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The Rise of Nonlinear Workdays by The Robert Half Blog

With the onset of the pandemic, many companies and employees embraced flexible work, including remote and hybrid arrangements. Not long after we became less rigid about where we work, it made sense to reimagine when we work. Hence the rise of the nonlinear workday — even in a post-pandemic environment.

The central tenet of the flexible work concept is that it allows employees to craft schedules around their personal lives rather than vice versa. Here’s a rundown of what the nonlinear workday is, the benefits it can bring and how to implement it at your organization.

What is a nonlinear workday?

Also known as windowed work, nonlinear working breaks the day into discrete blocks of time for different activities. Rather than putting in a continuous shift from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., employees complete tasks in flexible, focused bursts throughout the day — or even into the evening and night. Since where we carry out our job responsibilities is also part of flexible work, some of these hours could be in the office and some at home.

What does this look like in practice? Imagine an employee whose workday begins at home, clearing their inbox and advancing several projects from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. The next three hours are personal and family time — things like walking the dog, going to the gym or taking the kids to school. The employee is then in the office from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., attending in-person meetings and collaborating with colleagues. The rest of the afternoon is more personal time before logging back on after dinner for a productive sprint to the finish line.

That’s just one example. Each day could be different depending on business commitments and personal circumstances.

What does this mean for managers? Once you stop thinking about work in terms of time spent, you can focus instead on productivity and quality of output, setting goals and tasks for your team but not telling them how to get there.

What are the advantages of nonlinear workdays?

With good planning and leadership, nonlinear workdays benefit both employees and workers. They can:

Boost productivity

For many employees, there’s a daily window of two or three hours when they’re most productive and do their best work. And it’s not always just during conventional working hours. Early birds may favor tackling tasks before everyone else is up, while night owls might be at their best when the early risers are in bed. Allowing employees to schedule these deep work periods means they can forge ahead on core projects without interruption while finding time for in-person or virtual collaboration as needed.

Facilitate asynchronous work

With millions of professionals now working remotely and sometimes across different time zones, projects often need to be advanced asynchronously, or without real-time communication. If you’re sleepless in Seattle, you can leave comments on a Google Doc for a colleague who’s mid-REM in Florida. Nonlinear workdays allow team members to coordinate their schedules to work out the most efficient way to advance a project by tag-teaming on shared work.

Promote a better work-life balance

Employees can manage their time according to their natural rhythms, concentrating on work tasks when they’re at their sharpest while taking essential downtime when necessary. For some, this flexibility could mean taking advantage of a cool, sunny day to go for a run, while others may choose to spend time with loved ones — all reducing stress and contributing to an increased sense of well-being through work-life balance.

4 tips for implementing a nonlinear workday culture

Nonlinear workdays are about autonomy and flexibility, but you must set some ground rules to make them work for everyone. Here are some simple ways to help your organization successfully adopt nonlinear workdays.

1. Agree on hours

It may well be that some overlap in working hours is needed for effective teamwork, so team members must agree to be online and available for meetings or plan their personal pursuits only at times they are not invited to meetings and group discussions. They should also commit to checking for requests from colleagues immediately upon returning to work so others don’t have to wait an unreasonable time to get a response critical to a project they’re working on.

2. Lead by example

Integrating nonlinear workdays into your company culture requires a shift in expectations and norms. These new shared values where personal and work priorities are equally important must be championed from the top. Model nonlinear workdays and other forms of flexible work in your own schedule and, if you are a senior leader, encourage other managers to do so as well.

3. Promote a nonjudgmental, results-focused culture

Peer approval matters, and employees may be wary of embracing nonlinear workdays for fear of losing the respect of coworkers. Some people may indeed raise an eyebrow when they hear a colleague has gone skiing for the afternoon. But it’s performance and results that count in a flexible work culture, not the number of daytime hours spent in the office. Reinforce this new mindset by praising employees who beat their targets.

4. Remember that ‘always on’ doesn’t mean ‘always available’

Technology makes it possible for employees to be constantly reachable, but often at a cost to productivity and work-life balance — the very things you want to shore up. Respect your employees’ nonwork time, and don’t expect them to answer calls or emails during these windows.

Employees have shown that they can work remotely or on a hybrid basis without any drop in productivity or work quality. The same is true for top-performing professionals who want more control over their hours. By embracing a nonlinear workday culture, you can create a healthier and more efficient work environment — and that’s something everyone on the team will value and appreciate.

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