A bit of 9 to 11 after your 9 to 5?

It’s 9 o’clock. Dinner is over, the children are in bed. Some take the opportunity to read a book, others to watch TV. For many employees, it’s time to get out of the computer and finish the day’s work.

“We call it the third peak phenomenon,” explains News Javier Hernandez, principal investigator in Microsoft Research’s Human Understanding and Empathy division.

His team recently published the results of a survey conducted last summer into the telecommuting behavior of 50 company employees. Using software tools, the researchers were able to figure out when the participants were typing on their computer or phone keyboard, which provided a more accurate picture of work at night than with simple questionnaires.

Observation: In addition to the two already documented productivity peaks at work, one before and one after lunch, 30% of the participants also have a third peak, from about 9pm to 11pm.

“Maybe this phenomenon existed before the pandemic, we don’t know,” said Mary Czerwinski, research manager at Microsoft Research. Now that it is known, however, it is important to better define it. Does this happen with every employee or only with parents? Is it the result of a corporate culture? The researchers hope to answer these kinds of questions in their future work.

The right to do nothing

The right to disconnect, the principle that an employee should not consult their professional digital tools outside working hours, is a workhorse of the Québec solidarity party. However, in the final report of the Advisory Committee on the Right to Disconnect, published by the Government of Canada in February 2022, stakeholders — unions, NGOs and employer representatives — largely agreed that the committee had no data to implement. his mandate. The research already published by Microsoft and the research the company plans to launch can help stakeholders see things more clearly.

In particular, it should be examined to what extent the “third peak” is a positive effect of the flexibility that teleworking offers, or a burden as a result of a too busy schedule. Can you train with it mainly in the afternoon… or get through too much work?

The 9 to 5 can have its flaws – for those who want to spend more time with their kids at the end of the day, for example — but the fact that work has a beginning and an end helps to separate personal and professional life and facilitates rest after the day’s work.

“It has been shown that rest is essential. It affects our level of exercise, the quality of our diet, our productivity and our creativity,” explains Mary Czerwinski. Not resting can lead directly to burnout, hence the importance of knowing more about the causes of this third peak and the other effects it has on employees’ personal lives.

Strategies for living with the third woodpecker

Managers whose employees telecommute or hybrid do not have to wait for the next surveys to become aware of the phenomenon and adapt. “People have different working styles. You have to adapt to it, but also ensure that it is sustainable in the long term,” says Javier Hernandez.

For example, employees should be able to take advantage of the benefits of hybrid working and working from home, such as flexible working hours, but teams should clearly indicate when a response to a message is expected and when not. And all this must be recorded in black and white, in team agreements.

“We all have natural cycles in which we are sometimes more productive and at other times want to recharge. A team agreement makes it possible to plan the work around these time periods,” adds Mary Czerwinski. For example, in his team no meeting is organized after 2 pm.

There are also several strategies for those who benefit (or suffer from) the third peak. Some email software and services, such as Gmail and Outlook, allow you to schedule a message to be sent to accommodate the different schedules of your colleagues. “Someone may want to send an email at 11:30 p.m., but the recipient may not need to receive it at that time,” the researcher said.

One thing’s for sure, the ability to message late at night should improve his personal life – thanks to the time freed up elsewhere in the day – as much as his professional life. Otherwise, the third peak is one peak too many.

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