Work from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., and again after dinner

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For many remote workers, 9 to 5 has become something more fragmented. A typical schedule might be more like 9 to 2, then 7 to 10. Then sometimes another five minutes, wherever you can squeeze them.

When the coronavirus upended the workplace in 2020, leaving an estimated 50 million people working from home in May, the workday as we knew it also underwent drastic changes. The mornings became less hectic. The afternoon became daycare time. Some have added a third shift to their evenings, which Microsoft researchers call the “third peak” of productivity, after the mid-morning and mid-afternoon crunches. With 10% of Americans still working from home and some companies embracing remote work permanently, businesses are scrambling to adapt to a new understanding of work hours.

“What we used to think of as traditional work – very specific place, very specific working methods, very well-defined work parameters – these are changing,” said Javier Hernandez, a researcher at the Microsoft Human Understanding and Empathy Group. “There is a possibility of flexibility. There is also the possibility of making us unhappy.

The more dispersed approach to working hours has created huge benefits for parents, as well as new sources of stress. What is clear is the change: the workday, when charted, has begun to look less like a single mountain to scale, and more like a mountain range.

It used to be that mornings meant cloudy-eyed showers. Makeup to hide bags under the eyes. Rushing for the door, disgruntled children in tow. For remote workers, this hustle and bustle has taken precedence over their commuting.

6:30 a.m. When Jennifer DeVito, 33, hears her alarm go off, she feels momentary panic — a relic from the pre-pandemic era, when she reportedly got up at 4:10 a.m. to take a shuttle from Sacramento to Santa Clara, Calif. , where she works at a technology company. Freed from commuting, like so many Americans who used to spend about 54 minutes on public transit daily, she can now steal more sleep.

“The pressure to use every second is gone,” Ms. DeVito said. “I feel more like myself than I have in a long time.”

7:05 Kristen Hermanson doesn’t want her kids to feel like they’re waking up on the wrong side of the bed, so she tries to brighten up their mornings by rubbing their backs and tickling their feet. Her son, autistic, is fussy at breakfast, but he devours his bacon. She drops her kids off at school at 8:02 a.m., then jogs before her calls start at 9 a.m.

“I sleep almost eight hours a night!” Ms. Hermanson, who works in entertainment in Los Angeles, said. ” This is unheard of. My doctor always told me, ‘You need to sleep more.’ »

7:30 a.m. Michelle Flamer, 65, who works for the Philadelphia city government, sometimes goes to her kitchen after waking up and immediately starts working. Why not? She doesn’t leave the house, so there’s no need to shower yet. Sometimes she thinks, puzzled, about all the chores that were part of her morning, like reading Bible devotions, feeding her pets, and jumping on the train. “It’s amazing what you can accomplish by getting up around 6:30 a.m. and running a little before 9 a.m.,” she laughed.

10am For many working-from-home parents, especially mothers, the mid-morning hours are a time of intense productivity.

“In the morning, I can just get stuff out,” said Laura Bisberg, 37, who works at a college press in New York. “My energy starts to wane after lunch.”

Many remote workers, like Ms. Bisberg, have found that their rhythms of productivity are more idiosyncratic than they ever thought possible. Some people are more lively earlier in the day, fueled by caffeine and ready to dig into spreadsheets; others are practically useless until the sun begins to set.

Working from home means more freedom to pay attention to these patterns, and 80% of remote and hybrid workers say they’re just as or more productive outside of the office than they were in the office, according to Microsoft. . Work Tendency Index.

11:30 a.m. The frenzy of meetings is in full swing. In all companies, the pandemic has been accompanied by a drift in meetings. Microsoft Teams users, for example, saw time spent in meetings increase each week by more than 250 percent since March 2020. The increase could be driven by a genuine desire by employers to keep their co-workers connected, and perhaps also, some workers are speculating, in managers keen to keep an eye about how people spend their time.

“People have gone crazy,” Ms Flamer said. “There may be a day when I have four consecutive hours of meetings.”

For parents, afternoons at the office often meant high-pressure questions: Could you sneak out in time for school pickup? Working from home and looking after the children after lunch reinforced the feeling that the office was not suitable for caring needs. “It’s structured around the expectation that people don’t have families,” said Phyllis Moen, a sociologist at the University of Minnesota. “We’ve seen dogs and children roaming people’s screens. They’re banned again when you go back to work.

2:50 p.m. The best part of being disconnected from managing the school bus, for Ms. Hermanson, is the moment she hears her son shouting, “Mom, you’re there!” She asks questions about her lessons: “What did you learn? Who did you play with?” In the pre-pandemic period, she had to wait until the evening to ask him how he was doing, and the answers were monosyllabic: “Good”.

3:15 p.m. Ms. Bisberg’s first shift is over. Her kids are home from school and she hit her depression after lunch, so she turns her attention to games. Her kids love playing Silly Street, which involves performing a series of wacky tasks — acting like a monkey, giving everyone in the room a high-five — a drastic departure from the type of missions that filled her after- office noon.

“I used to work really hard to compartmentalize,” Ms. Bisberg said. “When I was at work, I didn’t think of the children. The second I was leaving, I was like, ‘OK, I’m going home with my kids.’ I brought no work into my home life and I brought no home into my professional life. Now everything is more mixed.

4:30 p.m. Kathryn Beaumont Murphy, 47, a Philadelphia attorney, now takes on occasional afternoon carpooling duties. Of course, she’s simultaneously going through emails in a parking lot. Her children complain that she spends all her time plugged in at work, but Mrs. Beaumont Murphy is relieved that at least they are physically spending time together.

“The biggest point of tension is my kids saying, ‘You’re still working,'” she said. “While I feel like I’m much more focused on work when I’m in the office.”

For some workers, going home at the end of the day used to mean setting up a work firewall: devices were off, Netflix was on. Now that home is office, work can easily slip through the cracks.

7:30 p.m. Afternoons and evenings merge for Mrs. Flamer. His working day sometimes lasts 13 or 14 hours. She used to get up from her office before 6:30 a.m. to catch the train home. Now, because she’s sitting in her kitchen, there’s no obvious time to turn off her computer.

8:45 p.m. Ms. Bisberg puts her children to bed and sits down for the last shift of her work day. Some of his teammates are also online.

“At one point I emailed late at night and got a response,” she recalled. “I was like, ‘You know I’m doing this weird program, but you don’t need to answer.'”

Her colleague explained that she, too, was working the odd hours of a mother working from home: “I was like ‘OK,'” Ms Bisberg said. “‘Then I accept your 10pm email.’ »

This late-night activity is known as the third peak: the extra shift worked by people who took a break earlier in the day to care for children or simply feel pressured to continue. send emails because their inbox keeps ringing. Time spent working after traditional hours has increased by 28% since March 2020, according to data from Microsoft Teams users, and weekend work increased by 14%.

Several employers have set up guardrails. Microsoft teams, for example, encourage managers to establish agreements on everyone’s working hours. Cali Williams Yost, founder of a workplace strategy group, advises bosses to sit down with their employees to establish when people are supposed to be available for meetings, emails and solo work.

“Unless we intentionally coordinate our rhythms, it could be that everyone is working all the time,” Ms. Yost said.

In some cases, workers have had to initiate these delicate conversations themselves. “It was very difficult to draw a line in the sand,” said 27-year-old engineer Stephen Luke Todd, recalling that he expected his previous remote job to respond to messages around the clock. felt like I had to articulate limits to my boss.”

For some people, the new work day is from 9 a.m. to almost 5 a.m.

2h45 Ms Beaumont Murphy recently found herself awake in the middle of the night on a Tuesday, writing her colleagues an email she was due to send at 8am. She no longer feels the pressure of getting up at 5:30 a.m. to train. . But she also doesn’t feel able to put her work away at the end of the day. Come to think of it, when is the end of the day?

7:30 a.m. Mrs. DeVito connects. She faces a deluge of 30 emails sent overnight.

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