A simple idea that could change so much

simple idea and commuting
Ah, the joys of commuting

Today I’m going to share with you one tiny and easily accepted change that has the ability to radically change and ease the way you and those you lead do your work.

Why now? Well, we have known for years that there are so many entrenched behaviours around the world of work ripe for change through technology. Now is the time to do so, before people “go back to work” after lockdown and settle back to old ways.

What to do to create this change though? Well, let us first recognise that often the biggest obstacle is human behaviour, it is companies, organisations, managers that fear change, including (gasp) trusting their people to work independently.

If we want to see radical change, then, we must start now, and in ways that don’t throw up roadblocks such as the six most dangerous words in business, you know: “we’ve always done it this way“!

So, the simple change I propose has the potential to end the crowded commute for the countless millions who crowd together on trains, buses, roads all to get to their office in their city at the same time.

This change also then has the ability to then create a “domino effect” where this one simple step leads to another, then another, then another.

I see an end result where the average office worker goes “to the office” no more than two days per week, not in the short term due to distancing guidelines etc, but permanently.

So, what is that simple step:

Check your emails at home in the morning before going to work

It is that simple.

This simple idea could radically change the world of work for millions.

Let’s walk this through a few iterations to see the “domino effect” potential. Stay with me for a few minutes to see how simple this is and how significant the end result is from only two “versions” and two further “iterations”.

Working Day – v2.0

Our starting point begins simply, with the idea of checking emails from home in the morning for an hour before going to work.

Instead of commuting into the office to then spend at least your first hour at work checking, clearing, replying to emails, instead, do what you’ve likely been doing for the last three months or so (for those who’ve been able to work remotely in lockdown). Get up at your regular time, then, when ready for work, take an hour to both check your emails and reply to those that a) are highest priority, and b) need the types of replies best done from computer rather than smartphone.

Now, let’s go through a working day where you are at the office for a standard 8.5 hours with a 1 hour lunch break, and a commute of 1 hour each way (a rough London average), meaning a “working day” of 10.5 hours.

Day 2.0

  • 07:30-08:30 Instead of leaving your house to commute, you sit down at your laptop and check emails for an hour.
  • 08:30-09:30 You then leave the house one hour later than usual. During your commute, you keep things moving by emailing from your phone, having taken that hour to do the major emails (and lengthier ones you can’t “peck” out on your phone) already.
  • 09:30-17:00 Working at office
  • 13:00-14:00 Lunch break
  • 16:00-17:00 Working day continues, then you leave the office
  • 17:00-18:00 Commute home

Seems a simple change, so why could it lead to a domino effect?

Working Day – v2.1

Well, what if we then consider two ideas that are a logical extension:

  1. Extend the hour of checking emails to two hours. After all, we all have a lot of work to do by email
  2. Hey, what if I do the same at the end of the day?
  3. What if I skip the lunch break and take it when I get home?

Now let’s see how the working day now shapes up:

Day 2.1

  • 07:30-09:30 Check emails for two hours
  • 09:30-10:30 Commute (continuing to work via smartphone as needed)
  • 10:30-14:00 At Office
  • 14:00-15:00 Commute home
  • 15:00-16:00 “Lunch” break
  • 16:00-18:00 Check emails for two hours

Still 07:30-18:00 for your working day, but now only 3.5 hours in the office and, hey, you took a break from an hour when you got home, perhaps you hanging out with your children for half an hour as they arrived home from school at 15:30.

Hmm. Now you are going into the office for 3.5 hours instead of 8.5, yet still working a full 7.5 hours, plus you are avoiding the commuter hordes and have added quality of life elements at no cost in time or effectiveness to your work. What next?

Working Day – v3.0

This one is a new version (3.0), not a minor iteration (2.1)!

By now you are really seeing the benefits to you personally plus to your business from having someone who feels more rested and balanced from not commuting at regular times.

Besides, seems “daft” to commute two hours each way every day only to be in the office for 3.5 hours, eh?

However, you also have recognised that there are benefits to being in the office sometimes, and perhaps for longer periods of time than four hours.

(I wrote about this with the idea of Connected Working, where we focus on being connected to people and resources in the most effective ways we can, sometimes online, sometimes in person.)

You’ve now recognised that your “working day” is 10.5 hours per day, or 52.5 hours per week. Of this, 42.5 hours are “at work”, 10 are a daily commute.

You’ve also considered that by only being in the office 3.5 hours each day, this can have downsides, such as you feeling pressure (rationally or otherwise) to “do more” when you are in the office, from challlenges in meeting with people, to (don’t underrate this one!) not being as accessible to colleagues to meet and talk in person “ad hoc”, ie losing the element of randomness from being in the same place.

So, and this is where I see many, many people moving towards as a settled rhythm, what if you have an “a ha!” moment and move to NOT going to the office every day, but instead only when it makes sense for you and those you work with.

Yes, this takes co-ordinating to blend individual and collective needs for the business, but let’s say for you it then means you go “to work” only three days per week, say Monday and Friday at home, Tuesday through Thursday going to the office.

Let’s imagine your working days now

Day 3.0 – “at home” days – Monday and Friday

  • 07:30-12:00 Connected to work, emails, online meetings etc
  • 12:00-14:00 Break for two hours
  • 14:00-17:00 Connected to work, emails, online meetings etc

Yes, one hour shorter working day, one hour more break during the day to find your own balance, still 7.5 hours of work

Day 3.0 – “at the office” days – Tuesday to Thursday

  • 07:30-08:30 Check emails for one hour
  • 08:30-09:30 Commute
  • 09:30-12:00 Work at Office
  • 12:00-13:00 Lunch break
  • 13:00-16:00 Work at Office
  • 16:00-17:00 Commute home
  • 17:00-18:00 Check emails for one hour

The astute will see that this is the same as v2.1, with the only change being you leave the office an hour early to avoid the evening commuter rush, taking an hour when you get home to clear emails, yet still being at the office from 09:30-16:00, ie 6.5 hours.

So, a final iteration, this time a tweak to v3.0

Working Day – v3.1

So now we have created v3.0, where we work from home two days per week and go to the office for three “core” days midweek, Tuesday to Thursday.

However, this model still has a paradigm of working 7.5 hours per day, no matter the location. However, let’s look to shift this quite simply in ways that maximise the value of the daily two hour commute to your presence in the office.

Day 3.0 – “at home” day – Monday

  • 07:30-12:00 Connected to work, emails, online meetings etc
  • 12:00-14:00 Break for two hours
  • 14:00-18:00 Connected to work, emails, online meetings etc

The iteration here is that on Monday you work until 18:00, so adding one hour, 8.5 working hours. A small iteration.

Day 3.0 – “at the office” days – Tuesday to Thursday

  • 07:00-08:30 Check emails for 1.5 hours
  • 08:30-09:30 Commute
  • 09:30-12:00 Work at Office
  • 12:00-13:00 Lunch break
  • 13:00-16:00 Work at Office
  • 16:00-17:00 Commute home
  • 17:00-18:00 Check emails for one hour

Again a tiny tweak, you start work thirty minutes earlier so now working 8.0 hours per day Tuesday through Thursday.

So now what would Friday look like?

Day 3.0 – “at home” day – Friday

  • 07:00-12:00 Connected to work, emails, online meetings etc

Ok, so you might not work for five hours at a stretch, but this is to illustrate that by putting in one hour extra on Monday (where you have saved a two hour commute by working at home), then adding thirty minutes to your day Tuesday to Thursday (to also maximise the value of “office time”, you only have to work five hours on Friday to add up to 37.5 hours.

So, work from home two days per week, finishing at 12pm on Friday, and more effective than ever?

It all starts with a simple idea:

Check your emails at home in the morning before going to work


Also published on Medium.