One of the main benefits of remote work for employees is that they have much more control over their schedules. For the 30 percent of the population who define themselves as “night owls” — people who are more productive when the sun goes down — remote work offers a way to optimize their productivity.
However, as more employees return to physical workplaces, it can be difficult to adapt to night owls’ schedules, but it could also pay off for employers. By allowing this segment of the workforce to work odd hours, some companies have seen benefits in having a higher-performing contingent of employees.
“Biological prime time (BPT) is a concept that recognizes that there are a variety of different times throughout the day when a person is most productive,” said Dannie Fountain, senior sourcer of engineering talent at Google in Seattle. “Fostering the maximization of BPT can therefore lead to better work. The focus is therefore on the work product versus ‘time at work’ or time on the clock to produce the work product.”
Many companies have recognized the value of giving night owls the flexibility to work when it suits them best. Whether you’re already employing night owls or adding them to your team, here’s a guide to making sure it’s a mutually beneficial relationship.
Offer scheduling flexibility
At Constellation, a New York City-based software-as-a-service company, CEO and co-founder Diana Lee focuses on inclusion. That’s why she tries to respond flexibly to the needs of her 125 employees, even if they prefer to work at night.
“The key to meeting employees where they are is to avoid a one-size-fits-all policy and instead empower each employee to voice their needs,” she said. When an employee wants to work on their own schedule, including overnight, it gives the individual more project-based tasks that don’t require customer interaction during normal business hours.
“We believe that prioritizing flexibility at work not only leads to greater productivity, [but] is also key to the overall well-being of our team,” said Lee. “And that’s what we value most.”
Ashley M. Lands, founder of Stuff Oui Love in New York City, allows her 17 employees to create their own schedules. When tasks are due by a specific time, she doesn’t give them specific deadlines, but rather the hours it will take to complete the tasks and the deadlines that the client has specified.
“In our experience, letting them understand the process and creating their own timeline works best,” Lands said. This often works well when Lands need to meet up with their night owl workers.
“It’s very convenient to have employees who are happy to take a training call at 6 p.m.,” she said. “Rather than rushing through my day to meet a 4pm training call, these employees are often excited to postpone a call to the evening so I can use valuable office time for B2B [business-to-business] Calls.”
Check-in meetings required
Whether employees work in person or remotely at different times, it’s important to have regularly scheduled meetings to log in to. At Cloverleaf, an automated coaching platform in Cincinnati with 37 employees, mandatory meetings are part of the culture.
“Some of our teams have established meeting times to help manage employees who work different hours while still allowing for team collaboration and communication,” said Kirsten Moorefield, co-founder and COO of the company. “We believe that deepening understanding and building empathy will help everyone on the team work better together.”
Use the right tools
Technology can play a key role in keeping all employees on the same page, even if some work different hours than others.
“Slack is a great tool when team collaboration happens at different times and in different places,” said Julie Bee, a consultant in Charlotte, NC, whose company has four employees. “File management systems that can easily track changes and let multiple people work on the same document, like Google Drive, are also good tools. Overall, clear and concise communication along with project management tools like Asana make working in this environment more manageable.”
Additionally, Bee explained, “A good fit is a good fit, regardless of when you work day or night. For me and my company, it’s more important that I understand who the core person is and what they will be a good fit for my organization as opposed to the times of day they may work.”
Set clear expectations
Before embarking on a new hire, it’s a good idea to ask the candidate when they’re most productive during the day. If the person is a night owl, you can decide if they will be able to complete the job’s duties in a timely manner.
“Set expectations early and understand their preferred work schedule,” Bee said. “If there are mandatory meetings that take place during ‘normal’ working days, let them know before you hire them. Also, lead with compassion and give them space to do their best. If they seem to be having trouble, ask how you can help.”
Reward late workers
The opposite of night owls are early risers, and when they’re assigned a job that keeps them working late, it’s important to recognize their efforts.
For example, in a particularly demanding area like the law, attorneys and staff often work late to keep up, said Anastasia Allmon, senior counsel at Farris, Riley & Pitt, LLP, based in Birmingham, Alabama, and has 10 attorneys and 20 associates .
“Sometimes paralegals are late to finish reports or to work with attorneys on a particularly difficult case,” Allmon said. “We pay our employees overtime, and if there are employees who work late several nights in a row, we make sure they get adequate time off.”
At Indiana University (IU) Health, a nonprofit health care system with more than 35,000 employees, night shift workers who are in a hospital from 7:00 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. are paid better than day workers.
“We understand the plight of night work and as such additional pay is provided for these hours,” said Mandy Bates, vice president of human resources at IU Health. “The night shift is also occasionally provided with meals, particularly during high census times or on public holidays. Sometimes coffee bars or ice cream are set up as a welcome gift. We hope these gestures help show appreciation for our night shift team members.”
Kylie Ora Lobell is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.