Workin’ 9 to 5 (by the end of this post Dolly Parton’s song will be stuck in your head) is a really interesting topic when you start digging into its origins. Also referred to as the 8-hour day, or a 40-hour week, Wikipedia indicates it was first started during the Industrial Revolution in Britain by James Deb (thanks James)...
Really though, James Deb should be thanked. For the time period, the idea of an 8-hour day was a revolution in and of itself. Child labor laws were nearly non-existent. Laborers were paid by the day. Shifts were often 10-16 hours long, and the normal work week was six days on, one day off. By today’s standards that would be absurd!
Although the idea of an 8-hour work day gained acceptance around the world at various times and via various (often political) means, the United States saw widespread adoption right around the turn of the 20th century, and prior to the turn of the century, many organizations and industries had implemented the 8 hour work day as the gold standard. In 1914, Henry Ford took it one step further and by not only dropping from 9 hours a day to 8, but also doubled employees wages at the same time, collectively rocking the automotive industry. After seeing significant productivity and profit increases, most of Ford’s competitors followed suit.
Since then, for the last 80 years or so the United States has seen a 40 hour work week beaten into the heads of the workforce across nearly every industry you can think of.
But I digress. This isn’t meant to be a history of labor laws.
The Internet Age
With the advent of personal computers and more so, the Internet, I believe the days of an 8-hour work day are numbered. At least in technology-related fields.
As I was cutting my teeth in the technology field in the late 90’s and 00’s, many of my coworkers and I worked crazy hours, where it wasn't uncommon to maintain the typical 9-5 at the office before heading home and working well into the night. The idea of an “all nighter” was certainly not a regular occurrence, but was almost looked upon as a rite of passage for a young developer.
The reason any of this was even possible was because the tools we used to do our jobs were in our backpacks - our laptops. With an internet connection, we could be up and running in minutes, and especially with the rapid adoption of phones, it's easier than ever to stay connected and communicate via email, Slack, social media, etc, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Face it. We’re closer to our work than we’ve ever been in history (we’ll be leaving the topic of work life balance for a future post).
How We Did It Before
As I said before, based on my own experience, I truly believe the days of an 8-hour work day are numbered. It wasn’t until I was nearly 15 years into the industry that I realized while I may be putting crazy hours into my job, it didn't fit into a neat little box from 9am to 5pm.
I’d start the day around 7am and tumble outta bed and stumble to the kitchen and rush to the office so I wasn’t “late”. After I’d pour myself a cup of ambition and mosey on over to my desk, I’d scroll through Google Reader (R.I.P.) articles for an hour before finally digging into some work around 10:30 or so.
It wouldn’t be too long before I’d get a ping from a coworker for lunch, and off we’d go to get some grub, interrupting the current task I was working on.
We'd get back around 1pm, which was when I’d generally be at peak productivity...except of course, when those damn early bird coworkers would schedule a meeting. A long meeting meant it wasn’t until around 2 or 3pm where I could truly start focusing on work again, rounding out the typical 8-hour day around 5pm.
At that point in my career I had small children, so when I’d get home evenings were tough because I needed to focus on family until around 8pm. Then I could start working again, and boy, was I productive during this time. I was mentally prepared, had very few distractions and could sit there and churn for hours on end troubleshooting a problem. It wasn’t uncommon for me to have to tell myself to go to bed, but over the years I’ve found 1am - 2am is my ideal cut off.
That’s me. I’d be “working” for roughly 12 hours, but really, only 8 or 9 hours of actual work was getting done. As I alluded to, other people work in ways that are completely opposite to this, and everywhere in between. Some are up at 5am. Productive at 7am. Burnt out and surfing the web around 4pm or so. In bed by 9pm. Ultimately, the biggest takeaway for me was to take note that no one person operates in the same manner, and we should be encouraging people to work in a manner that allows them to be the most productive and happy.
How We Do It Now
Because of this, at We Write Code we don’t set office hour requirements. It’s clear in our handbook that what time you come in and what time you leave the office isn’t critical. We encourage our team members to do what’s best for him or herself personally and for their overall productivity. Are there scenarios where someone needs to come in earlier or stay later than they normally would? Certainly. There is an overarching expectation for everyone at We Write Code that expectations need to be set, and ultimately met with our clients and coworkers alike.
The goal of this approach is to help keep everyone on our team happy and productive. It also helps to instill trust in each other. We can count on each other to be available when needed, and we have a good understanding of who's responsible for what and when things need to be done.
This approach also relates to our vacation policy, which is incredibly simple: take as much time off as you want, when you want as long as you set good expectations both internally and externally. Our only rule of thumb: If you plan to take time off, let your team know ahead of time by at least a multiple of two. Taking a day off for some errands? Let everyone know two days prior. Taking a week off to visit family? Give your team a couple weeks notice. Want to take an RV trip across the Western United States for a month? Pack your laptop and let everyone know a couple months in advance (and take us with you!). With this system, not only are our employees happier and not feeling the pressure in counting their off days, but it also allows us to not require the overhead of a manager to keep track of everyone’s office hours or time off.
Does this set us up for abuse? Fortunately, yes it does.
We say fortunately because when you’re setting expectations with your coworkers and clients, abuse of an open policy like this is usually pretty easy to identify. If expectations aren’t being met by an individual on a regular basis, it becomes obvious to everyone, including the abuser, that things aren’t working out. In the end, if a team member is abusing our policies, they probably aren’t the right fit for our company.
So that’s our take on workin' 9 to 5, what a way to make a livin', barely gettin' by, it's all takin' and no givin'.
In all seriousness, it works for us. As comfortable as our structure is, we’re very curious to see how it scales. We’re just shy of 10 team members now and it works. Will it work when we’re at 25 people? How about 50? 75?? Only time will tell, and we’ll be happy to talk about it.
Finally, you should click this link. Do it.