Three-minute explainer on… chronoworking

Hybrid working has brought a new level of flexibility to where we work. Now a new trend, chronoworking, promises to break through the rigidity of the traditional nine to five

Tme Chronoworking

Do your most productive hours come as the sun starts to set or do you suffer from a post-lunch slump? Our circadian rhythms operate on different schedules but for many office-based staff, work is the one place where we’re all expected to log-in and log-off at the same time.

Thankfully, the new workplace trend of ‘chronoworking’ promises to help those who find they are most productive outside the traditional nine to five by allowing for more flexibility in our working hours.

What is chronoworking?

Chronoworking essentially means allowing people to tailor their hours to what works best for their own body clock. Journalist Ellen Scott first coined the term in her Working on Purpose newsletter. To Scott, re-evaluating when we work is a natural evolution of the discussions around workplace wellbeing and the interaction between work and our mental and physical health.

If people work better in the evening, why are we asking them to be online at 9am?

She predicts that 2024 will be the year when “we’ll be looking more deeply into how our body clocks and natural dips and rises in energy should define our working day”.

This prediction may have legs. According to Adobe’s Future of Time report, there is a clear generational difference in optimum working hours – twice as many gen-Z workers felt they were more productive between the hours of 6pm to 3am, than gen Xers (26% compared to 13%). Meanwhile only 6% of baby boomers enjoyed late-night shifts, with the majority preferring logging on for work before 9am.

Could chronoworking help your business?

Amanda Rajkumar, former executive board member for HR at Adidas, is one of the HR leaders that is becoming increasingly aware of the impact people’s circadian rhythms can have on business output and listed it among HR’s top priorities for the year ahead.

She says: “By trying to fit these people into a normal corporate working day, you won’t be getting the best out of them. If people work better later in the evening, why are we asking them to be present in the office or online at 9am?”

Although some companies have already found ways to work asynchronously – particularly those with staff based in multiple time zones – there is potential for the notion of having everyone working at different times to cause havoc.

Core hours are likely needed to ensure there is at least some crossover between teams for meetings and collaborative work. It would also be hard for those in client-facing roles to dictate their work schedule; it’s unlikely many potential customers would welcome the idea of listening to a 2am proposal, even if the timing did better suit the salesperson’s internal body clock.

However, for companies that are willing to experiment, it could provide a simple way to boost productivity and improve staff’s work/life balance. Successful implementation is reliant on a lot of trust between employer and employee, good communication and clearly defined goals. 

With many working norms already being questioned – whether that be the five-day work week, the importance of the office or the power of the midday nap – it appears only a matter of time before the concept of chronoworking catches on.