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Iman Ben Chaibah, founder of Sail Publishing, a digital publishing house for online magazines and ebooks, and editor in chief of the Emirati Sail Magazine, an online magazine about community and culture written in English by Emirati columnists. Iman is a multi award winner in digital publishing, entrepreneurship, and literature. Iman has also completed the Leadership Strategies in Magazine Media Course in Yale University. Besides her work in publishing, she also lectures in Canadian University in Dubai.
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By Iman Ben Chaibah
Where did the notion of fixed working hours start, was it always in this form or did it evolve over time? What do people really feel about it? Is it time to take it to the next evolving stage? Are there alternatives? All this was sparked by a facebook status outburst that said: “I am telling you, the notion of fixed office hours was derived from slavery!”
Fixed working hours
To be employed with fixed working hours implies working a fixed number of hours at an imposed time, on fixed number of days of the week. The current international legalized average working hours are 35-45 hours weekly. The start time and end time differs from an organization to another.
Origins and development
In the pre-industrial time, the period prior to the 18th century, workers worked from dawn to dusk on hunting and farming. This is equivalent to 16 hours summer daytime, and 8 hours winter daytime. However, this included intermittent breaks along with seasonal & occasional holidays.
Then came the industrial revolution between the 18th and 19th centuries. In this phase, working conditions revolved around factories and machines. Working hours became a continuous 12-16 hours per day with scheduled breaks; an average of 80 hours per week.
This started to change towards the end of 19th century, World War I, and the start of information and technology age. Jobs have evolved to different kind of responsibilities. Working hours were reduced almost to the half thanks to the formed unions and constant renewal of legislations. So now, the legalized working hours are between 35 to 45 weekly hours, with 2 to 5 weeks of annual holiday. This allowed the workers to have leisure time and still rest for the day, which enabled them to be more productive at their work.
People’s impressions and feedback
I did a simple survey on facebook and twitter to ask respondents if they were with or against fixed working hours and why. The respondents included self-employed, employed with fixed hours, and employed with flexible hours. 16 out of the 20 respondents were against fixed working hours, the reasons varied as follows.
Fixed working hours do not define the productivity of an employee. People are different, and to have the same working conditions for all employees does not suit their differences. One of the differences may be in productivity. From one side, people differ in the time they require to finish certain tasks, so to have fixed duration for all leaves faster workers idle for a while. From the other side, people differ in their biological productive hours, some may be morning producers while some may be night producers, and some have different hours across the day. Having fixed hours for all types of people does not leverage on their productive hours.
Flexible hours motivate the employees, reduce the pressure in certain times, improve morale, and increase productivity.
Nevertheless, it was agreed among most of the respondents that performance should be monitored closely, so that fixed working hours are reverted if they did not prove successful. Though flexible working hours suits freelancers and project/task based jobs, fixed working hours were sought to be preferable for customer facing and support role jobs.
Below is couple of suggested alternatives for the fixed working hours approach.
In this approach, an employee gets to choose the hour in which he prefers to start his 8 working hours, on the condition that he completes those hours in any given working day. Some companies choose to define a starting working hour, with flexibility to the employees to start before or after that time with up to 2 hours.
Virtual offices are combination of remote working and physical offices. In this approach, employees are enabled to work remotely, access all required documents, and use audio and video conferencing. Virtual offices still ensures physical offices, but not for all the organization, rather for receptionists, limited spaces for meetings and temporary offices and workspaces. This approach saves a large amount of operational costs to the organization, and also enables the organization to recruit oversees talents. However, with such an approach, the management style has to change in terms of performance measurement and monitoring to ensure efficient productivity.
These are only some of the possible alternatives. One approach alone may not be applicable for all industries and jobs. Hence, combined approaches may be the ideal way to ensure customers’ and clients’ convenience, and the productivity of the employees.