In this opinion piece, Outfit founder and CEO Bruce Stronge explains how COVID has killed the 9-5 model – and why that’s a good thing.
At the end of April, we were supposed to move into a new office. Covid-19 has delayed that date. But it’s our experience in lockdown which has caused us to reimagine how our office will be used. And more importantly, focus on how we help our people to be happy and productive.
Time to reset
Not since the mid-1800’s when labour unions introduced 9-5 hours, has the potential for change at such scale been afforded. Ironically the 9-5 came in to protect workers’ rights, but now it feels like it has us chained to our desks, often unnecessarily.
Lockdown has provided the world’s teams, a collective ‘reset button’ and a chance to trial something different without risk. For us this has meant looking at autonomy. This time has reinforced what we already knew, we can absolutely trust our employees to be effective in a remote capacity.
I believe there are still benefits to collaborating face-to-face; as most creatives will tell you, some of the best ideas and solutions, come when your mind is not distracted by everyday tasks. So it’s time for the industry to ask what’s the best environment for your team, and for us I think it’s an adaptable one.
Freedom from barriers
The needs of each department will vary, sure, but the rigidity of 9-5 no longer works and it’s time to embrace a model which is less restrictive. Those working in Australian cities spend 66 minutes a day commuting. At Outfit we collectively spent 200+ hours of commuting a week. Time which could be better spent with family or on something productive. So we’re giving it back.
Look deeper into that same Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey and you’ll find, people are more satisfied in their roles when they have more time to spend outside of work. So this change isn’t just around commuting.
Not everyone operates the same, some are more productive first thing, while others would prefer to spend time on hobbies, before getting into ‘work mode’ or flow state (which can ultimately lead to happiness). And as Cal Newport, best selling author of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World notes: “three to four hours of continuous, undisturbed deep work each day is all it takes to see a transformational change in our productivity and our lives”. Let’s provide the environment for people to decide how they can achieve their best.
Before Covid-19, staff could take work from home (WFH) days, but the expectation was that this benefit ought not to be abused. Which is a concept which needs reversing. We don’t need to always be in the office, just like we don’t always need to be in every meeting, so it’s time to streamline. For us this will mean each department has one day a week/fortnight in the office as a group, but beyond that, employees will be in charge of how they operate.
It’s not just good for employees, as LRN research suggests that those companies with ‘high levels of freedom’ are likely to outperform companies with low levels by 10-20 times. Handing over the reigns of knowing what works best for individuals is good for the company and our people. So we’re moving the team to focus on outcomes, rather than ‘hours in the office’.
Some people prefer having social interactions with the team, I know our sales team does. So it’s time to offer whatever makes sense for the individual and the team. And a behaviour change like this starts at the top, so I’d love to see more CEO’s only be in the office when needed, I know my family has valued the extra time I’ve had at home recently.
Studies have found that productivity in an office environment can be reduced to four components: comfort, interaction, office layout and distraction. It laid the foundation for our office redesign, creating somewhere people want to go, not somewhere they have to go.
Comfort – The new HQ will aim to provide the luxuries of home, in an office setting. Just like in a country club, our members will have lockers so no one is having to lug around equipment. Every desk will be set up to handle the requirements of the highest common denominator, so wherever you are situated in the office and whatever your role it is as simple as sitting down and plugging in.
Interaction – We’ve introduced bi-weekly (twice) team workouts for more group interactions. I’m fortunate to count Haydn Masters as a friend. The former head of physical performance for the Wallabies has been putting our team through their paces. This probably wouldn’t have happened without the catalyst of COVID, to be honest. Exercise improves cognitive functionality, energy levels and even productivity, so again no excuses for us not to include it. But again people have the freedom to join or sit out, if they’d prefer.
Office layout – The changes to focus on empowering bodies and minds, is taking a physical manifestation through recreating one of our boardrooms for a recreational space for morning yoga/evening pilates. Break out rooms will offer distraction and allow staff to get some mid-day relief from their screens.
Distraction – Along with the exercise sessions, we’ve introduced a manual brew coffee club as well as a well-attended dungeons and dragons group. It’s about acknowledging that rather than a life/work balance the two are intertwined and we need to do everything we can to help make the work component a more fulfilling experience.
Our departments vary in personality types and we need to be more accommodating in our surroundings. It’s not about making people more resilient either, we need to change our approach to work.
Designing for outcomes at scale
The impact of this crisis has been immense. And without wanting to forget the tragedy which has impacted other countries, it’s fair to say more than ours, this is an opportunity for employers too. A chance to completely reevaluate how you operate as a business and how you create an environment which people want to work in. It’s not been simple and I don’t expect all of our changes will work for others, but I believe it will have an immeasurable benefit for our people and company alike. I’d love to hear what others have done in their business.
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