work week

How long is a “work week?” Which days do you work? Who determines that?

If you were asked to work ten hours a day, six days a week, would you consider that excessive? Until a good way through the 20th century, that was the norm. Then we began working Monday to Friday, either 8 to 4 or 9 to 5, depending on the work to be done. Shift work was broken into three 8-hour shifts. Even that isn’t a worldwide standard. In the Middle East, including Israel, the work week is Sunday-Thursday, since Friday and Saturday are days the observant Jews and Muslims set aside for rest and worship. In Europe and the Americas, Sunday is the Sabbath and most businesses shut down on Sunday. Those of us who are old enough remember when it was hard to do anything except get a bite to eat on Sunday because shops were closed and there were “Blue Laws” in place. Now even some bank branches are open Sunday.

Changing norms

As more of us work from home or someplace other than the central office, this norm is changing. Working across time zones means 9-5 in New York is 6-2 in Los Angeles. How many breakfast meetings are the West coasters supposed to attend?  If someone’s brain works better later in the day, should they be at the mercy of early birds?

Some companies are moving to a four-day work week. Still 40 hours, but 10-hour days versus eight. The jury is out on whether that actually makes a difference to productivity or the company’s success.

Working from home made the math a little more interesting. After all, if your work was largely independent, and didn’t require being in the same place at the same time, you could set your own schedule to some degree.

Does it make sense to go back to the old work week?

Now that we’re returning to the office, does it make sense to return to the norm set in the last century? Are those working at home or elsewhere expected to adhere to the same time schedule as those commuting to Headquarters?

As hybrid work becomes more of a default (either by choice or necessity), the idea of time becomes more critical. If people aren’t in the same place, does it matter that some people work in the evening while others do their best work before the sun’s up?

If most of the work is done in meetings, then synchronous work is non-negotiable. Everyone regardless of location needs to be on the clock and available. The complaints about the number and length of web meetings does raise an important issue about how many meetings we need and if there are alternatives.

What’s the actual job?

Another big part of the “hours” conversation is around exactly what people are being paid to do. In the old days of “punching the clock,” productivity and pay were measured literally by how many hours someone was at work—when they clocked in and when they left. Every leader knows that was an arbitrary measurement. Some people got a lot of work done in that time, some barely did anything at all, but their presence was the metric that determined success.

Some people are more productive than others. If someone gets their share of the work done in six hours, does it make sense for them to put in a full eight in order to get paid the same amount as someone who takes longer to do the same tasks?

We are at a place in history when how companies measure, compensate and value time will be a factor in their success. Recruiting, retaining and getting the most from people will to some degree depend on how and if work gets done as much as when or where it happens. Salaries will increasingly be tied to productivity rather than merely showing up and leaving at scheduled times.

It’s not going to be easy. It will be messy, and a lot of organizations will no doubt make costly mistakes in the process. But re-thinking time and what it means to “go to work,” will be one of the biggest challenges for leaders and companies for the rest of this decade.


Wayne Turmel--The Remote Leadership Institute

Wayne Turmel
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager

Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in

Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership. Wayne and Kevin’s follow-up book, The Long-Distance Teammateoffers a roadmap for success not just for leaders, but for everyone making the transition to working remotely.

The latest book from Wayne and Kevin shows leaders how to design a team culture that has a one-team mindset and gets great results under hybrid-work conditions. You can pre-order The Long-Distance Team: Designing Your Team for Everyone’s Success now.

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