How many work hours should a startupper work? And just to clarify, I mean both founders and employees. The best answer to this question is in fact a question. How long is a piece of string? It’s because there’s no right or wrong answer.

In 2016 the general consensus was that a revolution in traditional HR models was upon us. The death knell had sounded for 9-5, with working from home and new collaborative virtual working models the future.

New collaboration software and communication technology such as chat programs have made remote work feasible for many of us in recent years.

Not enough work hours in the day?

Flexible work hours

It’s true that many of today’s employees at startups – and corporations for that matter – are attracted by flexible work hours and/or working from home options. A recent nine-month study by Stanford University found letting staff members work from home resulted in happier employees.

Not only that, but the research found that workers showed a deeper satisfaction with their job, ranked less likely than their in-office colleagues to quit and were more productive. Great, everyone’s happy then. Or are they?

Rise and fall of remote working?

But a new school of thought has emerged, suggesting the idea of allowing employees too much freedom is in fact counter-productive. Rebecca Greenfield’s recent article on Bloomberg adds some interesting insights and research findings on this.

Admittedly, few people manage to master the art of work-life balance. I would include myself in that bracket. I always seem to be rushing around to get something done. And it usually involves a combination of work and life commitments.

Think about your working day

What does it look like? Are you an early arriver who gets a good 2 hours of work done before the office starts to buzz with activity and distractions? That’s two work hours! Or are you a late comer who likes to get in a half-hour chat with colleagues about the latest films and TV series before opening your email.

Do you find yourself putting off work while taking as many coffee breaks as possible? Or are you the night owl who likes to produce the goods in silence when everyone’s left the office? At the end of the day it often seems that there are not enough hours, or work hours rather, in the day to get things done.

So where does that leave us in the debate about work-life balance? The key word here is balance. Everything needs moderation, including moderation itself. As Richard Laermer, a New York publisher who switched his staffing policy to remote working and then back again says:

“I think people have to be trusted. But the working-from-home thing has to be on a per-person basis, and it can’t be very often. It just doesn’t work.”

Right then, let’s look at a few perspectives from our own Starttech startup microcosm.

The Growth Hacker – Aristeidis Kypriotis

I think that as a permanent, long-term solution, remote working just doesn’t work. Period. A working space is more than just bricks and mortar. Is the people in it and the interactions between them. You cannot replicate that at home. Now, if you hate your co-workers’ guts and can’t stand being near them, working from home will still do you no good. Consider finding another job.

“How many hours you work is irrelevant, it is what you manage to accomplish during that time.”

However, it can be invaluable to have it as an option when the need arises. For example when public school teachers decide to strike for 100th time and you have to stay home with your child. Or when you’ve got the flu and can work, but don’t want to infect all your colleagues or go to work wearing a surgical mask.

The question of how many work hours are enough is a tough one to answer. The pragmatist in me tends to say that at the end of the day is about results. Therefore, how many hours you work is irrelevant, it is what you manage to accomplish during that time.” Having said that. I do think that the 8-hour working day is a framework (platform?) that will work for the majority of the cases.

The Founder – Dimitris Tsingos

After 17 years of reflection on the subject I’ve concluded that having a structured work timetable is a necessary good.

It’s easy to fool ourselves with knowledge-intensive work. We all know how we can sit at a computer for 12 hours and do nothing. It is a shame because these 12 hours pass and we don’t get them back.

“Cultivating a habit of reading or experimenting for at least one hour per day, every day, will enrich your personality and give you more pleasure from your work…”

My advice would be to follow this suggestion for an 8-hour working day: five work hours of productive work, 1 hour for training, and 2-3 hours for research and communication. If you have to cut anything, I would say reduce the productive work first, then research and communication (meetings, calls, etc.). and finally training.

By cultivating a habit of reading or experimenting for at least one hour per day, every day, you’ll enrich your personality and give you more pleasure from your work as well as the organization you work for.

The content curator – Graham Wood

Clearly these days there’s not such a need to stick to a strict 9-5 model. I’ve always been one to appreciate flexible working, albeit in moderation. That’s because I need both the stimulation of colleagues as well as the freedom to work at my own pace. So I believe a combination of both is the best option, both for my productivity and motivation.

“Some of the best work I’ve produced has actually been on my ‘own time’ at home.”

Objectively speaking, this is something the majority of people would benefit from. For example, having 1-2 designated ‘working from home’ days combined with flexible hours is something which helps people get the right work-life balance. Especially when you have kids or have side projects.

My most productive hours are definitely the morning. It can become difficult to focus after lunch, and sometimes I prefer to review anything that’s not urgent after hours at home for an hour or so. Some of the best work I’ve produced has actually been on my ‘own time’ at home.

At the end of the day I think it’s a matter of trust – from both sides. The employer has to trust that you’ll get the job done and you have to trust yourself that your self-discipline is up to it.

The front-end guy – Panagiotis Sarantopoulos

I’m all for remote working. It’s worked successfully for me. Although it works slightly differently for everyone, there are a few key aspects which facilitate it’s effectiveness.

What I found extremely helpful is the fact that I knew the people I worked with, relatively well. Recognising a few behavioural patterns of coworkers when there’s an absence of personal contact is vital.

“The person working remotely must be driven by the same standards as the rest of the team, and has to be self-determined.“

A relatively quiet room for your home workspace is a must. Having your project management tool and a chat app where everyone is connected and gets notifications about everything, gets you in the stream.

The real trick is to keep everyone involved. A task performed by a single person may easily veer off track compared to one that requires teamwork. From this angle, teamwork means there are people expecting your part of the bargain to be ready in a few hours. Not at your own discretion. This discretely keeps you on the clock.

Last, but not least, you should take the time to join one or two casual progress meetings every week. Perhaps over dinner. This keeps your mood optimal and it feels more like a leisure activity than work. You need these because there will be disagreements. A lack of personal contact will not rid you of those. In fact, it might even amplify them.

So, what did we learn?

If we can make any conclusion it is that everybody is different. And people can work in a different way and at different times. The key takeaway is that if you don’t want to end up wasting time, you have to plan how you are going to use it. Not just for productivity reasons, but for your own self-fulfillment.

Graham Wood Graham Wood

The Starttech Ventures Storyteller. Studied Journalism with Business at the University of Central Lancashire. Has worked in various product marketing management positions for the likes of Nokia, Samsung and Vodafone, as well as in several journalism and media roles since 2000.