scientific research in social decision making. is 9 to 5 a thing in the past? when are we most productive

Is 9-to-5 a thing of the past? When are we most productive

The history of organized labor is to a large extent the history of the struggle over working hours. In the dawn of industrial revolution work meant excruciatingly long hours with a two-day weekend merely a distant dream. During the 20th century, as working conditions progressively improved, the days also got shorter and people’s free time increased.

In the 21st century, a modern knowledge worker is no longer bound by office hours nor by office walls. Increased freedom comes with increased responsibility and many white-collar workers of present day work astonishing hours each week. This shift in the mode of workings begs the question: when do people work most productively?

Fingertip offers a gamification module which awards points to users based on the actions they undertake. Conveniently, this also extensively logs the usage of the Fingertip software which gives us an interesting lens through which to peek at the way people work.

Fingertip is a comprehensive tool for managing modern knowledge work. However, it is naturally merely an abstraction of the ground truth and cannot capture each aspect of work life to finest detail. Using gamification module, we can divide work tasks to five broad categories: Chatter (i.e. internal communications), Sales, Plan & Decision, Task & Objective and Other.

Classifying the activities

Chatter is the easiest to grasp. You get gamification points each time you post a new chatter post or comment to an existing one. Therefore it is a reward for active communication and debate. Sales-category consists mainly of two separate actions: logging a phone call and updating contact information.

Decisions, Plans and Objectives are Fingertip entities that are used to organize work at a more strategic level. Work put into advancing these objects can be regarded as more strategic in nature rather than just brute day-to-day work. Tasks on the other hand are objects that relate to more concrete assignments that need to be carried out via a series of actions. Of course, in real life the lines are more blurred and Decision objects can contain brutally concrete and simplistic assignments. Category ”Other” contains miscellaneous tasks from evaluating decisions to updating account information that do not fall neatly to any of the other main classes nor are significant enough to warrant a category of their own.

Early birds or night owls?

Lets first take a look at the hours people tend to work at. The data we use is limited only to Helsinki office of Fingertip so the different time zone of the Indian office does not mess with the results.

Figure 1: Count of actions as a function of time of day

Fingertip office bursts into action at 8.00 in the morning. There is a visible dip at 11.00, the classic lunch hour. Peak activity seems to be achieved right after returning from lunch. From there the activity decreases until sharply dropping after 16.00. But no hour is sacred, and there is a steady stream of activity happening in the evening until 20.00.  I would wager this distribution of activity is quite expected and natural across most organizations.

Does the nature of work vary depending on the time of day? One could assume for example that task-related activity is prevalent during the hectic office hours while the more strategic and abstract plans and decisions are easier to focus on after the dust has settled.

It seems that the basic pattern of activity holds true for most classes of action. Sales-related activity does not suffer a lunch hour slump like the other categories (does that tell of the nature of sales or the people handling the domain?). It also quite predictably keeps a high level of activity longer than the other categories. You need to be contacting clients when it is suitable for them so the hours are spread more widely.

The most curious phenomenon happens in the Other category of activity. Here the activity actually increases during lunch hour with a second increase after office hours. These seem to be times for doing the odd jobs, that are nagging us in the back of the head.

Everybody loves Fridays

What about the weekly cycle? Do people come to work on Monday full of energy, eager to tackle the challenges of new week, with energy levels falling as week goes by. Or are they like diesel engines, taking a couple days of warming up to get going after weekend?

Figure 3: Count of actions as a function of day of the week

Seems like the first hypothesis is true: Monday is the most active day, with activity progressively decreasing as week progresses. During weekend Saturday is by and large kept free from work but Sundays see some activity. The most eager ones are already preparing for the week ahead?

But are weekends used for working on larger scale issues and decisions or are they meant for mundane tasks?

Sales is the clear king of weekends as their share of all actions drastically increases on Saturday and remains around 50 % on Sundays. This is an interesting phenomenon as one would assume no clients are picking up phones. Maybe weekends are a good time to organize the list of leads? Or maybe our people working in sales are just workaholics… Decisions and Plans are worked on substantially during Sundays but never on Saturdays which is curious. Otherwise their share seems to increase as the week progresses. Task-related activity sees a peak as a share of total on Fridays: one needs to get week’s to-do list empty before weekend?

Despite all the talk about the revolution in knowledge work, at least we at Fingertip still operate broadly along the familiar lines, though some breaches are noticeable. The office hours bear the brunt of activity but some tasks are left to be done during curious hours. And Sundays definitely are no longer wholly dedicated to rest. People of the past must be aghast!

Read the previous installments on our scientific blog series:

Too many cooks spoils the decision?
Why good decisions get implemented
What’s in a word? Indicators of task completion

Lasse Winter is the leading Data Scientist at Fingertip with a background in social sciences and a specific interest in text analytics. He is passionate about gaining exciting insights from data. During his free time Lasse loves sports and reading, with a specific passion for football.

Fingertip is an online decision-focused business management solution designed to substantially improve efficiency, effectiveness, and empowerment in large complex organizations in the digital age.


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