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Research finds that the digital workday is endless

Posted by Shivali Anand

January 11, 2022    |     4-minute read (641 words)

For white-collar professionals, digital technology has long blurred the line between work and home. The shift from office work to remote work during the coronavirus pandemic has further weakened the office-home divide.

Now research published by Harvard Business Review suggests the workday in the current era never ends. Furthermore, employees frequently work alone with hardly any overlap with co-workers.

Employees have had to adjust their hours as a result of the shift to remote work. The standard nine-to-five, Monday to Friday weekday has been supplanted by working in bursts. This is because many employees need to work at night or early in the morning, and/or throughout the day in between domestic tasks and caregiving obligations, to accommodate work and home life.

How researchers assessed workdays

The researchers reviewed the work habits of 187 individuals from six Fortune 500 companies. All formerly worked in a physical workplace with set hours, but owing to the pandemic, they shifted to 100% remote work in 2020.

The study uncovered four trends in the digital workday

It is divided into two zones – An eight-hour span from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. during which team members may work collaboratively, and a 16-hour timeframe during which they mainly operated separately.

It is literally limitless – The most significant volume of worker overlap occurred at 10 a.m. (about 70%) and 3 p.m. (approximately 60%). There was never a period throughout the workday when everyone was unavailable. At 4 a.m., at least 10% of the staff was still working. At any one time, at least one in every 10.2 people was working online.

Employees labor at odd hours and alone – Approximately 60% of work was done between 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. About 40% of work was done individually and outside “regular” business hours.

Digital teams rarely assemble as a whole – Across 22 sample teams, at least 29% were not online simultaneously, no matter what hour. Team overlaps peak from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. before gradually returning for the 3 p.m. high. In the absence of social break time, the midday dip reflects workers' differently timed breaks.

The study also found only a loose connection between productivity and team overlap

Some 41% of the time, business processes were positively connected with team overlap, meaning when team members worked together simultaneously, productivity increased.

Some 26% of the time, business processes were adversely connected with team overlap.  Productivity was found to be lower for several processes when conducted jointly. 

Meanwhile, 33% of the time, the relationship between business processes and team overlap was neutral. Whether team members collaborated had little effect on productivity for some tasks.


The digital workplace is operationally and psychologically distinct from the traditional office environment for employees. The hours are dispersed, with peak overlap periods of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., with little chance to interact. Some remote tasks reduce productivity when performed jointly, while others increase productivity when done as a team.

The study’s authors suggest that employers should design a digital charter that mitigates the disadvantages of remote work while maintaining flexibility.

Your digital charter should address four elements:

Time together – Schedule time when at least half the team works together online. Schedule business procedures that benefit from team overlap accordingly, and convey team-wide communications during the period.

Flexibility – Allow workers to plan standard operating procedures based on their personal preferences. Most research participants automatically executed activities at their most efficient times.

Vary overlap requirements – Not every business process necessitates social cohesion and team work. Identify overlaps in company processes where productivity can be improved.

Offline time – Schedule periods when staff can focus on work without interruption unless absolutely required. Employees can also utilize "do not disturb" flags to indicate a period when they don’t want to be interrupted.

Learn how we can put more time back in your day.