Never before in human history, modern humans had ever experienced such rapid advancement in technology.
Think about it. In less than a century, human civilization went from relying on horses and mules for transportation to brute force, respectively, to engineering faster automobiles, increasing railways, airplanes, tanks, microwaves, cellphones, remote instant communication and even going to the Moon.
‘What does that have to do with my job?’, you ask yourself as you read this. The answer is everything. Changes in technology bring forth changes in the workforce. As automation kicked in many factories’ manual, skilled, workers felt threatened (and rightfully so, at the time). The Luddite Movement is one of many shining examples.
Skilled handweavers rose their voices in unison to protest about what would happen to their jobs as automated machines began doing their work faster and more efficiently? Of course, their movement didn’t amount to much in the long run, as those jobs ended up being automated, like many others (packaging, for example).
Changes in the workforce aren’t anything new. For example, in the previous centuries working time hours were exceedingly long. Certain studies pointed to a medium of 10 hours (1), but other jobs easily extended up to 14-16 hours, 6 days a week. These were long, grueling days in the factory, working nonstop.
Movements and syndicates began advocating for shorter working hours and more flexibility, and while their movement was largely ignored at the time, companies indeed began implementing these changes. Decades later, retrospective publications indeed demonstrated what empirical evidence pointed at the time: longer, unnecessary working hours created productivity output. (2) (3)
Worldwide, working hours have been reduced, even in the strict work ethic of Japan. In Germany’s case, employees worked 400 hours less than in 2018 and their productivity output is still relatively high (albeit it has decreased). (4) Meanwhile, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published in 2017 their productivity statistics, showing Japan had one of the world’s longest working hours, yet their GDP per hour worked was significantly lower than Germany’s. (5)
In other words, rigid and longer working models don’t equate to higher production levels.
Flexible and more remote working models
The COVID-19 pandemic forced many companies to adopt remote working areas, having their employees work from homely comfort. However, remote working models still adhere to pre-established working hours (i.e. people still have to sit in front of their desks from 9 to 5, attend Zoom meetings, etcetera).
What we described above is called “synchronous work.” Working from home doesn’t necessarily mean you will be more efficient, more productive, and be happier. As a matter of fact, digital transformation has been poorly implemented. As a matter of fact, 83% of Americans suffer from workplace stress despite having no commute times with working from home. (6)
Asynchronous working models advocate for more flexible working hours without a pre-established daily schedule. In other words, workers aren’t obliged to attend meetings where they end up wasting 80% of their time or doing something in a specific set of hours. You can easily do your work as long as you meet deadlines, you can answer a work email or respond to questions in the working task board as you can, allowing more flexibility for the worker.
What does this exactly accomplish? It provides satisfaction to the worker, it gives them ample time to think about their work, to think and analyze ways to do it better and more efficiently, and removes the psychological strain of being forced upon yourself a task for a determined number of hours.
The more satisfied and rewarded a worker feels, the more eager they will be to complete their work and do it in more efficient ways.
Digital transformation was rapidly accelerated in early 2020 due to the imposed epidemiological measures taken to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks. Unfortunately, most of these now- remote-first companies only did it halfway through, pretending things to be the same, except working from their homes and things can’t be like that forever.
Working models have always changed and will continue doing so. 150 years ago, the idea of working only 5 days a week would have been preposterous. 50 years ago, the idea of working from your house and taking your time for it would have been considered asinine. Asynchronous working models represent an alternative, more flexible working model that should be seriously considered by many companies nowadays.
- The Journal of Economic History Vol. 52, No. 1 (Mar., 1992), pp. 129-160 (32 pages).
- Shepard, E. and Clifton, T. (2000), “Are longer hours reducing productivity in manufacturing?”, International Journal of Manpower, Vol. 21 No. 7, pp. 540-553. https://doi.org/10.1108/01437720010378999
- Collewet Marion. (2017). Working hours and productivity. Labour Economics Volume 47, August 2017, Pages 96-106. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.labeco.2017.03.006.
- Productivity comparisons: Lessons from Japan, the United States, and Germany. https://www.brookings.edu/research/productivity-comparisons-lessons-from-japan-the-united-states-and-germany/
- OECD Compendium of Productivity Indicators 2017. https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/economics/oecd-compendium-of-productivity-indicators-2017_pdtvy-2017-en
- Steve Gavleski. Remote Work Should Be (Mostly) Asynchronous. Harvard Business Review.