It’s 9 a.m. on a Tuesday morning. You venture outside your office with a cup of coffee in hand for a quick stroll through your department. What do you expect to see? Do you anticipate every single employee will be seated at their desk, working away?

That’s the traditional school of thought. But these standard 9-to-5 expectations are quickly changing in the modern, results-oriented workforce. Three out of five workers believe the 9-to-5 work day is a thing of the past, according to a 2016 CareerBuilder survey.

And they don’t just believe this idea—they’re actively pursuing it. Staffing firm Yoh discovered 42% of people will leave a job for a more flexible work environment. As long as their tasks are accomplished, it shouldn’t matter when or where they complete them—right?

However, this expectation presents some challenges for employers: How will workers maintain visibility into team goals and projects? How will they keep necessary team members in the loop? Will they maintain the same level of productivity?

These are justifiable concerns. But traditional 9-to-5, desk-bound jobs are dying, and companies must adapt to retain their best talent and empower high-performing teams.

It’s impossible to pinpoint exactly when the traditional 9-to-5 workday began ending at midnight or starting at 7 a.m. But let’s start with the most likely culprit: technology.

How Technology Inspired a Shift

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Think of what the working world looked like just a couple of decades ago. You went to work in the morning, put in a solid eight hours, and then went home.

There was no way to access your messages and important documents from the comfort of your couch or a coffee shop in Prague. You had to be in the office to get your work done—and that was it.

But today? Our constant connectivity makes it incredibly convenient to work from anywhere at anytime—without hassles or roadblocks.

77% of Americans now own a smartphone—up a whopping 35% from 2011, according to research from Pew Research Center. Nearly three quarters of U.S. adults also own a laptop or desktop computer. Checking your work email in the drive-thru line at your local Starbucks is now just as easy as working at your desk in the office.

Cloud-based technology is only adding to that convenience. With 47% of business data now stored in the cloud, employees can easily access the information they need to get their work done from wherever they want. Important documents, records, and spreadsheets are no longer relegated to a filing cabinet in a dusty corner of the conference room.

Because technology has given accessibility such a boost, it comes as little surprise that 43% of Americans report spending at least some time working remotely.

Younger Workforce = Changing Demands

While unrestricted access to technology is certainly a big factor in the shift from traditional 9-to-5 work hours, changing demographics in the workforce also play a key role.

We’ve all heard about how Millennials work differently than previous generations. 70% of Millennials want flexible work options, forcing time-focused employers to change their ways.

And now there’s Generation Z—the generation born after Millennials (between the mid-1990s to the early 2000s) that’s now old enough to be part of the workforce. If you’ve ever pointed your finger at Millennials for being overly-connected, remember Generation Z can’t remember a time without social media, online shopping, and mobile apps.

Everything is conveniently on-demand—and they expect work to be the same way.

The Benefits of Ditching the 9-to-5 Expectations

There are still plenty of companies white-knuckling the idea of a standard work day. But more are making the change to care more about what employees are getting done, and less about when and where they’re getting it done.

Giving workers this level of increased flexibility has a major upside. First and foremost, giving employees the option to work outside the normal office environment and schedule doesn’t just lead to equal productivity—it can actually give productivity levels a boost.

A survey from FlexJobs found that 66% of professionals believe they would be more productive if they worked remotely. These workers attribute this additional motivation to everything from avoiding commutes to fewer colleague interruptions.

Another checkmark in the “pro” column for flexibility? Flexible work can actually increase job satisfaction, according to research from Cass Business School and Cranfield School of Management. One case study shows that Best Buy reduced employee turnover by an impressive 45% after switching to a “results-only work environment.”

Finally, there’s one incredibly important, yet difficult to quantify, benefit: trust. When leaders trust their employees to get their work done—without needing to keep a watchful eye on them at all hours—workers feel empowered and engaged.

Nobody likes a micromanager breathing down their neck, and flexibility demonstrates to your employees that you trust them to own their projects—no babysitting required.

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Moving Away From the 9-to-5: How to Do It Right

You’re convinced that you need to stop watching the clock and loosen the reins for your team members. But, making that switch can still be intimidating. Here are some tips to do it in a way that won’t leave you wondering whether tasks are actually getting accomplished.

1. Foster a Culture That Supports Flexibility

The first step to overcoming your 9-to-5 expectations is fostering a culture of autonomy and accountability. Flexible work schedules don’t work when employees lack project ownership and require constant follow-up.

Start by making sure that team members understand how their individual tasks fit into the larger picture—as well as what falls apart when they drop a ball. That increases their sense of accountability to not only you as their manager, but also their fellow team members.

Additionally, resist the urge to micromanage. When you give your team increased flexibility, it’s tempting to want to monitor every move they make—just to calm your own nerves about the process.

Instead, empower your team members to forge their own paths and tackle projects as they see fit. By all means, you should still have regular check-ins to offer feedback and provide guidance. But don’t squelch their sense of ownership by constantly questioning their progress and approach.

2. Make Expectations Clear

You’ll also need to make expectations explicitly clear. While this is always important, it’s especially key when people work outside the office on their own time.

Provide all necessary project details and requirements upfront to avoid confusion and misunderstandings later, while also avoiding back-and-forth communication that might get lost in the shuffle.

Also, define key milestones, end-goals, and success metrics during project kickoffs. This shifts focus from the hours in which tasks are completed to the work that needs to be done and the value it should produce.

3. Start Small

If you’re huffing into a paper bag at the thought of telling your team “Work whenever you want!” then consider starting with some small changes.

For example, perhaps you’ll begin by giving your employees one work-from-home day each week or month. Or, maybe you’ll start offering the option to join any standard meetings remotely—so employees don’t necessarily need to be in the office to attend.

Those small changes allow you and your team members to dip your toes into the flexibility waters without getting overwhelmed with a huge change all at once.

Plus, taking things slow gives you an opportunity to refine necessary processes and work out the kinks before you give everybody total control over their own work schedules.

4. Use a Project Management Platform

Using a collaborative work management platform (like Wrike) is another wise step. Keeping important communication and documentation centralized accomplishes some important things:

  • Defining Success and Aligning Teams: Identifying key milestones and success metrics is important. You can set team and department OKRs or KPIs and record them within your work management platform. Not only does that increase their visibility and serve as a constant reminder of what your team is working toward, but team members can also update their progress for the objectives they’re responsible for meeting, no matter when or where they’re working.
  • Staying Connected and Minimizing FOMO: It’s easy to worry and wonder whether you’re missing something important when you’re not in the office. From key milestones to the status of specific projects and team members’ whereabouts, a real-time collaboration tool like Wrike keeps you connected to your team (and your team members connected to each other!)—even if they’re not working side-by-side on the same schedules. And using a work management platform gives everyone a place to look back and review communication about certain projects in context.
  • Keeping Track of Flexible and Remote Work Schedules: See below how some geographically-dispersed teams use Wrike’s custom calendar feature to keep everyone in the loop on team members’ whereabouts. You also can use this calendar feature to show if people are working in the office or off-site.

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  • Limiting Meetings and Making Them More Effective: It’s true: Flexible schedules make it harder to schedule face-to-face meetings. But how productive are your meetings really? A collaboration tool makes status updates a cinch, eliminating the need for many meetings spent just on status updates. And when you do hold meetings, you can outline the agenda on the work management platform and then record meeting notes in the same file, where it’s visible and accessible to everyone on your team as a reference.
  • Stronger Visibility and Increased Confidence: A collaborative work management tool like Wrike has dashboards that give team members and managers a bird’s eye view of projects, as well as the option to dig deeper when needed. Custom dashboards can show the status of all work assigned to your team, as well as each individual’s workload. This not only keeps your team members organized, but also gives you confidence that work is progressing—whether or not employees are in the office.

Stop Clock Watching

The 9-to-5 schedule has been a longstanding pillar of the average work day. But the tides are quickly and continuously turning. Today’s employees not only appreciate but expect flexibility and trust from their employers.

If you’re aiming to lead an engaged, productive, and all-around high-performing team (of course you are!), then there’s really no way around it: You need to give employees the breathing room to structure their schedules in a way that suits them best—while still trusting them to knock their projects out of the park.

Ready to stop clock watching? Wrike can help. Register for a free, 14-day trial and see how collaborative work management gives your team the flexibility they need to succeed.

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