Richard Morris: Cracking the productivity puzzle

Birds of a feather flock together. Applying this idiom to the world of work may seem accurate at first glance '“ people of a similar mindset seeking out ­similar jobs and work settings.

Richard Morris says most workers reach peak levels of alertness when they're 'wrestling with their commutes'. Picture: Jane Barlow
Richard Morris says most workers reach peak levels of alertness when they're 'wrestling with their commutes'. Picture: Jane Barlow

But even within these like-minded groups, individuals will function to very different patterns.

Humans have an internal body clock, a natural process that governs ­levels of energy and alertness throughout the day. This circadian process influences every individual, and ­disruption to the rhythm has a clear effect. Much research has been done on the topic, and put very ­simply, the ­average employee will take a few hours after arriving at work to reach a peak of alertness and energy at around noon.

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Although this represents the average cycle, ­people deviate from this ­pattern, falling into the early ­morning achiever category (the “larks”) or those more productive in the evening (the “owls”).

Now, consider the typical working day. This was established in ­Victorian times – not an age one equates with worker welfare – and it is easy to see the conflict between this fixed structure and the modern science of productivity rhythms.

So can businesses adapt? Without a doubt – yes. Already, businesses of every size are rejecting this outdated notion of the fixed routine and thinking in a far more agile and expansive fashion about ­workplace routines and worker provision. This advance is as much down to changing mindsets as it is to do with reorganising business locations. Today’s managers are learning to measure on results rather than ‘presenteeism’ and workplace flexibility is no longer regarded as a ­­perk – rather, it is expected.

Research shows that peaks of alertness occur in the morning and again in the early evening – precisely when the majority of workers are wrestling with their commutes. What if this travelling was simply eliminated? It’s not a realistic proposition in every case but a large percentage of professionals travel unnecessarily to a fixed location.

The fact is, solutions are available. Businesses of every size, in every ­sector, are consuming ­flexible workspace, and a new ­pattern is emerging, aiming to fit the workplace around the worker rather than the other way around.

This provides a foundation to explore tailoring working programmes to individuals in a way that simply isn’t feasible under a fixed structure. Whether employers are ready to allow individuals to nap during the day during low-energy spells is a moot point.

But there is certainly receptiveness to improved workplace wellbeing and to trusting employees to maximise their output on their own terms.

Giving a ­little ­scientific thought to ­productivity – and allowing owls and larks to beat their wings to a different rhythm – could well help your ­business fly.

• Richard Morris is UK chief executive at Regus