HSM Spotlight: How can flexibility in time change the nature the office?

Work has changed dramatically since the pandemic. This is not particularly insightful commentary; the shift to hybrid work remains top on people’s agendas as we continue to embed lessons learned into our (hopefully) long term ways of working.

An area that particularly fascinates me is how we navigate time, rather than place. The office is a core builder of social capital – it helps us share in key moments that matter, develop friendships, and share knowledge, and different organisations are working out what “their deal” looks like in relation to place-flexibility.

Time, however, is a little more unknown to us. We know that people are working longer hours, and some are struggling to manage boundaries between ‘home’ and ‘work’ modes as it is so much easier to ‘just quickly check’ our emails, calendars, or team WhatsApp groups. I write this at 8:57 PM, having opted for a longer working day this week so that I can benefit from a cheaper commute home, uninterrupted focus time, and an earlier finish later in the week.

Time changes the nature of our office spaces – I find that commuting in off peak and leaving later gives me a view into the transformation of the space; from a cultural ‘hub’ of activity, where I can get in those ‘quick asks’ and chat to colleagues, to a place of complete concentration.

However, it’s particularly challenging to ensure that people are “experimenting with different working hours” because that’s what they’re actually doing, or whether they are doing so by necessity and are at risk of burnout from overwork.

Some people naturally become more focussed during the evening. It is thought that humans developed different circadian rhythms so that different people could keep watch for potential threats while others slept. People whose natural waking cycles align with the productivity expectations of the 9-5 are particularly fortunate, but some of us find ourselves more productive in the evenings.

With different people’s productivity needs in mind, it’s essential to communicate our use of time and place to benefit from sustainable high performance:

Develop psychological safety. At HSM advisory, we have a culture of high psychological safety – being clear on boundaries and managing each other’s expectations through honest conversations.

Avoid ‘time confetti’. ‘Time confetti’ refers to the little bits of free time we spend to do work tasks, that adds up and acts as a cumulative detriment to our wellbeing. Being intentional about setting boundaries between work and home is key to ensuring we can experiment with time without overworking.

Co-ordinate with your team. Whilst a late start and evening finish may boost our ability to use the office for focus time, or to avoid disruptions, we also need to work with our team members to ensure we are on hand for any key deliverables.

Overall, experimenting with time and place is about managing trade-offs, and a willingness to experiment. If you’re experimenting with flexibility of time in your organisation, it would be great to hear your perspective. You can contact me on LinkedIn or via email here.