This term refers to the practice of adapting employees’ work times to be more compatible with their individual biological clocks.
Conventional ideas about corporate life suggest that it’s better suited to morning people than night owls. But at a time when many people are looking for greater flexibility in their work schedules, there are calls for employers to take greater account of their employees’ internal clocks.
It’s a phenomenon that has led British journalist Ellen Scott to coin the term “chronoworking”, to refer to the practice of adapting employees’ work times to be more compatible with their individual biological clocks. This is based on the idea that not everyone achieves maximum cognitive performance at the same time.
Morning people are generally more efficient at the start of the day, but their performance declines as time goes by. Conversely, late-night types often struggle to get up to go to the office or start their day of remote work. They are at their best in the evening, making them, in theory, well suited to night activities.
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However, late-nighters actually aren’t necessarily productive at these times. In a study published in 2021 in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Finnish researchers claim that evening workers perform half as well at work as their morning counterparts.
And this is true regardless of their gender, their usual sleep time or even their working hours. The authors of this research also found that night owls tend to retire earlier than early risers.
Chronoworking thus encourages employees to adapt their work schedules to their physiological needs. For example, evening workers can devote their mornings to tasks that aren’t very intellectually demanding, such as writing email messages and sending them.
Early risers, on the other hand, would benefit from completing tasks that require the most energy and concentration before lunchtime, to avoid the notorious afternoon slump.
For sleep specialist Dr Lindsay Browning, chronoworking can be an effective strategy to boost productivity.
“Becoming more in tune with your body clock at work will only ever have a positive impact. Whether we’re a morning person or not isn’t something we can really change, but we can adapt our behaviours to fit around our natural inclinations,” she told Stylist magazine.
Beyond these types of individual arrangements and approaches to organising workdays, employers would benefit from greater flexibility in working and meeting hours. This would enable their teams to become more efficient, while also boosting their attractiveness as a place of employment.
It makes sense that working people are enthusiastic about alternative work-time approaches, including the four-day week and non-traditional work schedules. They have a positive view of companies that introduce such schemes as they’re perceived as placing freedom, independence and trust at the heart of their managerial philosophy.
Chronoworking falls in line with this general trend. When scheduling a meeting or brainstorming session, managers can apply the principles of this organisational style by trying to take account of individual tendencies.
Overall, they should strive to offer their employees sufficient flexibility to enable them to strike the right balance between their internal clock and their professional obligations.