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Hybrid work creates a workday dead zone

By Lynne Curry

Employees have changed how they’re working—as wise employers race to catch up. Here’s what’s new:

Workday dead zone

Managers and employees once viewed 4 p.m. as an ideal staff meeting time. Managers could catch everyone in the office before the workday ended yet after peak productivity hours ended. Employees knew the meeting wouldn’t drag on past five p.m.—and that their managers might grant them a guilt-free exit if the meeting ended early.

Now, managers—particularly those supervising hybrid employees—find it difficult to locate employees after 4 p.m. They’re already gone—to collect kids from school, or because their brain is “done” and they want to take off, or to lessen commuting time by heading home before those working the traditional 8 to 5 schedule hit the roads.

Triple peak

At least some of the employees who drift away before 5 return in the evening hours. Microsoft researchers recently documented that employee’s keyboard activity spikes three times daily—in the morning, afternoon, and late evening. According to the Microsoft Work Trend Index, 30 percent of employees show an evening spike in keyboard usage and the average Teams user sends 42 percent more chats per person after hours.

In many ways, this triple peak phenomenon isn’t new. Autonomous workers such as consultants, freelancers and small business owners have long set their own hours to harness their best productivity. What’s new is the increasing sectors of the workforce that step away from their desks at 4 p.m. to handle personal responsibilities and return afterwards to finish the workday.

The demand for flexibility

Meanwhile, employees accustomed to autonomy during the pandemic demand it—insisting their employers allow them to set their own schedules so they can balance personal lives and work. Employers that accommodate them and don’t insist on 8 to 5 butt-in-seat presence find it easier to recruit and retain top talent. Chief Executive Mercedes Ayciena credits providing scheduling flexibility to the 100 employees she supervises with reducing turnover from 50 to 15 percent over the last year.

The key question—how to make this work.

Manager/employer solutions

Employee flexibility doesn’t need to be a manager’s challenge if managers focus on what employees produce rather than when. While some employees abuse flexibility, insisting that every employee work the same 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule punishes top-performing employees.

Instead, tighten your company’s recruiting processes to ensure you hire self-disciplined, accountable employees. You’ll find tools for doing this in “Screen for Accountability,” chapter 3 of Managing for Accountability.

 As an example, ask job candidates questions that directly focus on accountability and a candidate’s sense of responsibility, such as “Please describe your work ethic” and “What would you consider your responsibility if a coworker becomes suddenly ill?” You can easily develop other accountability-focused questions by reflecting on what you’d want one of your employees to do when faced with a difficult situation.

As a secondary benefit, by allowing employees to handle personal responsibilities—as long as they meet productivity standards—you’ll reduce both employee stress and managerial monitoring headaches. When you discover employees who don’t “make up the time” or otherwise fail to meet standards, bless them out the door.

The meeting solution

Allowing employees this flexibility admittedly makes it difficult to call a last-minute huddle or attain a meeting quorum, particularly for employers with employees spread across multiple time zones. You can meet this challenge by using asynchronous communication tools such as status updates in a Microsoft Teams channel as replacements for video conferences.

Additionally, as some employees, especially managers, send emails during the evening hours, train everyone to use Outlook scheduling options that allow after-hours messages to hit recipients’ inboxes during others’ working hours occur and to use “critical/respond ASAP in the subject lines of employees that require prompt response.

Employees have changed how they’re working. The 4 to 6 p.m. hours have become workplace dead zones, while increasing numbers of employees now have triple peak workdays. The best employees demand scheduling flexibility. If you’re an employer or manager, will you meet that demand?

Lynne Curry, PhD, SPHR, SHRM-SCP and author of “Navigating Conflict” (Business Experts Press, 2022); “Managing for Accountability (BEP, 2021); “Beating the Workplace Bully,” AMACOM 2016, and “Solutions” is President of Communication Works, Inc. and founder of, which offers more than 400 articles on topics such as leadership, COVID, management, HR, and personal and professional development.  Curry has qualified in Court as an expert witness in Management Best Practices, HR and Workplace issues. You can reach her at or follow her @lynnecurry10 on twitter. (c) 2023












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