“I work about 70 hours a week,” proudly confessed my new acquaintance, Craig, at a business conference. He wore a smart suit and had an intense, confident quality about him that I wanted to replicate. That was years ago, when I was still building my startup.
Although I was impressed by his dedication, his words also baffled me. On the one hand, I always equate more hours with productivity, but on the other hand, I felt discouraged thinking if this was what my life was going to become now? One without balance: little time for family, for downtime, to pursue other passions. I said to myself: Is working that hard really the only way to success?
Fast forward to 2022 and on the cusp of the third year of a global pandemic, we see a new trend emerging: the demand for a shorter workweek.
In their story for the BBC, Authors Bryan Lufkin and Jessica Mudditt write that “more than ever, workers want to work fewer hours, saying they can be just as efficient in less time and happier too.”
Here’s what I’ve discovered over the past 15 years of building my business: they are right. More balance leads to greater efficiency, and a wellness-focused culture is what leads to positive results.
Measure productivity, not hours
Companies around the world are adopting different models that advocate a reduction in working time with an emphasis on the 32-hour week. This year, companies like New York-based crowdfunding platform Kickstarter are piloting a 32-hour workweek. Along the same lines, Uncharted, a “social impact accelerator”, takes a similar approach to testing this same type of model.
What the companies above have in common is a common vision: to move away from traditional ways of working and create a happier and healthier environment. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that a four-day model will work for all businesses. For example, in my company, we have not established shorter days. But we have a flexible hours policy.
This means that we measure productivity in timed hours. For me, this is what it looks like: being super productive for five hours on a Tuesday morning, then stopping at noon to take my kids out for ice cream or to the local park.
Of course, it’s not every day. There are times when more in-depth work may be needed and I spend 14 hours in the office. See which model suits you best. I believe shorter work weeks should be done when possible, but more importantly we should focus on productivity and stop measuring hours.
Let go of difficult deadlines
I’ve long viewed deadlines as a way to undermine team efficiency, creativity, and morale. Instead, I advocate for giving people more autonomy. This takes the pressure off and helps them produce their best work.
Tight deadlines or extreme time constraints can be detrimental to mental health, especially when you sacrifice other important aspects of your life in the name of completing a project on time.
Additionally, deadline anxiety can also lead to sloppy work and poor results. These days, my company can have more than 200 employees. And since its launch in 2006, I’ve never asked how long a team member has been in the office. I care more about results and what they bring to the table.
Focus on your team’s goals and progress
Just because we’re removing tight deadlines doesn’t mean we’re instituting a hands-off approach. We make sure to establish systems to ensure employees can maximize their productivity, having them coordinate with team members and emphasizing clear internal communication within your team.
In my organization, a flexible work environment means setting measurable goals to keep our teams on task. We also do regular check-ins to help everyone stay on track, giving people the freedom to work during their peak hours when they’re most creative.
To give you an example: all of our teams have designated managers, and twice a month each team member sits down with their manager to discuss any issues. Then, depending on the project, I sit down with the team leaders on a weekly or monthly basis to review their goals and oversee the team’s progress.
Banish “watching the clock” from your corporate culture
While this pandemic has forced us to imagine new ways of working, one thing has remained the same: a fixation on “business”. As fast company contributors Jacqueline Carter and Rasmus Hougaard explain: a constant state of activity is not only mentally taxing, it also has an impact on our health.
In today’s workplace, we often judge each other based on the number of hours we spend in the office. This belief system is NOT the kind of culture I want to foster in my business.
Everyone knows that monitoring and recording hours is a headache.
I would like to say this: Managers and leaders who watch on time do not achieve increased productivity. On the contrary, they make employees feel like they cannot be trusted. And since they try to stick to an arbitrary number of hours, you may even get the opposite result: lower performance and diminished quality.
In the end, whether you go for a shorter work week or embrace a more flexible work model like we did, that’s what we ended up appreciating the most: the engagement, the good -being general about our team and focusing on bigger measures of success that don’t involve grinding people to the bone.
Aytekin Tank is the founder of Contact forman online form builder.