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Tips on How to Accommodate 'Night Owl' Employees

A man working on his laptop at night.

​One of the primary benefits of working remotely for employees is that they have much greater control of their schedules. For the 30 percent of the population who define themselves as "night owls"—people who are more productive when the sun is down—remote work has provided an opportunity to optimize their productivity.

But as more employees return to physical workplaces, accommodating the schedules of night owls can be challenging yet could also pay dividends for employers. By allowing this segment of the workforce to labor during nontraditional hours, some organizations have seen benefits from having a better-performing contingent of employees.  

"Biological prime time (BPT) is a concept that acknowledges that there are a variety of different times during the day when an individual is their most productive," said Dannie Fountain, a senior sourcer of engineering talent at Google in Seattle. "Encouraging the maximization of BPT can therefore produce better work. The focus, therefore, is on work product versus 'time in seat' 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. So whether you already employ night owls or are adding them to your team, here is guidance to make sure it's a mutually beneficial relationship. 

Provide Scheduling Flexibility 

At Constellation, a software-as-a-service firm in New York City, CEO and co-founder Diana Lee is focused on inclusion. That's why she tries to be flexible when responding to the needs of her 125 employees, even when they prefer to work at night.

"The key to meeting employees where they are is avoiding a one-size-fits-all policy, and instead empowering each employee to voice their needs," she said. If an employee wants to work on their own schedule, including overnight, she will give the individual more project-based tasks to complete that won't require client interaction during normal business hours.

"We believe prioritizing flexibility when it comes to working not only results in increased productivity, [but] is also key to the overall well-being of our team," Lee said. "And that is 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 at a certain time, rather than giving specific deadlines, she provides them with the hours it should take to accomplish the tasks and the deadlines the client has provided.

"Letting them understand the process and create their own timeline works best, in our experience," Lands said. Oftentimes, this works out well when Lands needs to meet with her night owl workers.

"It's very convenient to have employees that may be more than happy to take a training call at 6 p.m.," she said. "Rather than rushing hectically through my day to meet a 4 p.m. training call, these employees are often thrilled to postpone a call until the evening, allowing me to use valuable office hours for B2B [business-to-business] calls."  

Require Check-in Meetings 

Whether employees are working in person or remotely at different hours, it's important to have regularly scheduled meetings to check in. At Cloverleaf, an automated coaching platform in Cincinnati with 37 employees, mandatory meetings are part of the culture.

"Some of our teams have set meeting hours to make it easier to manage people with different work schedules and still enable team collaboration and communication," said Kirsten Moorefield, the firm's co-founder and COO. "We believe that deepening understanding and building empathy helps everyone on a team to work better together." 

Use the Right Tools 

Technology can play a key role when striving to keep all employees on the same page, even when some work different hours than the rest.

"Slack is a great tool when team collaboration happens at different times from different locations," said Julie Bee, a consultant in Charlotte, N.C., whose firm has four employees. "File management systems that easily track edits and can have several people working on the same document, like Google Drive, are good tools as well. Overall, clear and concise communication, along with project management tools like Asana, make working in this environment more manageable."

In addition, Bee explained that "a good fit is a good fit, regardless of when during the day or night they work. It's more important to me and my business that I understand who the person is at their core, and that they will be a good fit with my organization as opposed to what times of day they can work." 

Set Clear Expectations 

Before making a new hire, it's a good idea to ask the applicant when during the day they are most productive. If the individual is a night owl, you can decide if they will be able to fulfill the job's responsibilities in a timely way.

"Set expectations early and understand their preferred work schedule," Bee said. "If there are mandatory meetings that occur during the 'normal' workday hours, let them know that before hiring. Also, lead with compassion and give them space to do their best work. If they seem to be struggling, ask how you can help them."  

Reward Late Workers 

The opposite of night owls are early birds, and when they are assigned to a job that keeps them working into the night, it's important to acknowledge their efforts.

In a particularly demanding field like the law, for example, lawyers and staff often work late to keep up, said Anastasia Allmon, a lead attorney at Farris, Riley & Pitt, LLP, which is based in Birmingham, Ala., and has 10 attorneys and 20 staff members.

"Sometimes paralegals come in late to finish filing reports or to work with attorneys on a particularly tough case," Allmon said. "We pay our staff overtime, and if there are employees who end up working late several nights in a row, we ensure that they get suitable time off."

At Indiana University (IU) Health, a nonprofit health care system with more than 35,000 employees, night-shift workers who are at a hospital from 7 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. are paid more than daytime workers.

"We understand the hardship of working at nights, and therefore additional pay is provided for those hours," said Mandy Bates, vice president of human resources leadership at IU Health. "The night shift also is provided with meals on occasion, especially in times of high census or on holidays. Sometimes coffee bars or ice cream are set up for a welcome treat. We hope these gestures help communicate how appreciated our night-shift team members are."

Kylie Ora Lobell is a freelance writer in Los Angeles.


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