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The renaissance of the short-time movement

wilk profile image Wilk ・5 min read

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Premise

Reducing the daily working hours is a personal crusade; with this article I’ll try to convince you why is important to reconsider the current standard in the software industry and take steps forward to change the situation.

This article will be part of a series of articles on company culture.



Questioning the system

Ok, let’s face it: 40 hours a week.
We all know it because it’s the standard of full time jobs.
No matter what, if you want that job you’re going to work at least that much.
Working less is considered part-time, even for 36h/w.
The funny thing is that Wikipedia reports this standard as:

The eight-hour day movement or 40-hour week movement, also known as the short-time movement…

Yes, the short-time movement.
And you know why?

[…] was a social movement to regulate the length of a working day, preventing excesses and abuses. […] The working day could range from 10 to 16 hours, and the work week was typically six days a week.

Back in those days, life was tough.
I’m talking about 200 years ago. Not exactly yesterday.
But the cool thing is that after some years (actually many years for some countries) they made it. They won the battle and they’ve changed the status quo.
We inherited this privilege and now we take it for granted.
The bad part?
We take it for normal.

A generic overview

What are the reasons for having and using this standard, especially in the IT field?
Let’s summarise some of them:

  1. cultural/historical: it started in the manufacturing industry to cap the daily working time to 8 hours max
  2. availability: the possibility to reach you in a fixed time range, let’s say between 8AM to 7PM
  3. quantity: the more you work, the more you produce

The software industry inherited this way of working because it was born as an appendix of other industries.
However, those reasons don’t apply to our job, in particular the last one: quantity.

Bad KPIs

Quantity

2020, tech industry: is the current working standard really a necessity? If so, why?
Well, it seems 40h/w is kind of a metric for defining an individual’s productivity. Just like being in the office during working hours.
If you work 40 hours a week, then the company can achieve its goals because you’re productive and doing many things.
The problem here is that we still think in terms of quantity, even if our job is a matter of quality and creativity.
Follow me for a second.
You’re used to do stuff during your daily job and your time is filled up by duties: developing, designing, meetings, calls.
So, the more you do, the better, right?
Wrong!
Our job cannot be measured in terms of quantity: it’s not like to extract coal from a mine, nor like to produce and deliver goods as much as possible.
Why that?
Because when we write software there are some factors to consider:

  1. creativity: often expressed in terms of engineering and design
  2. maintenance: software is never finished and the more we produce, the more we need to maintain
  3. quality: software needs to be good, otherwise you’re going to pay it in the long run (technical debt)

If we think in terms of quantity, these factors are automatically excluded.
Creativity has a different flow: it cannot be limited by fixed hours and it is inversely proportional to quantity; the more you work, the less is the creativity.
On the other hand, maintenance is directly proportional to quantity: the more you produce, the more you have to maintain. And the company’s costs rise.
Quality requires time and concentration: if you’re stressed because you’ve too many things to do, you’ll end up doing the infamous quick’n’dirty approach. In the long run, this translates into a huge technical debt and unsatisfied people (developers, POs, customers, …).
So, does that seem like a reliable productivity metric?

Availability

Do we really have to be always available?
The very first thing you learn when approaching time management is that your time is precious and therefore your concentration. Context switching costs and if you lose your focus, even for a small moment, refocusing takes too long.
So it is clear that we have to organise a different way of being available to other people, a way that cannot be related to fixed working hours.

Culture

As I said, our industry has inherited this way of working. That’s all.
We’re absolutely free to change it as much as we want because it wasn’t designed for our work.
Actually, it is our duty.

A word on productivity

So, what is a good productivity metric?
Ready?

Happiness. Motivation. Freedom.

Yes, this sounds like a political speech but it’s damn true.
When you spend a long period working 40, 50, 60 or even 80 hours a week, you usually get two things: bad quality and burnout.
And let’s be honest: don’t pretend to be focused on what you’re working on for the whole 8 hours. I’m pretty sure you’re doing also something else instead of doing your job. Like reading this article.
Making people happier, more motivated and free to choose how best to contribute to the company can be done in many ways and increases the outcomes of the individuals, making better KPIs as a natural consequence.
One of these ways requires fewer working hours.
Wouldn’t you be happier if you could use part of the afternoon by attending that sommelier workshop you’ve always wanted?
What would you say if you could stop going to the gym after dinner, when you’re tired and stressed out?
And what about going to pick up your children at the kindergarten?
Have you noticed it?
What about living your life? Would it make you happier?
I’m deeply convinced that when your company struggles to help you have a better life, your work is so damn good, like a virtuous circle.

A new renaissance

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So, what can we do to change the current status quo, exactly how Robert Owen did back in the 1800s with the short time movement?
I think we can all contribute by applying these suggested actions in our work environment, depending on your role (employee/employer):

  1. ask/provide shorter working hours: there are many combinations you can take advantage of, such as 4 hours a day (20h/w), 6 hours a day (30h/w), 4 days a week (32h/w) and also half a day free per week (36h/w)
  2. ask/provide flexible working hours: work according to your biorhythm and having an excellent balance between work and private life. This way the productivity increases because you’re happier and more energetic
  3. ask/provide asynchronous communication: we’re talking about time so use it wisely and delay non-urgent communication through async channels such as email. This will help the company get better organised with everyone’s schedule

As you can see, I’ve no real solutions, only ideas.
If you think there are other better ways, please share them in the comments below!
And if you think this topic is worthwhile, consider sharing it through your network.
I leave you with this inspiring thread by Tobi Lutke:

Note

This article was previously published on Medium: https://medium.com/@wilk/the-renaissance-of-the-short-time-movement-47657487dae6

Posted on Feb 21 by:

wilk profile

Wilk

@wilk

Passionate developer 💻, amazed astronomer 🔭, casual writer ✍️, full-time father 😵

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