The Rise of the Triple Peak Workday

by Trinity Cardinal

 Savannah Hulsey Pointer, FISM News 


Microsoft researchers found that with the rise of working from home has come the rise of what they’re calling the “triple peak workday.” 

According to Microsoft’s published findings, the 9-to-5 workday has in many cases gone by the wayside as the typical workday has increased more than in any other time segment, with a particularly pronounced peak between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. 

Typically, workers have had two productivity peaks in their workday, one before lunch and one after, however, the pandemic’s hallmark work-from-home model caused many to have a third productive peak just hours before bedtime.  

“Having your kids at home, having no breaks to eat or exercise, we see that one of the ways to cope is to take a break, eat dinner, and then spend time in the evening actually getting things done,” says Mary Czerwinski, research manager, human understanding and empathy, at Microsoft Research. 

The assessment of work-from-home employees found that those who were tending to children in the afternoon pushed off their work and made up for it in the evening, while others found that they were able to optimize their work-from-anywhere flexibility by changing up their hours, and others just found a better environment at night, away from business calls, messages and other distractions. 

“This [third] peak is different from the other two peaks because it raises the question, ‘Is this about flexibility, or is it about work encroaching on someone’s personal hours?’” asks Shamsi Iqbal, principal researcher on productivity and intelligence at Microsoft Research and Microsoft Viva Insights.

“Any way you slice it, the boundaries between ‘office hours and everything else became thinner this past year and a half. The average Teams user now sends 42 percent more chats per person after hours, according to Microsoft Work Trend Index findings,” Microsoft said in their findings. 

Researchers said they’re as yet undecided on what caused the so-called third peak, but it is clear that workers are looking for flexibility, and there might not be any going back from that. 

“Now with the triple peak, people have the ability to do what they need to do in the moment and still have time to work later on. That’s super important as far as reducing stress levels,” Czerwinski says.

Microsoft was questioning what would happen when workers move back to working in a traditional setting, and if there should be additional rules for parts of the day designated as off-hours. They also questioned what managers could do to support those working non-traditional hours if that has proven to be the most productive, and what impact it could have on the well-being of workers who see spare hours as potentially “on the clock” time. 

“The third peak should be an available option for people who need it, but the challenge moving forward is, ‘How can we make sure people are not working 24/7?’ ” Iqbal says. “If people are working all three peaks, that’s a recipe for early burnout.” 

However, some managers looking at this data said that their concern isn’t how much people are working, but rather how people can work better: 

“Every single person on a team has a different context within which they’re trying to be productive,” Czerwinski says. “You have to give everyone space to do it on their terms. Some of them might have babies, some of them have teenagers, some of them might not have kids, but they work best at night. Some are in another time zone and are asynchronous. The key is, they can all be productive, but they have to do it in a way and at a time that’s personalized. It’s all over the place in terms of how you can be your original self at work and really contribute.”