responsibilities at any and all hours, not limited to 9 to 5. No wonder this post subscribes to the view that “The future of jobs won’t be about 9-to-5 office hours.

So Why Haven’t Businesses Done Away With 9-to-5?

Some firms already have gone down this path. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce cites “10 Forward-Looking Companies Offering Flexible Work.” It notes: “As workplaces adopt new technology and innovative management philosophies, some companies are ditching old-school, nine-to-five office requirements.” Among those featured in this group are three iconic organizations — American Express, Dell, and UnitedHealth Group.

Of this trio, Dell is “a pioneer in flexible work scheduling.” Its “Connected Workplace” program, initiated in 2009, enables employees to not only work remotely, but also in whatever way they choose. Some 60% of its workforce takes advantage of these flexible options.

What’s another big-name company in this pack? It’s the subject of “A huge tech company just killed the 9-5 workday for good.” And that firm is Salesforce. Its chief people officer asserted that it “no longer makes sense to expect employees to work an eight-hour shift and do their jobs successfully.” From that perspective, employees have the “flexibility in how, when and where” they choose to work. Following through on the gist of this piece, this spokesperson declares: “The 9-to-5 workday is dead.”

How to Get Started

Harvard Business Review points the way. “Breaking Free from a ‘9 to 5’ Culture” declares: “the future of work points to more asynchronous ways of working.” Before delving into the strategies offered here, it’s worth defining a term—asynchronous. Remote.com explains. “Asynchronous (async) work is a way for workers to organize the order in which tasks are executed to align with their own timetable.” In other words, an async system does not require all employees to be at the same place and work at the same time.

Let’s say a business seeks to veer from the 9-to-5 structure. How should it adopt an asynchronous way of working? HRB suggests:

Go top down

Get buy-in from upper management. The highest-ranking members of the firm also need to exemplify this new mode. “Whether you are looking to shift to an asynchronous way of working at the team, department, or company level, it needs to start with the leadership of the entity.”

Emphasize effects

“Identifying clear goals and outcomes will allow employees working asynchronously to focus on the desired results versus when, where, or how the work is done.” This mindset and work style represents a change from “here’s all the work to be done” to “here’s the outcomes we want.”

Categorize

Sometimes all hands must be onboard, e.g., initial project planning sessions, client meetings. “Distinguish which tasks and activities are better conducted synchronously.” Note: “Higher-touch activities such as conducting one-on-ones, providing others with coaching, feedback, and mentoring, as well as some onboarding activities, should also be conducted live.”

Uncover and set expectations

Work cultures are deep-rooted; changing them is complex. Consider engaging an external facilitator, who “can help the team surface, articulate, and challenge [the] existing rules and assumptions so the team [can] let go of them.” Examples of unwritten rules: “acceptable response time, what topics require a meeting, the standard length of meetings and how these meetings are run.”

Clarify and commit

What will new ways of working look like? “Identify dependencies for various workstreams and stakeholder needs. How will these be met? Make clear agreements around several elements, such as the use of various technologies and when these technologies are shut off.” Formulate policies and accountabilities.

Test and tweak

Transitioning to a new culture requires time and tinkering. Check back, assess and alter, as needed. “Making the shift to asynchronous work is not a ‘one-and-done’ event, but an iterative process that will likely need adjustments and fine tuning over time to successfully make the change.”

Set inclusion front and center

Keep clear sight of diversity, equity, and inclusion. “The task will be for leaders to be thoughtful and intentional with respect to inclusion.” Awareness is foundation, followed by facilitation and all that entails. “Creating this awareness and offering trainings for managers and leaders on inclusive leadership can help set up the shift to asynchronous work for greater success.”

Just ask

Forbes recommends going straight to the source to get started. “Instead of the 9-to-5, it would make more sense for companies to ask their employees what type of schedules would work best for them. Some may select to start the day later and stay a few hours. Others could request coming in early and leaving a little around 3 p.m. or 4 p.m.” Survey and accommodate as best possible.

Benefits and Timetable

Both employees and employers gain from cracking the 9-to-5 mold. It’s a win-win.

On the employee side of the equation, knitpeople.com contends workers increase efficiency by doing their jobs at the best times for them; consequently, that triggers higher quality output. They focus better on their tasks with less distraction and manage time more effectively, which enhances engagement with their work. In all, they derive greater work-life balance and health and wellness.

For employers, the change aligns with the wants and needs of workers, especially younger ones. PwC’s Next Gen: A global generational study found that 64% of millennial employees “would like to shift their work hours.” Why? It keeps employees satisfied, which lowers turnover. In addition, it enhances productivity and reduces overhead costs. One more? Flexjobs.com notes that “work flexibility appeals to highly educated and experienced workers;” it thus attracts high-caliber employees.

When will the movement away from 9 to 5 occur in a meaningful way? The Forbes post advocates the time to change is “now.” That is seconded by “Why you should be working asynchronously in 2022.” Others put the timetable further out in the future. Although Forbes asserts “it’s only inertia holding us back from changing the 9-to-5, five days a week program. It’s time to consider other options.” Some companies may act accordingly, others not. But regardless: “The change in 9-to-5 will eventually happen, one way or another.”

That may occur via natural progression. “The future of jobs won’t be about 9-to-5 office hours, as power shifts to millennial leaders” suggests it’s just a matter of time until we say goodbye to Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” elegy. “As younger generations take management reins, remote work and flexible work models will just be the norm.” So set your sights to see this inflection point “within the next 10 to 15 years.”

 

About the author. 
You name it, she covers it. That’s the can-do attitude Sherry M. Adler brings to the craft of writing. A polished marketing and communications professional, she has a passion for learning and the world at large. She uses it plus the power of words to inform and energize stakeholders of all kinds. And to show how all of this can make a difference, she calls her business WriteResults NY, LLC.