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Why the new productivity model is no longer about watching the clock

A habit of constantly monitoring work hours is feeling more and more out of place amid a changing work environment.

Why the new productivity model is no longer about watching the clock
[Source images: polygraphus/Getty Images; Ocean Ng/Unsplash]

“I’m logging about 70 hours per week,” my newly-formed acquaintance, Craig, proudly confessed upon meeting at a business conference. He wore a smart suit and had an intense, confident quality about him I wanted to replicate. This was years ago, when I was still in the midst of building my startup.

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While I was impressed by his dedication, his words also unnerved me. On the one hand, I still equated clocking in more hours with productivity—but on the other hand, I felt downhearted thinking if this was what my life would become now? One without balance: little time for family, for downtime, for pursuing other passions. I thought to myself: Is working this hard really the only way to succeed?

Fast-forward to 2022 and going into year three of a worldwide pandemic, we see a new trend emerge: the clamor for a shorter workweek.

In their story for BBC, authors Bryan Lufkin and Jessica Mudditt write that “more than ever, workers want to work fewer hours, saying they can be just as effective in less time—and happier, too.”

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This is what I’ve discovered in the past 15 years of building my business: they are right. More balance leads to greater efficiency and a culture focused on wellbeing is what leads to successful outcomes.

Measure productivity not hours

Companies around the world are adopting different models that advocate for less working hours with emphasis on the 32-hour week.  This year, companies like New York-based crowdfunding platform Kickstarter are piloting a 32-hour workweek. Relatedly, Uncharted, a “social impact accelerator” is taking a similar approach in testing out this same kind of model.

What the above companies have in common is a shared vision: moving away from traditional ways of working and creating a happier and healthier environment. But this doesn’t necessarily mean a four-day model will work for every business. For example at my company, we haven’t established shorter days. But we do have a policy of flexible hours.

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This means we measure productivity over hours clocked. To me, this what that looks like: Being super productive for five hours on a Tuesday morning and then calling it quits at noon to take my kids out for ice cream or to our local park.

Of course, this isn’t every single day. There are times when deeper-focused work may be necessary and I’ll spend 14 hours at the office.  You have to see which model works best for you. It’s my belief that shorter workweeks should be done when feasible, but more importantly, we should focus on productivity and stop measuring hours.

Scrap hard deadlines

I’ve long considered deadlines as a way of undermining team efficiency, creativity, and morale. Instead, I advocate for granting people more autonomy. It decreases pressure and helps them produce their top work.

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Hard deadlines—or extreme time pressure—can be detrimental to one’s mental health, especially when you’re sacrificing other important aspects of your life in the name of finishing a project on time.

Moreover, deadline anxiety can also lead to sloppy work and mediocre results. These days, my company can over 200 employees. And since launching in 2006, I’ve never  asked how much time a team member has spent at the office. I care more about results and what they bring to the table.

Emphasize your team’s goals and progress

Just because we scrap hard deadlines doesn’t mean we institute a hands-off approach either. We make sure to establish systems to ensure employees can maximize their productivity, by having them coordinate with team members and emphasizing clear, internal communication among your team.

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At my organization, a flexible work environment means setting measurable goals to keep our teams on task. We also employ regular check-ins to help everyone stay on track—giving people the freedom to work at their peak hours when they’re at their most creative.

To give you an example: all our teams have designated leads, and twice a month, each team member sits down with their lead to discuss any issues. Then, depending on the project, I’ll sit down with team leads on a weekly or monthly basis to go over their goals and oversee the team’s progress.

Ban “clock watching” from your company culture

While this pandemic has forced us to imagine new ways of working, one thing has remained the same: a fixation with “busyness.” As Fast Company contributors Jacqueline Carter and Rasmus Hougaard explain: a constant state of busyness isn’t just mentally distressing, it also takes a toll on our health.

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In today’s workplace, we often judge each other based on how many hours we clock in at the office. This belief system is NOT the kind of culture I want to foster in my company.

Everyone knows that monitoring and recording hours is a headache.

I’d like to say this: managers and leaders who clock-watch don’t achieve increased productivity. If anything, they give employees the impression that they can’t be trusted. And since they’re trying to meet an arbitrary number of hours, you may even get the opposite result—lower performance and a decrease in quality.

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At the end of the day, whether you opt for a shorter workweek or adopt a more flexible work model as we’ve done, this is what we’ve ultimately come to value  most: engagement, our team’s overall well-being, and focusing on more important measures of success that doesn’t involve grinding people to the bone.


Aytekin Tank is the founder of Jotform, an online form builder.

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