How being a lark or night owl could affect your productivity

What is it that makes people more productive in the workplace?  Often, having some sort of control over how and when they carry out their work can make an individual more engaged in what they are doing and how they are doing it.

The norm for our working day is 8 hours, but many large organisations are trialling different approaches.  Toyota in Sweden moved to a 6 hour day over 13 years ago and reports that staff are happier with lower turnover and profits have increased.  They discovered that people found focussing on a specific work task for 8 hours very challenging, and that the demands of people’s private life was encroaching into work hours.

To compensate for the reduction in work hours, staff are not allowed on social media, meetings are kept to a minimum and other distractions are avoided where possible during the day.  This has led to staff motivated to work more intensely, with more time for hobbies, family and relaxation.

Another way of helping your team be more productive is to give them some control over when they work.  I used to work with a web developer who was a night owl.  However, his employer expected him to be at his desk by 9am every day.  Consequently, he spent most of the working day tired, unable to focus and only really became productive as we were all packing up to go home.

He became frustrated that he couldn’t produce the work he knew he was capable of, and his boss was irritated that his output was so low.  Eventually, they parted ways and my friend found a job with a company who were more flexible. 

He didn’t need to be in the office all the time, so it was agreed that he would be available to attend meetings as required, but he could work remotely at a time to suit himself.  Consequently, his productivity and motivation soared, and the company benefitted by having someone who could carry out updates and amendments overnight, thereby avoiding any disruption to the rest of the team.

Do you have people in your team who don’t have to work on site all the time?  Could they also work remotely?  This might solve issues of office overcrowding, parking problems, traffic congestion and resultant air pollution, as well as allowing people the flexibility to work from home or other locations.

A word of warning though, if you are planning to let your team work remotely on a regular basis, you may need to consider carrying out a risk assessment, investigate insurances and agree contributions for their overheads.

Do all your team need to be in the office at the same time?  Obviously, there is a need to ensure telephones and reception areas are manned, but some planned flexi working might suit your team.  I have been working with a small team who needed to provide office cover from 7am to 7pm daily, however, all staff had been employed on a 9 – 5 basis, so phone calls were missed and work not completed adequately.

We reviewed the situation, speaking to all members of the team and asking them to suggest solutions.  It transpired that one member of the team was an early bird and liked the opportunity to start work at 7am and be home by 3.30pm when her children got back from school.  Conversely, another team member hated the early mornings but jumped at the chance to work 11am – 7pm.  The solutions came from the team and the results were immediate with morale lifted and productivity soared.

All these solutions led to increased productivity, higher levels of staff motivation and engagement in their work and raised levels of happiness.

Ultimately though, it is about how management view their teams and how much trust they have.  Managers who insist on staff being present during fixed hours and allow their teams little control over how they work will not get the best out of their teams.  They feel they are being successful if they have a full complement of workers regardless of their productivity.

Managers who have a good level of trust in their teams, allow them some control over how and where they carry out their tasks are generally focussed more on outcomes and thus will motivate their staff to be more productive.

Being present at work does not necessarily mean someone is productive, and being absent does not mean they are not contributing to productivity.

As managers and employers, if we can focus on what it is we want to achieve and be more flexible as to how we achieve it, then we are more likely to be more productive. 

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