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‘9-5’ no more: the rise of 24hr workplaces

01:11pm January 29 2020

Flexible working arrangements have increased in the past few decades, experts say. (Getty)

Sharon Wee is a night owl. 

And she leverages it, preferring to start her working day at 6pm and regularly knocking off after 1am.

“Working at night is better for me because there's less distractions and I concentrate better. There’s just too much going on during the day,” says the Sydney-based head of marketing at Pawshake, a platform that connects pet owners with 16,000 pet sitters in Australia, Canada, Europe and Asia. 

Wee joined the company’s global team 18 months ago and says she is grateful for the freedom to choose her work hours. Pawshake’s employees have no fixed workdays, nor a fixed number of hours. Their performance is instead based around outcomes. The company also offers unlimited annual leave and “peternity leave” – time off to settle in a new pet at home.

“I’ve worked in corporate environments and I didn't enjoy having set times to show up and go home. This kind of freedom is so valuable, which is why I put in 110 per cent,” she says.

Troy Roderick, a flexible work expert at the University of Sydney, says the first signs of flexible working in Australia appeared in the 1990s and were driven by working mothers, who sought things like part-time work and job sharing. The legal right to request flexible working arrangements was enshrined into law in the Fair Work Act in 2009. 

“It wasn’t until recently that organisations began taking a more proactive approach by creating a culture that respects flexible contributions to work. That's a much more important step than just telling people they have the right to ask for something,” Roderick says. 

Sharon Wee says she often prefers to work at night. (Provided)

Roderick says that the “nine-to-five” workday was invented during the industrial revolution, when employees needed to be present when machines were operating. According to his research, the benefits of jettisoning it include increased employee engagement and retention, productivity improvements and related commercial savings, plus accessing a new talent pool of employees. There are also the broader societal benefits of reducing pressure on roads and public transport.

But creating what Roderick describes as a “personalised employment experience” requires providing 24/7 access to office buildings. 

And it’s on the rise. 

In May and July, Singapore-based agile workspace provider JustCo opened its first premises in Sydney and Melbourne respectively, followed by two more in August (a fifth is slated for 2020), partly due to solid demand for round-the-clock workspaces.

“Through technology and globalisation, we’re finding businesses need more flexibility beyond the traditional nine to five schedule, resulting in corporations seeking flexible working arrangements to meet the needs of an evolving employee culture,” says vice-president and head of JustCo Australia, Sheree McIntyre.

As a working parent, Angela Carrick has been working outside a nine-to-five schedule for over a decade. As the founder of Sydney-based property management business Air Design, she encourages her team of relationship managers and cleaners to work around their families and hobbies, and it is not uncommon for them to work in the early hours of the morning. 

Angela Carrick says she encourages her team to work flexible hours. (Provided)

“There's a level of trust involved in running a business this way. But I think when people have that flexibility they respect it and don’t take advantage of it,” she says.

Roderick welcomes the fact that more organisations are trialling a work day that exists beyond the usual nine-to-five. Microsoft recently experimented with a four-day workweek, reportedly seeing a 40 per cent rise in productivity. 

But according to time management expert Laura Vanderkam, an inevitable downside is less time for career development opportunities such as industry networking. She instead suggests more flexible working hours. 

It is important to ensure that flexible hours don’t become all-hours, says Roderick.

“The challenge for leaders is to ensure that flexibility doesn’t mean that the workday or workweek becomes completely boundaryless, such that people are working the whole time,” he says.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Westpac Group.

Jessica Mudditt is the author of Our Home in Myanmar. She is based in Sydney and as a freelance journalist, she has an interest in workplace issues and technology.

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