Why Covid-19 is the beginning of the end of the 9 to 5 job

29 January 2021 Consultancy.uk 4 min. read

The standard 9 to 5 working day has dominated the labour market for decades, but according to Roger Philby – the founder and chief executive of talent consultancy The Chemistry Group – lessons learned from Covid-19 could see this tradition enter the beginning of its end.

By the time it’s safe to return to the office, it’s likely that many people will have spent a year or more working from home. Despite the challenges, and there have been a lot of challenges, employers and employees have come to understand and maybe even embrace working effectively from home.

Employees have demonstrated impressive resiliency, adapting and learning new skills exceedingly well, The Chemistry Group’s own research findings show nearly 83% of workers stated that they have been able to successfully adapt their routine and 71% have been working effectively.

Roger Philby, CEO, The Chemistry Group

Covid-19: The great disruptor

Whole industries and sectors have been chasing the “holy grail” of disruption for longer than many of us care to remember. We might not all be trying to create Uber for Laundry, or AirBnB but with cars, but we are at the very least looking for ways to accelerate and scale our business transformations; be more agile; wipe away outdated practices; and ultimately create better, adaptive business models that can grow and thrive in the 21st century.

The big conversation we’re having with our clients now is ‘how has our business context changed as a result of Covid-19?”. These are the kinds of questions we are helping businesses answer using our exclusive ‘What Great Looks Like’ methodology.

Overnight (well in the last nine months) our context has changed almost entirely, and as employees continue to successfully adapt and implement extra flexibility we could start to see the current fluidity of the 9 to 5 working day become permanent. New work patterns have burst into the mainstream, a lot of that is going to stick.

In the near future some companies may be letting employees work from home two or more days per week, employees may be choosing their own hours, and some employers may even cut down on working days altogether and move to a four-day work week; what is clear is that this is the beginning of the end of the 9 to 5. This transition could help build more responsive organisations, with roles and structures designed around outcomes to increase agility. The most effective organisations will keep their eye on this prize.

A Gartner organisation design survey found that 55% of organisational redesigns were focused on streamlining roles, supply chains and workflows to increase efficiency. While this approach captures efficiencies, it has no flexibility to respond to disruptions. Here, it’s important to consider the business context – as we say at The Chemistry Group, context is everything – and such an approach is challenging in today’s contingent context.

Our own research also found that over Covid-19 adaptability and resilience have increased in teams with over 80% of workers seeing their teams working effectively and adjusting their social interactions accordingly. This high level of adaptability is particularly encouraging as it points to the existence of useful strategies that help workers adjust to this new work environment. In the shifting sands of 2021, resilient organisations require flexibility to adapt and change course quickly.

Post Covid-19 ways of working

This greater team flexibility will have a variety of knock on effects, many of which will only become clear over time. For instance, employees will be able to more easily take on caregiving responsibilities without having to give up work. Working parents, particularly single parents, who might have otherwise had to leave a role are able to stay in work.

Such flexibility could even work to support more women in leadership positions, with neither women nor men needing to sacrifice the home or their work, we could see more sharing of traditionally gendered roles and women may begin to achieve workplace equality with men.

One clear benefit is that flexible working hours and remote working also present the opportunity for companies to cast their nets wider when hiring. Going forward, hiring for potential, rather than experience, will become increasingly important. Good leaders will be those that seek talent in unconventional ways, particularly when faced with the class of 2020 who have been denied work experience opportunities due to the pandemic.

I’ve observed this same trait in every one of the other great leaders I have profiled; their radar for talent being constant. And, when they do find it, they ensure there are no barriers to entry- including working patterns.

As awareness grows, this is the year for employers and leaders to fine tune their flexible working process. While working 9 to 5 has hitherto been the only way to make a living for most people, as we look forward to post-pandemic life this may cease to be the only, or even the most common, choice.