We need to break away from the hours of the industrial society

We have solid evidence that knowledge workers do not perform their best within the current framework. We need to show our employees that we trust them enough to let them structure their working lives more flexibly.

by Thomas Damkjær Petersen, Chairman of IDA

8 hours of work. 8 hours of free time. 8 hours of rest. 

The eight-hour day is one of the greatest victories of the labour movement. However, the question is if the time has not come to rethink the division of our working day into three and move forward from the industrial society.

In the industrial society, there was a direct connection between working hours and remuneration. Every worker in the assembly line carried out their assigned tasks, the production was systematised, and the employer knew exactly what result they would get from 8 hours of labour.

Today, the work of knowledge workers has a wholly different character, but the working hours are largely organised in the same way. Work is carried out between 8 and 17 and often at an open-plan office within sight of their manager and co-workers.

That is also why we have for years heard managers half-jokingly referring to working from home as half days off.

But what happened when we were all sent home during the lockdown this spring? Employees did not just lie down on the sofa or relax on their tasks. In fact, many companies witnessed an increase in productivity.

IDA’s chairman: Get rid of the industrial society and let us adapt to our current reality.

Employees deliver either way

Both employees and managers become more efficient at the home office. In a survey among IDA’s members, half of respondents said they experienced an increase in efficiency while working from home. 31% of managers said they had experienced the same.

The reasons given were often practical. Less commuting time, fewer colds caught at the office, and meetings which were finished quicker.

We have also heard from members who describe a new sense of calm which allows them to become more absorbed in their work. Some describe fewer conflicts between work and private life because they now have a greater freedom to plan their day.

Does this mean that we should shut down our offices and send our employees home to work for good?

We need to show trust in individual employees

No. As we know, people are different from each other, and our employee representatives also hear from members who feel isolated and lonely. In the worst cases, to the extent that they report sick.

Some tasks are also best solved when by people who are in a room together. It is in the physical meeting that relations and trust are built, and these are fundamental when developing new ideas.

In other words: We must be careful with choosing a one-for-all solution. We need to let our employees have a larger influence on their working day and trust that people who spent years educating and specialising themselves have the necessary motivation to perform their work in a way which makes sense to them.

Allow employees to carry out their work in a way that is meaningful for them. We now know that the limits of what we can do are self-imposed and can shift when our daily lives are suddenly turned upside down.